The Campus Novel: Why Is It So Bad & Hated

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I kind of liked David Lodge books once upon a time but I feel pretty confident I would not like them now. (At the time, they were the absolutely prototypical "campus novel," though maybe they've been forgotten now.)

Guayaquil (eephus!), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:41 (ten months ago) link

Oh yeah, those Lodge books feature another type of hacky stock character, the feuding academics who are ridiculous because they care so much about stakes that are so small.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:42 (ten months ago) link

For a campus novel to be any good, it has to recognize that both academics and students are engaged in a project of real importance and that scholarship is actually profound and important, not a status game of competing trivialities. (And if you think scholarship is a status game of competing trivialities you shouldn't write campus novels, you should write about something you actually think matters.)

Guayaquil (eephus!), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:43 (ten months ago) link

As a reader, if it matters to the characters, it matters to me, if the writing's good enough---which for me means there should be a sense of justice, not just taking the piss (justice can incl. *some* ttp, latter, though)

dow, Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:48 (ten months ago) link

(meant to take out "latter," sorry)

dow, Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:49 (ten months ago) link

The one David Lodge book I know is about OCD, I think?

Anyway White Noise is pretty much a campus novel in my view, and it is arguably one of the good ones!

1. It takes place in and around a college campus in the northeastern United States.

2. The protagonist is a middle-aged white male professor with a tinge of horniness.


2a. Thankfully he does not, so far as I know, direct his horniness at nubile coeds or impoverished adjuncts.

3. It satirizes late-20th-century academic hyperspecialization for comic effect, in much the same way as Jarrell does. To the extent that I sometimes don't remember in which novel I read a particular bit of said skewering. Viz:

Is it White Noise that has the PhDs who have only ever read cereal boxes? Or is it chewing-gum wrappers?

One novel (I forget which) has a cocktail-party argument between one professor whose specialty is philosophy of history, and another whose specialty is the history of philosophy. The line is something like "a soap bubble is as significant as an empire."

gin and catatonic (Ye Mad Puffin), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:52 (ten months ago) link

And the same sort of joke permeates Nabokov too

gin and catatonic (Ye Mad Puffin), Thursday, 28 October 2021 21:55 (ten months ago) link

Have we talked about “A Separate Peace” or “The Rules of Attraction” yet?

Legalize Suburban Benches (Raymond Cummings), Thursday, 28 October 2021 23:11 (ten months ago) link

Gaudy Night is good imo, if you can put up with its being a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery.

Lily Dale, Thursday, 28 October 2021 23:17 (ten months ago) link

^ yes

Ross Macdonald's The Chill comes to mind too ... sometimes the campus novel is improved by murders

Brad C., Thursday, 28 October 2021 23:26 (ten months ago) link

Is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets a campus novel y/n

gin and catatonic (Ye Mad Puffin), Friday, 29 October 2021 00:14 (ten months ago) link

i recall richard russo's 'straight man' being v. funny and good

mookieproof, Friday, 29 October 2021 00:27 (ten months ago) link

Characters in Small World, some of whom had appeared in the campus novel Changing Places, maintain that the campus novel is obsolete.

alimosina, Friday, 29 October 2021 03:53 (ten months ago) link

at the more fantastic end of campus novels: loved giles goat-boy in my teens, really not sure what i'd make of it now in the unlikely event of ever revisiting. only other barth i've read is end of the road, also a campus novel from my vague recollection of it.

trying to remember if there was a chapter on this subject in fiedler's waiting for the end? they definitely get covered to some degree there in any case.

also re: pnin, yes!

no lime tangier, Friday, 29 October 2021 04:43 (ten months ago) link

Gaudy Night is good imo, if you can put up with its being a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery.

in the same realm, a number of michael innes (a.k.a. professor j.i.m. stewart) novels are set on campus. can remember a good one based at a circa 1950s so-called red brick university.

no lime tangier, Friday, 29 October 2021 04:57 (ten months ago) link

Well there's Hangsaman...

abcfsk, Friday, 29 October 2021 08:34 (ten months ago) link

xp I just started reading that! It's called Old Hall, New Hall

Critique of the Goth Programme (Neil S), Friday, 29 October 2021 08:40 (ten months ago) link

In a similar vein, many of the Gervaise Fen mysteries by Edward Crispin are set on or around campus

Critique of the Goth Programme (Neil S), Friday, 29 October 2021 08:41 (ten months ago) link

my takeaway here: campus novels are less bad and hated when characters are regularly being killed off

mark s, Friday, 29 October 2021 12:38 (ten months ago) link

Nobody gets killed off in Gaudy Night though, it's a murder-free mystery.

Lily Dale, Friday, 29 October 2021 13:25 (ten months ago) link

Seem to be having a campus novel year: have read Stover at Yale, Pnin, and Cather's The Professor's House this year, and just looked at my unread copy of The Art of Fielding (put it back on the shelf). Also watched The Group last night, though not enough time on campus to make that a campus movie/novel (read the book years ago and gave it to my sister as a questionable graduation present).

bulb after bulb, Friday, 29 October 2021 13:45 (ten months ago) link

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