Whither Teaching in the University Novel?

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Abstract

Scenes of explicit teaching make only limited appearances in the university novel since World War II. While it would be easy – if cynical – to attribute this minimization to the devaluation of teaching in the modern university, the importance of teaching and learning to sympathetic characters (and their lack of importance to corrupted figures) suggests that this lack of focus on the classroom stems from something else. Indeed, university novels tend to be fairly conservative aesthetically, and the demands of traditional narrative make extended classroom scenes difficult if not impossible to manage. Because of these narrative demands, learning and teaching take on different forms in the university novel, creating stories in which education corresponds to the struggle of teachers and students with and against administrators and buildings – stories that, therefore, resemble Leo van Lier’s observation about how remembering our own educations as stories contradicts more bureaucratic visions of learning. This observation holds true whether one considers better-known works of university fiction such as David Lodge’s Campus Trilogy, Mary McCarthy’s The Groves of Academe, and Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members or lesser-known works produced by micro-presses and writers who are enabled by current technologies to publish electronically.

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