Strange views about campus novels by someone who’s just written their own campus novel:
I have always been fascinated by campus novels. As a young girl I was swept up in the journey of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisted, and the knowing satires of faculty life in Amis’s ‘Lucky Jim’ and Bradbury’s “The History Man”, as well as the coming-of-age arc of E.M. Forster’s ‘The Longest Journey”. Each, in their different ways, seemed to point in the same direction – that university would be a place where your character was formed.
I haven’t read the Forster, but this is a bizarre view to take of Lucky Jim and The History Man. In both novels undergraduates hardly feature; the lecturers are the characters. And the lecturers are all skewered. The undergraduates that do briefly feature are presented as dim, naive and/or annoying.
Even in Brideshead, which does paint a more detailed and romantic view of undergraduate life, the idea is that Charles’ development gets side-tracked and stunted by Sebastian and his family, and it’s only later on, after he’s had some real life experience, that he develops as a person.
I imagined a campus of challenging, glamorous people and charismatic teachers who would fling open the shutters and widen my narrow world view.
But six months later and I was walking down an Oxford high street with a female college friend as bewildered and dissappointed [sic] by college as I was. Where I asked her were they – these Sebastian Flytes, who were going to light up our university lives. The people around us seemed either diligent and dull or posturing as thespians or dope-smokers or political agitators
I suppose that to someone who has misread Brideshead so badly (or who is so desperate to escape their own life) that she thinks that Sebastian the snooty drunk would be a great guy to hang out with, is going to be shocked to find that Universities, even Oxbridge, are full of dull nerds and talentless posers. The massive expansion of the Universities apparently passed her by.
(In my experience, though, there are great people at every University. The thing is, though, they’re not the ones who come over when the two shy new girls enter the college bar.)