Pictures from an Institution

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they longed for men to be discovered on the moon so they could show that they weren't prejudiced toward moon men

I think that was the line William F. Buckley, Jr. quoted in an essay I read many years ago that led me to Randall Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution. I don't know if the term campus novel had evolved yet. Later I'd discover Malcolm Bradbury and read The History Man, Eating People is Wrong and his other novels of academic life. When Stanly Fish was at Duke Small World: An Academic Romance became a local bestseller. The character of Morris Zapp is supposedly modeled on Fish. I read that and David Lodge's other comic novels. Last year I reread some of Bradbury and Lodge. When Pictures from an Institution came into the shop last week I thought I'd read it again. I'm only part way though the book that seems more a collection of vignettes than a sustained narrative. Possibly the plot was mostly an excuse to let Jarrell parade a collection of academic types. Jarrell seems to have more surprisingly funny lines in anything I've read other than The Picture of Dorian Gray. Jarrell surprises by aptness instead of paradox. Take Mrs. Robbins:

you feel that God himself could go no further. Mrs. Robbins existed to show what he could do if he tried.
she was for herself so passionately that the other people in the world decided that they let Pamela Robbins beat them at their her own game, and stopped playing.
there was nothing she didn't feel free, feel obligated, to tell you about herself: she was her own tombstone.

They don't extract as well as I'd expected. And I'm too lazy to find other lines. Pictures from an Institution is a book that makes me laugh out loud, probably the best comment I can make on it.

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Thanks,
Richard

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