Why are so many writers drawn to college novels? In a 2006 article, Megan Marshall writes that the genre is “escape reading”. Citing older works like The Harrad experiment Y 3 in the attic, Marshall sees many college novels as “goofy, sophomore confessionals.” That has certainly changed. Today’s college novels have expanded beyond the confines of the Ivy League and address some of the most pressing questions in our society. From early childhood through college, schools provide rich dramatic fodder for stories about intellectual exploration, but also about relationships, politics, gender, and creativity. It is where we spend most of the intense formative days of our youth and, in some cases, where we are first exposed to injustice and trauma.
In either orits sequel to The idiot, Elif Batuman takes her protagonist, Selin, from Harvard to Turkey, though Selin always remains the student: she is driven by a desire to live an “aesthetic life,” and the novel “could function as a syllabus,” as she writes Jennifer Wilson. . Selin comes to see the people she interacts with through her upbringing as “good material” for a novel and grapples with the ethical dilemmas of making art from life.
In Sally Rooney Normal people, extraneous issues, such as the class, invade the campus scene. The relationship between the two protagonists is marked, from the beginning, by status: in high school, Connell is poor and cool; Marianne, although rich, is an outsider. Once they arrive at Trinity College, their states change: Connell is the outsider, while Marianne’s “awkwardness turns to glamour.”
School also provides the backdrop for other kinds of power differences, especially those based on gender. Sophie Gilbert reviews a large number of memoirs and novels including Excavation, your favoritesY my dark vanessa to explore why male teachers so often take advantage of their female students. And both The lesson of the disease Y Oligarchy they are set in girls’ boarding schools, writes Lily Meyer, in which male headmasters “strive to mold and restrain their female students.” In both stories, the female students get sick, creating a vicious cycle: “The sicker the girls are, the more vulnerable they become to male predation.” Here, campuses “prove to be fertile settings for exploring patriarchal authority.”
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what we are reading
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Academic discourse and adulterous sexual relations
“A lots of [novels about college students] they are written by authors fresh out of college, smart enough to write something publishable but not yet old enough to have gained a perspective on the sexual initiations or romantic failures they feel compelled to broadcast to the world. That’s why at least two major American authors have written college novels that they later regretted.”
Sex for the love of art
Creative writing fits in well with getting over a breakup. While Selin goes out to accumulate experiences, Ivan recedes into the background; where we once expected emails from him, we now expect Selin’s inevitable UTI. Leaving behind his days of abstinence and sexual shyness, he embarks on a more ordinary college life, saying yes where before he would have said no.”
Sally Rooney’s Little Rebellions Normal people
“At the beginning of the novel, when the characters are in high school, Connell’s stock is higher. Marianne is rich and, yes, Connell’s mother cleans her house, but she is distant and strange. [while] Connell is athletic and well-liked… After high school, when they both attend Trinity College, the ups and downs are reversed: Marianne’s awkwardness turns to glamour, and Connell feels out of place against a backdrop of waxed hunting jackets and champagne”.
The literary bully trope is everywhere
“Suddenly this kind of abuse seems to be everywhere, in the real world and in the fiction inspired by it, abuse by men who supposedly found girls who loved the books… I don’t know what to call this new genre, in which women seem to use writing to separate their understanding of abuse from their understanding of language itself. But it is a genre, one whose authors confront a cliché setup, the predatory teacher or mentor, before they even begin.”
The claustrophobic threat of a fictional boarding school
“Oligarchy uses the familiar phenomenon of teenage imitation and the insularity of a boarding school to craftily, and ominously, create a world that feels female-centric, but turns out to be the opposite.”
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About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Maya Chung. The book she is reading next is counter narrativesby John Keene.
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