Academic Novels

♪ [Intro music] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪>>Anita White-Carter:
Welcome. Thank you for
attending the first in the Spring Brown Bag Series,
Ramsey Library Brown Bag talks. We are very happy to
be able to kick off this series with Dr. Merritt Moseley, one of
our favorite professors. Here to tell you something about Dr.
Moseley is Gwen Ashburn. Now Gwen is Dean of Humanities in
the department of language and literature. Thank you, Gwen.>>Gwen Ashburn: Thank you! I asked Dr. Moseley if I could
tell you this and he said that I could, because in July 1978 Mr.
Merritt Moseley was living in Apex, NC finishing his Doctorate
at Chapel Hill and he was hired to be Visiting Assistant
Professor of Literature for 14,500 dollars. The next year,
he must have done very well as a visiting, because then he
was appointed an assistant professor of literature with a
magnificent raise, up to 15,800 dollars. We are glad to know
after 34 years, he’s somewhat better paid for his many things
that he’s contributed to this university, and as you know,
he is, of course, professor of Literature and Language
and Chair of Literature and Language. His personnel file in
Elaine Warren’s office is about this big, so I’m not going
to tell you everything [indistinguishable].
[Laughter] And I must tell you that as his
former chair, it was a humbling experience because Merritt
Moseley, has done everything I can think of in this University,
including, director of International Studies, Director
of the Humanities Program, and I think he’s one of the founding
members of that, he’s one of the founding members of the
undergraduate research offers. He was an exchange Professor
at Chester College. In 1991, he began directing the Asheville
Institute on General Education, the summer institute, he did
until 1999 at which time he became Director of the Honors
Program. He was that until 2005. 2005 he was Key Center
professor, did that until 2008, was then named Distinguished
Professor of Humanities in 2009 and did that until 2012 and
then assumed chairmanship of the Literature department. Now, if
that were not enough, in all of that time, he did and has
done and continues to do amazing service. That was one of the
daunting things about writing his faculty record response. I
thought I had done a magnificent job naming all of these things
that Merritt had done. One year he came in and said, “Gwen you
didn’t even mention so and so!” And I’m going, “Really Merritt?
I thought I had mentioned everything in the world!” And on
top of that, such a wonderful, prolific scholar. He publishes
books, articles he gives invited key note addresses. He told me
the other day he’d been invited to Gant for a conference. They
called him up and asked him to come, which is really a notable
achievement of professorial status. And I looked at his
faculty record from last year just to give you some sense of
the fact that in service alone he listed ten department areas
of service, fifteen university wands and 12 co-curricular
activities. His list of publications was phenomenal,
but I think the most impressive thing I could tell you about
Merritt Moseley if you’re not already as impressed as I am, is
that on those faculty records, he lists all these achievements,
then tells you about several projects that he’s thinking
about starting, or that he’s already starting, or he’s at the
publisher, so I must tell you that I’m an admirer of Merritt
Moseley, I have found him always to be a wonderful scholar,
wonderful teacher, someone who gives generously to this
university and community and he’s been a dear friend and most
of all the best storyteller I’ve ever had, so I give you
Merritt Moseley. [Applause]>>Dr. Moseley: Generally,
if I have a chance to speak to someone who’s going to introduce
me I say would you please keep expectations low, and I didn’t
get the chance to ask Gwen to do that. I hope you’ll be okay
everybody if I use notes I’ve got some quotations and some
titles that are a little hard to remember so I’m going to use my
script. Well, today I’m here to talk about academic novels, and
academic novels are sometimes called campus novels or college
novels or university novels and they’re not only one the
subjects I’ve done some scholarly work, I edited a
book of essays about academic fiction, but a source of
enormous enjoyment in my life. I’m going to begin with some
description then some discussion of the value of these novels,
and then explain why I think we should read them, and I’ve given
most of you a bibliography I brought in case you say I’d like
to read some academic novels what are some? I’ve got a
list of them, but by no means a complete list, there are an
infinite number of these. The academic novel goes back a long
way, well, not a long, long way but at least to the 19th
century. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s first book,Fanshawe, was an
academic novel, but he didn’t get it published. Scott
Fitzgerald’s first novel,ThisSide of Paradise, was largely
about being an undergraduate at Princeton, and it was based
partly on a book by a man named Compton Mackenzie, called
Sinister Street
, which was set in Oxford, as was Max
Beerbohm’s famous book,Zuleika Dobson. Perhaps the most familiar to
Americans are these Oxford novels, about dappled quads,
and dreaming spires, is Evelyn Waugh’s,Brideshead Revisited,
or at least the early part of that. And in it’s
Masterpiece Theater
version, if you haven’t actually
read the book, but it’s about undergraduates
at Oxford. All of these I’ve mentioned so far,
are focused on the experience of students in colleges and
universities. Now there are some student-focused novels published
since then, often set in less romantic institutions (not
everybody goes to Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard), such
as Kate Atkinson’sEmotionallyWeird, which is set at the
University of Dundee, or Julian Gough’s,Juno and Juliet, set
at University College Galway, or Hilary Mantel (she just won the
Booker Prize for the second time), she has an academic novel
calledAn Experiment in Lovewhich is set at the University
of London. It’s not surprising, in a way, that earlier academic
novels were mostly about students. After all, many people had been
to college, had been college students, and like Fitzgerald,
Hawthorne, and Waugh, had not actually ever worked in a
college, and many others who had not had the opportunity to go to
college, perhaps wanted to, and wanted to read about
undergraduate experiences, which to them may have seemed exotic,
and romantic. But after the second World War, with the
enormous expansion of university education in this country, and
later on in the United Kingdom, and after a development in which
a great many novelists, for economic reasons, actually are
university professors, at least for some part of their lives,
the academic novel turned its attention more to the lives of
the professors. In this country, two important data points are
Mary McCarthy’s,The Groves ofAcademe, in 1952, and Randall
Jarrell’s,Pictures from anInstitution, in 1954, both
set in pretentious, progressive women’s colleges. Mary McCarthy,
under another name is actually a character in Jarrell’s,Pictures
from an Institution
. In England, the most important
academic novel, a near contemporary of
theirs was Kingsley Amis’sLucky Jim, 1953.
Which was set among instructors at an
undistinguished provincial university, generally
conceded to be the University of Leicester. It is accurate to say that
all three of these books are satires, the targets of their
satire include students, the administration, the follies of
progressive education, writers in residence, academic
scholarship, nostalgia for the Middle Ages, [laughter]
lectures, and much, much, else. This helps to
set the tone. Many, many, academic
novels are satirical, and I’m going to return to that point,
shortly. But first, I want to mention some variations on what
I think of as the mainstream of the academic novel which is a
plot focused on a professor or some professors, in some kind
of conflict, either with the administration, very often the
case, or with their academic environment, or with their
own principals, or sometimes in their love lives. First, there
is a very large sub-genre of academic mysteries, very very
large, I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but there are a lot
of academic mysteries, because a college or university is a
closed community, because it is a place that tolerates a lot
of eccentricity and social deviance, and
because it is – [laughter] David Lodge,
has a piece somewhere, he’s written academic
novels and he quotes some person who’d had a stroke and he was
behaving in such a bizarre way, and he would come to class half
dressed and was shaving in class while he talked, and nobody said
a word. You know he thought, why didn’t somebody say, I could get
some help? I needed to be in a hospital but they just thought,
“Oh, you know, professors are odd!”
[laughter] And because at least
traditionally, a college or university is a place
devoted to reason, it makes a splendid
setting for mysteries. And perhaps even more importantly,
the academic murder mystery relies on the apparent
antithesis, it may just be apparent, between the values of
higher education like tolerance, gentleness, the settling of
differences by discussion rather than violence, and the homicide
at the heart of the murder mystery. In England, a
well known author of academic mysteries is Edmund Crispin,
that’s actually his pseudonym, his real name is Bruce
Montgomery, who’s sleuth Gervase
lecturer in English. AndGaudyFen is an Oxford Don, aNight, there are several others
set at Oxford. In the US, there are the Amanda Cross mysteries,
actually by well known scholar, Carolyn HeilBrun, former
president of the Modern Language Association, who says that
she chose an academic sleuth because, quote, “the mind of
a literary person, who loves quoting, loves conversation, a
comedy of manners, in short, is what appealed to me.” There are
also academic novels of science fiction; the best examples focus
on artificial intelligence, and in effect, the human qualities
of computers. Richard Powers’Galatea 2.2, and Jonathan
Lethem’s,As She Climbed Acrossthe Table, but also exploiting
the imagined properties of computing is Steven Fry’s book,
Making History
, which is about going back somehow, and
cancelling the birth of Hitler. And then, this is not really a
genre, but there are some tragic academic novels I don’t read
them with as much pleasure. The best example of this probably is
May Certain’s book,Faithful Arethe Wounds, 1955, which is
based on the suicide of American Scholar, F.O. Matthiessen,
after his homosexuality was discovered, and used against him
in the McCarthy period. But most academic novels are funny,
at least in part, they are comedies, they are farces, they
are satires. And it is satire, among other features, that
has caused some critics to wish devoutly, that these books did
not exist. Cambridge Don, George Watson writes somewhere, “I
have several reasons, all partly selfish,” because he’s a
Cambridge Don, “for hoping that Anglo-American Campus fiction
will fade away and die.” Bruce Robbins, who’s written a
treatment to academic fiction refers to quote, “the generally
unflattering treatment academics have received, from the
so-called academic novel,” and says that, “over the past half
century or so, novelists who’ve turned their attention to
the university, have arguably contributed, more than a little
to the acute lack of respect.” We were just talking an acute
lack of respect. I don’t know if our current governor reads them,
but it would explain much. And understanding which academics
tend to complain, and a moral, ethical, critic, David
Holbrook says, “Surely, there is something terribly wrong when
in a Humanities department of a university, students are
introduced to works which confuse them, morally,
and which tend actually to endorse the false solutions,
of hate and barbarity. This is one of the
chief embarrassments today, for anyone concerned with
literature and the arts. Perhaps, the process
came to a head, with the emergence
of the campus novel, not least withLucky Jim.
Lucky Jim, the main character, says things like “filthy
Mozart,” and “a Mozart piece is a skane of untiring
facetiousness,” and so on, as many people see him as quite
the Philistine. If Holbrook considers the academic
novel culturally and morally dangerous, he is joined by
the much younger D.J. Taylor, a critic in England, who decries
what he calls, “the academic romp,” which began to be
fashionable in about the late 1960’s, the campus frolic of
sexual and scholastic indignity as an example of the new
relativism of the disregard for absolute standards. And while reading satires
of higher education might give professors a shock of
recognition, or perhaps even in Janice Rossiens words,
“satisfaction in seeing one’s enemies held up to ridicule,”
because we never think it’s us, who’s being held to ridicule.
What appeal could such satires hold for non-academic readers?
Some of them may derive pleasure from finding out how weak,
pointless, and ineffectual the professor is. Professor, a
man, a member of an ancient profession, a highly educated
person, even particularly in the past, although not in 1978,
a well paid, and comfortably environed person, but how
foolish, and pointless, people like that can be
may please some people. John Lions, who has
also written a treatment of academic fiction,
points out that even professors, have a tendency to present the
professor as a “befuddled, chalk covered, impotent, half-man.”
One of the conventions of the academic novels is that
the professor is sexually unimpressive, presenting the
professor this way, I think, invites the non-academic reader,
who is, by implication, some sort of libidinous powerhouse,
to enjoy an agreeable pity or contempt for this feeble
pedagogue. More seriously, readers may respond to the
academic satire without rage, particularly in the past few
decades, when the public has been targeted by a steady spray
of alleged exposés of what’s wrong with higher education,
including Dinesh D’Souza’s,Illiberal Education: the
Politics of Race and Sex on
Campus, and Roger Kimball’s
Tenured Radicals: How Politics
has Corrupted our Higher
, and Alan Bloom’s unlikely best seller,The
Closing of the American Mind:
How Higher Education has Failed
Democracy and Impoverished the
Souls of Today’s Students.
And the most damaging:And ThisBeats Working for a Living:
the Dark Secrets of a College
Professor, by Professor X, in
our library I believe. Members of the public may feel that The
History Man, or Moo, is another dispatch, another Professor
X, an academic mole, who has decided to write a novel to
let the tax payer know, that the truth is out there. The flipside
of this view is the insider’s anxiety, as represented by
David Holbrook, a professor, a powerful believer in the moral
power of university education. He says, “the campus novel seeks
to portray the English academic, at the university as a lustful
fool whose values are impotent and hypocritical and who is
really driven by lust, ambition, and egotism. The effect is
that the public’s view of the humanities, and they’re always
humanities professors, or almost always, in the universities has
been seriously damaged, and more important, the view held by
politicians, of the status of the humanities on the campus.
There is no doubt, that many now see us as incompetents, who do
not subscribe to the values we are supposed to uphold, not
the least despicable, because we seem to regard the intellectual
life with an air of superior disdain and ironic self
interest.” In fairness, I should acknowledge that some people
think academic novels, are not searing and satirical enough.
Adam Begely, wrote an article called “The Decline of the
Campus Novel” in which he said that because all novelists now
work for universities they’re afraid to tell the truth, that
they can’t really unload, because they’d be damaging their
own employment prospects.>>Audience Member:
[indistinct] Is their something sinister
or self lacerating about professors writing novels that to some extent, at least,
hold academia and professors up for the amusement of the
reader? There’s been a lot of controversy over this, whether
writers like David Lodge, and Malcolm Bradbury, who were
professors their entire adult lives, and who made their
careers as professors of English, and as novelists of
academic fiction. Whether they should write novels, which
arguably damage the public image of English professors, students,
universities, and higher learning as an undertaking.
They’ve been damned for fouling their own nest, for displaying
dirty laundry, best hung inside where the laity can’t get a
sight of it, for biting the hand that feeds them. I think this
is overly sensitive; I can enjoy the satirical exaggeration,
involved in the finest academic comedy without despairing of
academia. There is a part of me that thrills, with the
recognition of the truth, when I read the comment by aging,
grumpy, classics professor, Jake Richardson, in Kingsley Amos’s
Jake’s Thing, who says, quote “If there’s one word that sums
up everything that’s gone wrong since the war, it’s workshop.”
While I’m fortunate to teach in a much better institution, I can
understand what’s going on in Richard Russo’s novel, Straight
Man, which is one of many subtle treatments of the steady
economic privation of universities, state
universities. When Hank Devereaux, the chairman of the
English department, reflects quote, “Getting tenure in this
place is like being declared the winner of a
eating contest.” [Laughter] Not here! Do the books bring academia into
disrepute? Well, it’s possible that some readers who have
hitherto admired college professors, and thought higher
education was a worthy and valuable way to spend time
and money, having readMoo, orStraight Man, orThe Mind and
Body Problem
, orThe War Betwenthe Tapes, orPaneen, or
Pictures from an Institution
, rThe History of Man, have
changed their minds and begun to distrust the profession that
we have chosen. I don’t believe this is common. Nor, I don’t
believe, do professors like me who read academic novels do
so because of some deep-seated self-hatred. Or some masochistic
desire to wallow in the shortcomings of people, like me,
who work in institutions, like mine. I love this profession,
and I love novels that invite me to laugh about it. I have to
admit, sometimes I laugh about it without even reading a novel.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “the test of the first-rate
intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in
mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
Another way of saying it would be: irony. As academic
novels written both by and about humanities professors, which
as I said are the vast majority, demonstrate, ours is the ironic
profession. That may be our saving grace increasingly. Well,
why do I love to read academic novels, and why do I hope to
read many more before I die? I’ve just ordered three on
interlibrary library yesterday. I keep finding out about it more
and more. First, because usually they’re funny. I like to laugh.
I like to be entertained, and given a choice between reading a
funny book and a sad one I will always, or almost always, choose
the funny one. I remember the first time I readLucky Jim, I
laughed until I almost couldn’t stand up. [Laughter] And I’ve
taught it in class and I’ll find myself reading something out of
it and I have to stop because I’m just laughing so much I
can’t read it. Minor side note –Lucky Jimis very very funny.
My father liked to read, and I said, “You should readLucky Jim
it’s very funny.” He was getting deaf. And I don’t know how, but
he got hold ofLord Jimby Joseph Conrad, and he read the
whole thing and he said, “I didn’t think it
was funny at all!” [Laughter] And I
said, “Yeah, it’s not. [laughter]Lucky Jim
is funny.Lord Jimnot so much.Lucky Jim, about Jim
Dixon, a hapless professor. Also, I like to read
academic novels because whatever we do
as professors, some version of it may be beautiful,
and may be grotesque, has been captured in a campus novel.
Do we feel sorry for ourselves because our teaching load is
higher than we want it to be? Well you should read The Search
Committee by Ralph McInerny. I’m on a search committee right now
too so this comes close to home. The dean writes about the
faculty. “The myth was that they were all as burdened as Volga
boatmen, dripping with honest sweat: criminally underpaid.
Many faculty felt a romantic impulse to feel solidarity with
the oppressed working classes, and to fancy that their own
sybaritic existence partook in some fashion of this supposed
nobility of the proletariat.” Have we ever gotten bogged
down in an apparently unending dissertation? Possibly because
of a theoretical premise that pushes back the boundaries of
our project to infinity? Then we will sympathize with Camel,
the graduate student in David Lodge’s first academic novel,
The British Museum is Falling
Down, who, quote, “Had been
doing his PHd thesis for as long as anyone
could remember.” It’s title,Sanitation
in Victorian Fiction
, seemed modest enough,
but as Camel would patiently explain, “The absence of
references to sanitation was as significant as the presence of
them, and his work thus embraced the entire corpus of Victorian
Fiction. [Laughter] Do we suspect the motives of those
who continue to pare away at the budgets of our universities
and our departments? We may be prepared to agree with the
vehement professor inAcademiaNuts, one of the very best
recent academic novels, by the Australian Michael Wilding.
“Finance was the excuse. Budgetary considerations. But
anyone who wanted to could see that that was only an excuse.
Most didn’t want to. They were already so fearful, demoralized
or sycophantic they wanted to see nothing. The climate of
insecurity was having its effect. Destabilising the
academics, unnerving the already pretty well nerveless, it
made central control easier to impose. Tenure could not be
removed without a public battle. But an inexorable process of
destabilisation could make the job so anxiety ridden and
unpleasant that staff would voluntarily surrender and rush
into retirement.” Had we ever, in a weak moment,
allowed our minds to shelter the heretical thought about
whether the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting is
a wholly good thing? I’ve just come from it in January and I
have sheltered this thought myself. [Laughter] We may
discover a sneaking sympathy with the English professor in
Edward Abbey’s bookMustangSally, who reflects, “Why evn
bother? I don’t know. The only reason I go every year is that
the university pays my way.” This novel was published quite
sometime ago. And what about our teaching itself? Now, capturing
what teaching is like is a difficult task for the novelist,
and imagining it is hard for the legislator and member of
the public as well, which may explain some of the strident
demands for accountability that we hear. Not many academic
novels actually devote many pages to what goes on in the
classroom unless their point is that it is boring. And these
pages are almost always written from the students’ point of
view. One the most brilliant of all academic novels, Howard
Jacobson’s novelComing fromBehindcontains this mordant
reflection by a disillusioned lecturer. He starts off by
deciding to withhold information from his students and then he
carries it the next step to giving them false information
and so he will tell them who the greatest novelists of the 19th
Century are and he’ll make up ‘Namby Pamby Phillips’ and that
sort of thing. He’s teaching at a place where in fact budget
cuts are incessant with the result that the English
department has been “twinned” with a local soccer team
and their offices are in the stadium. “Like all small groups
they met in the late afternoon when the lights were fading and
spirits were wan and the words on the page were scarcely
distinguishable from the barely-shaped hopes and the
half-formed possibilities and the intimations and the maybes
and the almosts that faintly brushed one another in the
gathering shadows. Arthur Twinbarrow – one of his
colleagues – who specialized in all the twentieth-century poets
whose first or second names were Tom or Thomas, was not a small
group man, but he too was able to use words like teaching and
education without embarrassment and had even been heard to speak
of enriching the sensibilities of his students.” The
precariousness of the insecure untenured faculty member unsure
if you’ll have a job next year is something we all know about.
Some of us have been in that place, and if not, we know
people who have. One of the most exquisite portrayals of a man in
this plight is in a little known book by a man named Robert
Pease – I don’t know how you say it – calledThe Associate
. I think it’s unique in focusing not on an English
professor or on a slightly displaced representative of
the English professor like a historian or classicist. Its
main character Knudsen is a physics teacher. The novel
covers a week in his life as a new administrator cracks down
on unpunctual classes. Knudsen’s night teaching hinders his
preparing for his day classes, and actually leads him to sleep
through one of them. And he hectically solves homework
problems on the board as fast as he can hoping not to allow time
for anyone to ask a question because he knows he won’t know
the answer. But someone does, and the situation, which I
think will have a feeling of uncomfortable familiarity to
anyone who’s had a class go poorly, becomes almost
Kafkaesque. This is the very end of the novel. He’s putting a
formula on the board and someone asks says it doesn’t make sense.
“But how could he go on? The boy was right. It didn’t make sense.
And it would be worse after class. The boy would be around.
And he’d expect Knudsen to remember his questions. “What
time is it?” Knudsen looked nervously at a boy with thick
glasses. The boy with thick glasses said nothing. From the
back came “One forty, exactly,” and then, almost inaudibly, “Ten
minutes to go.” Knudsen started edging sideways toward the door.
From the corridor, the voice of a middle-aged man: “Yes, that’s
his classroom.” Knudsen stopped and started edging back to the
center of the table. The class was completely quiet. But they
were going to laugh. He could tell.” End of book. [Laughter]
I want to include something for one of the first of the modern
campus novels, one of my favorites,Lucky Jim. Jim
Dickson, the main character, is on a one-year contract as
a history lecturer in an undistinguished university
somewhere in the north of England. And though he dislikes
the medieval period which is his specialty, he chose it because
it was the easiest in his graduate school, he doesn’t
believe strongly in his career and isn’t very good at it, he
still hopes to be reappointed for the following year. He
made a bad impression from the beginning, walking across campus
he idly kicked a stone and it flew over and hit the vice
chancellor in the knee and almost crippled him. Much of his
time is spent trying to impress his professor, a pompous
nonentity called Welch. Here he is thinking about the special
subject he is preparing to teach. “Clearly, the more
students, within reason, Dixon could get ‘interested’ in his
subject, the better for him; equally clearly, too large a
number of ‘interested’ students would mean that the number
studying Welch’s own special subject would fall to a degree
that Welch might be expected to resent. Three students
seemed a safe number to try for. So far, Dixon’s efforts on
behalf of his special subject, apart from thinking about how
much he hated it, had been confined to aiming to secure for
it the three prettiest girls in the class, one of whom was Michie’s girl, while
excluding from it Michie himself.” Michie is a guy
who knows more about medieval history than he does, so he’s
terrified to have him in the class. And here he is being
forced to discuss the article he’s written since Welch has
told him that getting an article accepted would help him secure
his employment. Eventually it’s stolen and published in Spanish
in an Argentinian journal under somebody else’s name. Welch has
asked him for the title and Jim reflects. “It was a perfect
title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling
mindlessness, its funeral parade of yawn-enforcing facts,
the pseudo-light it threw on non-problems. Dixon had read, or
begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse
than most in its air of being convinced of its own
usefulness and significance. “In considering this strangely
neglected topic,” it began. This what neglected topic? This
strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? His
thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the
typescript only made him appear to himself as more of a
hypocrite and fool. “Let’s see,” he echoed Welch in a pretended
effort of memory: “oh yes; The Economic Influence of the
Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485.” Let
me close with one of my favorite academic novels which A.S.
Byatt’s Possession: a wonderful wonderful book that won the Man
Booker prize in 1980 I think, 1990 maybe, possibly the fullest
and richest modern academic novel that I know. There’s
plenty of satire and scholarship, competition for
fame and grants, research that is driven by grimly held theory,
academic hierarchies, lot of satire on American academics
because it’s an English novel, and once again precarious
instructors. But there is throughout a feeling for the
professor’s calling that I think is deeply moving. If teaching is
hard to make into good fiction, then how much harder is reading?
But hear what Byatt has to say about this activity so central
to all our lives. She writes, “It is possible for a writer to
make, or remake at least, for a reader, the primary pleasures of
eating, or drinking, or looking on, or sex. Novels have their
obligatory tour-de-force, the green-flecked gold omelette
fines herbes, melting into aux buttery formlessness and tasting
of summer, or the creamy human haunch, firm and warm, curved
back to reveal a hot hollow, the glimpsed sex. They do not
habitually elaborate on the equally intense pleasure of
reading. There are obvious reasons for this, the most
obvious being the regressive nature of the pleasure,
mise-en-abîme a even, where words draw attention to the
power and delight of words, and so
imagination experience something ad infinitum, thus making the papery and dry, narcissistic
and yet disagreeably distanced, without the immediacy of sexual
activity or the scented garnet glow of good burgundy. And yet,
natures such as Roland’s [she’s a graduate student] are at
their most alert and heady when reading is violently yet
steadily alive.” I guess I’m like Roland. My nature as it
is most alert and heady when reading is violently yet
steadily alive too, and books about the University with their
combination of wisdom, learning lightly held, insights into
human nature, recognizable situations of the academic life
and bright and sparkling comedy are what I like to read,
and I hope you will too. [Applause] So I’d be happy to take any
questions or comments, and I’ve got a bibliography but maybe
everybody already got one.>>Gwen Ashburn: So, Lucky Jim,
as we know is one of your all-time favorites. And, you
refer to [inaudible].>>Moseley: Wonderful book.>>Ashburn: Wonderful
book, and then what else?>>Moseley:
Straight Man.>>Ashburn: Straight Man,
Russos’s? >>Moseley: Yeah, Richard
Roussos’ a great man. The central situa- well it has a
lot of situation, but the central situation is that they
can’t get a budget from the legislature, and so in front of
TV cameras he ceases a duck from the campus pond and says, “I’m
going to kill a duck every day until we get a budget.”
[Laughter] He doesn’t, but- there are a lot, I mean I
like some that are postmodern. There’s one called Book: a Novel
by a man named Gruden, Howard Gruden, and it’s about an
academic setting, but it gets very complicated: the footnotes
set up a rebellion against the rest of the rest of the book and
that sort of thing. And one called The Occupation by David
Caute (or Caute I think its pronounced C-a-u-t-e.) another
good book. I like- there are a lot of them about about sexual
misbehavior entanglements including Professor Romeo by
Anne Bernays, and Blue Angel by Francine Prose, those are good.
Mustang Sally is like that he gets fired, or The War Between
the Tapes by Allison -what’s her name- and, what else…>>Audience Member: You said
something like Love Story, is that because it takes place
onthe campus? Does that- >>Moseley: That’s- to me it’s a
campus fiction; yeah it’s about students. I haven’t read as many
of the student ones. I mean Donna Tart, The Secret History,
is about students. There’re a lot of them that are about
students. I don’t read as many of those.>>Audience Member: But
they fall within that…>>Moseley: Oh, I think so. Some
people would say, there’s an academic novel and there’s a
campus novel or campus fiction, and they would say the campus
is mostly about students. That doesn’t make as much sense to
me because outside of the United States most universities don’t
have a campus. You know campus is an American term. They don’t
really have a campus at a place like University Manchester, or
Liverpool, somewhere like that. So, they’re they’re college
novels, but not campus novels. I think David Lodges’ novels
are wonderful, and one of my favorites is Small World, an
academic romance. Which begins with a wonderful passage that
says something like this, “Going to academic conferences
is something like going on a medieval pilgrimage. You get
to go somewhere interesting and meet people while pretending
to remain austerely bent upon self-improvement. [Laughter]
I mean I became interested in Lodge partly because I did
an academic exchange in the same year that I became aware of his
novel Changing Places which is about an academic exchange
between a kind of obscure English drip named Philip
Swallow and an American, high-powered American who’s
clearly based on Stanley Fish, called Morris Zapp, and he goes
and teaches at the University Rummidge, which is Birmingham
and Philip Swallow goes and teaches at the University of
Euphoria, which is Berkeley. And gets involved in the People’s
Park and they end up swapping wives and, I forget what else,
but anyways there’s some very funny stuff. And then one of
my favorites is it that Philip Swallow, he’s from a different
culture, and he teaches to the Americans a game they like to
play in England. I forgot what it’s called, but English
professors, each of them, has to name a book that he should
have read but hasn’t. And the one who is- who names of the-
sort of abases himself most wins, but one man who’s the
Shakespeare specialist admits he’s never read Hamlet. And then
he’s fired. And so later on you meet him and he’s teaching Iowa
State or somewhere like it. One of the later books. Morris Zapp
is one of these imperious men who wants to write everything
there is to write about Jane Austin, and basically put
an end to Jane Austen criticism because it will all had been
written. And then he’s going to turn his attention to somebody
else. And so you know, there’s a kind of a contrast between
American brashness and then English modesty, and Stepping
Westward by Bradbury, Malcolm Bradbury. Stepping Westward
is also about an Englishman who comes and teaches in the United
States. His first book is very good. It’s called Eating People
Is Wrong. And then he has one called The History Man which
is set in I think the early ’70s and it’s really kind of about
radicalism on a New English university and a rapacious
manipulative professor. And then it was made into a TV show, and
some people do think that that didn’t help the taxpayers
support of the university system very much. Yes, Sir?>>Audience Member: As a
young reader of novels I was introduced to the campus
by reading sports fiction. And, probably the last thing I read
was My Losing Season by Pat Conroy where it’s not
fiction, but it’s a campus, it’s a- well it is a bit
of fiction I hope…>>Moseley: I think so too.
[Laughter]>>Audience Member: And
I wonder, is there a sub genre that is sort of an
academic athletic?>>Moseley: I suspect there is,
but I haven’t read very much. I did read one called Dink
Stover at Yale, I think. And he- that’s about 1890… 1898,
and he played football. And it’s all about the football team. One
of the things that’s interesting about it is football in those
days was- you could tell it’s just the same thing as rugby.
You know, the team that scored gets to receive the ensuing
kickoff, no forward passing, that sort of thing. But I think
there probably is a genre I just don’t know it.>>Ashburn: May I introduce Dr.
Aldus Dunn, who is a visiting professor who happens to be
sitting next to the University librarian. But, Dr. Dunn comes
to us from Guilford Where he was chair of the history department,
and might recognize himself as a historian.
[Laughter]>>Moseley: As I’ve said, I
think more of the time if you read about somebody who’s a
historian or classicist that’s because English- English
professor novelist who wrote it doesn’t want to make him
an English professor. They just decide to make him
something else. I just don’t think they’ll>>Audience Member: Why-
Why do the humanities folks get such a- a batter up
here?>>Moseley: Well, I mean I
think partly because the people who write them
are humanities folks. I mean I don’t think there are
that many chemists writing novels, and if they did maybe
they’d write about chemistry. I don’t know what the guy who
wrote the book about Knudsen the physics professor, what he was.
I know nothing about him, but that interests me because it is
a professor, I mean a physics professor. And there’s another
sub genre about administrators, about college presidents.
There’s a crazy one written by a husband…>>Audience Member: What
about murder mysteries?>>Moseley: Sorry? [Laughter]
There’s a considerable overlap. [Laughter] One called The Man
Who Stole A University, and you’d think, ‘well that doesn’t
sound good’. Oh no! It’s very admiring about somebody that got
exasperated with the University and he moved it all to an unused
military base and hired all new people to teach it, and what a
wonderful thing that supposed to have been. But you know most
them are not. Some of the early ones like Pictures from an
Institution by Randall Jarrell is- a lot of that’s about the
college president. About he’s- one point he says he was so well
adjusted to his environment that you couldn’t tell where he left
off in his environment began…>>Gwen Ashburn: Did Jarrell
[inaudible] Greensboro when that was published?>>Moseley: No he was- I don’t
think he was. He went to Greensboro about 1960 I think.
He, this was 1954, he was teaching at Sarah Lawrence,
or somewhere like that.>>Audience Member: So with
the Mary McCarthy’s that you mentioned, the title, but would
you also think of the group…>>Moseley: Yeah! Very much so.>>Audience Member: Is
that the campus novel or is that…>>Moseley: Well, see most of-
most of them, particularly if they’re student focused are
not always at the campus. I mean, the group is sort of
looking back on a group of girls that got together when
they were students together, and you know, This Side
of Paradise doesn’t remain at the campus. Most of them,
there’s a segment which is set among colleges and then they go
on to do something else. The Longest Journey by E.M. Forster
has a section at Cambridge, but then they go on to do something
else. So I don’t know how much, what percentage of it has to be
on campus before you could call it a campus novel. I think of
them as campus novels.>>Audience Member: So, you look
through the list, I see lots of names I recognize, but not for
these books. In other words, these titles would not be
considered ‘the cream of the crop’, or the top. I think for
most of these authors…>>Moseley: Like who?>>Audience Member: Oh,
I’m thinking Burgess…>>Moseley: No, that’s
not one of his best.>>Audience Member:
[Inaudible]>>Moseley: No, that’s his
last- that’s his next to last completed novel, and
it’s pretty poor.>>Audience Member: What
I’m wondering is Nabokov’s…>>Moseley: Oh! Oh, oh, oh,
Nabokov’s Pnin and Pale Fire those are wonderful books.>>Audience Member: Now I’m
thinking, a lot of these are from which you called…. I
don’t think [inaudible] comes across in literature very rarely
in the campus, or are they focused there. I wonder is that
because the setting just doesn’t contribute to good
story development, good character development…>>Moseley: Well, of course I
think, I think it does, and I would point out I haven’t got
them all on there. But, Philip Roth, The Human Stain, and
several- two of his earlier novels were campus novels. J.M.
Coetzee, Nobel Prize winner, Disgrace that’s a campus novel.
It’s unusual when it’s somebody like Lodge or Bradbury who keep
writing campus novels, but most people have written one. Alice [inaudible]’s written
two or three.>>Audience Member: When?
Usually earlier in their career?>>Moseley: Well, I mean,
Roth very near the end of his career. Human Stain was->>Audience Member: When
were most of these others?>>Moseley: Well, Burgess’s
Enderby is fairly late in his life and he wrote another one
about Enderby as well. That was when he got famous enough that
he was brought to Columbia as a visiting professor, and that’s
the experience in which he based it, and he was there when the
students took over the library at Columbia and he just didn’t
like that very much. He wrote three about Enderby
I think a trilogy.>>Ashburn: So, is this journey
you’re on with academic novels somewhat like the dissertation
student and the sanitation in Victorian England, I mean a
good scholarship says, “pick something light and dead
and that’s not going to keep writing….>>Moseley: Well, I don’t think
I’ll ever write anything more about them probably. I mean, I
just read them for fun. Now I am going to do that talk, I hope,
I haven’t gotten that quite confirmed, in Gant, in
May. And my topic–>>Gwen Ashburn: That’s
on academic novels?>>Moseley: Yeah my abstract-
my title of my abstract is “The Academic Novel As Ironic Faculty
Handbook”. [Laughter] And I’m taking a few little nuggets that
I’m altering a little bit from UNCA’s faculty
handbook about…>>Ashburn: …Going
a long ways away.>>Moseley: …Amorous
relations and dedication to teaching and so on. And then
going to use those as a glimpse into what we- what we find out
reading the academic novel.>>Audience Member: Maybe we
could workshop them. [Laughter]>>Moseley: I might do that.
I, you know, I say that a lot. I find myself more and more
the older I get saying, “if it’s one word that sums up everything
that went wrong after words workshop”. Unless it’s- unless
it’s ‘mission statement’.>>Audience Member: Professor?
Does Look Homeward Angel count?>>Moseley: Yeah! Sure.>>Audience Member: So does it
say something about- I’ve never read O Lost, but I’ve attended
a workshop in that. [Laughter] I heard a talk about O Lost,
and supposedly O Lost is all- includes all the pages that the
publisher required to be taken out of Look Homeward Angel
and most of those pages are campus focused.>>Moseley: Gwen probably
knows more about that than I do.>>Ashburn: I’ve never read
O Lost either. [Laughter]>>Audience Member: I’ve
looked at it: it’s very large.>>Moseley: Well you know,
Wolfe- you know, Wolfe brought his manuscript in a milk crate,
and then his editor would have to cut nine tenths of it I guess
to get it down to even a long novel.>>Audience Member: That’s
mostly Chapel Hill that ends up on there.>>Moseley: Yeah. Yeah. Again
it’s not all about- it starts before he goes to Chapel Hill
and I think actually he’s left there by the time is over. So
that’s what the undergraduate- you know one odd features about
college is, you’ve got a fluid group of undergraduates
and a stable group of faculty members. You know, we don’t go
anywhere and they come to stay for a while then they go.
Something like a DeLillo’s White Noise is very much about this.
And so the undergraduate novel- I mentioned Emotionally Weird
that takes place in just few days at a University. All
this: got flashbacks and flash-forwards, but most of them
there’s a time and then they go and do something else. So
they’re not purely stuck on the campus. There are some that are-
one thing I think that authors find attractive about academic
novels is the timescale and the time scheme because they have
semesters, or they have quarters, or they have classes
that are 50 minutes long or something like that. And in
England they will often use something like ‘May week’ if
they want to have a novel that just lasts a week, or ‘exam
week’ or something like that. And White Noise very much uses
the return of the students the days of the station wagon
because when the- when the students come back. But I think
undergraduate novels are more likely to use it only as a
segment, or maybe even something in the past like The
Secret History I think is about looking backward at something
awful that happened when they were undergraduates. And Bret
Easton Ellis has written one The Art of Fielding which is a novel
that came out last year or the year before that’s set at a
university college. And it’s about sports. Do
you know that one?>>Audience Member: No.>>Moseley: The Art of Fielding.
It’s about baseball…>>Gwen Ashburn: Yeah we were
just talking- Lee Smith’s The Last Girls they look back at
that college experience.>>Audience Member: Yes
they float down the river with the ashes.>>Moseley: Yeah. I feel like
Tristram Shandy, you know who’s trying to write his biography,
but he keeps falling behind because he wants to tell
everything. I mean I’m fully aware I’m going to fall behind
on reading academic novels. I’m mostly alive when I’m reading
so I might as well try. Leah?>>Leah Dunn: Yeah I think of
these campus novels from the student perspective. I often
think the ones that are kind of nostalgic and you know have that
sort of glow about them of the nostalgia days. And then,
then there’s the ones like I Am Charlotte Simmons. I don’t know
if you’ve read that. They are just scathing, and I don’t know,
are there- is there a subclass of those that… I read that
one, and that’s the only one I think I’ve read that was…>>Moseley: I think that’s a
little unusual in being- I don’t think it’s a very good book.
I mean it’s mostly Tom Wolfe’s cry of anger against the way
things are going in the modern world. And modern sexual mores,
and things like that. I think there are some. Some of them are
about not being well treated by your professor, not getting a
very good education, being asked to do pointless things. Yeah
some, there are some. Having a nervous breakdown. There are
some of those. I don’t know the student genre subgenres as well
as I do the professor subgenre.>>Ashburn: And normalcy doesn’t
make nearly as good a read.>>Moseley: No. You know, what-
I mean, [inaudible] will tell you happiness writes white.
Isn’t that what you say in your- in your fiction workshop?
Happiness writes right. So, if you wrote a book about somebody
that started as a freshman and made good grades like Megan
over here and graduated in four years: who would want to read
it? [Laughter] Five? Well, getting there. Who wants to read
that? You want to read about people who are having trouble.
So I think- somebody else Robertson Davies has a number
of them. The Rebel Angels, and I had forgotten what else, set
at the University of Toronto.>>Audience Member: Even as
you’re talking just the books that I’ve- the stories that I
can remember and how many actually have these attributes
that are just- even Russo’s latest I think it’s [inaudible]
He’s- sort of a look back nostalgically of his parents
who were professors and it also has…>>Moseley: And Franzen’s
The Corrections. I mean there’- I think that’s partly because
so many people have been to college, and know something
about it. Gore Vidal, who was of scathing critic as well as
novelist, used to decry all this because he said novelists who
teach in colleges who write books to be read by students who
go to college, that it’s very incestuous and inward looking,
and he called it- he’d like to describe fiction as being
divided into two kinds R&R and R&D. R&R is rest and recreation,
and R&D is research and development. And he thought that
the academic novel was an R&D novel meant to be written in
order to be taught in an English class, and of no interest to
anybody else, but I don’t think that’s true. Hope not. A lot
of people like to write them. Anything else?>>Audience Member: I have to
go teach a creative writing…>>Moseley: I got
to go teach too! [Applause] [♪] [♪]

6 Replies to “Academic Novels

  1. How wonderful. I'm incredibly lucky to have attended Chester the year Dr Moseley happened to grace it with his genius and wit; back then I was reading The Awakening Earth and wondering if there was hope of telepathy and what form it would take and then came the Internet. I never imagined I could virtually witness a lecture by Dr Moseley all these years later and it's a real blessing and privilege. Thank you so much, Merritt.

  2. no such thing as impresx or tryx or nonentitx or not, doesn't matter, do,be/can do,be any no matter what and any can be perfect

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