The Campus Novel
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I greatly enjoy fiction about academic life. The first I read was Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution. Malcolm Bradbury, almost unknown in the US, was probably my favorite living author until his passing a few years ago.
Elaine Showalter has put together a critical collection, Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel And Its Discontents (Personal Takes) .
When English professors write novels, they tend to write about what they know best: other people’s books. Even in some of the most celebrated and familiar academic satires, rewriting literary conventions is as important as mocking campus attitudes. Many of the best and most successful academic novels of the past 50 years have been rewritings of Victorian novels. In Nice Work, David Lodge rewrote the genre of the English industrial novel, particularly Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, to describe the tensions between the modern university and the world of business. Gail Godwin based her academic novel The Odd Woman on Gissing’s masterpiece about Victorian feminism, The Odd Women. Joanne Dobson’s wonderful series about feminist professor Karen Pelletier is based on the 19th-century American women’s novels Dobson has written about as a scholar.