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Read The Groves Of Academe (2002)

The Groves of Academe (2002)

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3.32 of 5 Votes: 1
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0156027879 (ISBN13: 9780156027878)
mariner books

The Groves Of Academe (2002) - Plot & Excerpts

Another campus novel of the several I read this fall. (You Deserve Nothing; The Secret History) I wonder if Donna Tartt read Mary McCarthy. One difference from Tartt's book is that in The Groves of Academe the professors and President of Jocelyn College are the focus of the novel rather than the students. A similarity is that in both books the colleges are small and progressive though the stories are 30 years apart in time.Henry Mulcahy, middle-aged, unsuccessful, overburdened, renegade literature instructor, gets a letter from President Maynard Hoar informing him that his appointment will not be confirmed in the next academic year. Henry has a wife and four children living with him in substandard conditions. They are permanently in debt and his wife has had health issues since the birth of their last child.In desperation, he cooks up a plot based on exaggerations of his wife's condition and an untruthful account of his political past. He intimates these "facts" to one of his students and to a young, beautiful, Russian colleague in his department. The student is responsible for a viral rumor line and Domna Rejnev becomes his accomplice, tirelessly gathering faculty support for Mulcahy. The gist is that by means of pity and political pressure, President Hoar will be forced to keep Mulcahy. Hoar is a published opponent of the current loyalty oath and Mulcahy claims to have been a communist in his youth.It is all quite complex to read about in 2011. As much as I have come across about the anti-communist witch hunts in the fiction of the early 1950s, I felt that I would have caught on faster if I had been reading the newspapers in those years. More than that, the political implications aside, the entire novel is a continuous spoof on colleges, progressive education, the claustrophobic infighting and personality conflicts on a small campus, topped off by a hilarious send up on poets.Mary McCarthy is a perceptive, intellectually rigorous writer and assumes that her readers are on a similar level. She is also a savage satirist given to mocking pretensions and dearly held ideas. Once I got my head around the various views and vested interests of the characters, I was amused, intrigued and a victim of the suspense inherent in her story. Most hilarious of all, after all the drama is over, nothing really has changed. Life goes on at Jocelyn College.This is McCarthy's third novel. She achieved bestseller status with her fifth, The Group, in 1962 and made her name through political journalism. I think her novels were almost too brilliant and intellectual for the male dominated publishing world of the 1940s and 1950s. I love fiction written by dazzlingly intelligent women. If only they could run the world.

Interesting to wonder why Mary McCarthy's 'Groves' is so little read, while 'Stoner' is re-released to great acclaim seemingly every five years I hear my wife calling, she says, "Gee, why could this book by a woman that's just like that book by a man be less highly rated even though it's just as good and about the same tings: English department at a small regional school that's a little bit quirky and prone to infighting and incompetence. Gee, I wonder why? WHATEVER COULD IT BE, MISOGYNIST?. Leaving aside routine sexism, which could well play a role, and the fact that Williams only admitted to writing 3 novels, whereas McCarthy wrote a lot about a lot: I suspect the reason is that 'Stoner' is the perfect, self-contained novel. It's about a guy, Stoner, and his college, and although it does take jabs at incompetent English faculty and students, it really is self-sufficient. This is what a lot of people want from their novels. 'Groves,' on the other hand, drags in McCarthyism, imitatio Christi, Joyce scholarship, the merits and demerits of modernism, and the tremendous moral complexities involved with all of this. In other words, Groves demands that you think, constantly, in a way that I, at least, found fairly uncomfortable. Just when I thought I had a good handle on the moral framework of the book, McCarthy compares the 'villain' to Christ, in a good way. Nobody's deeds are easily explicable, but they all seem perfectly realistic. That doesn't mean they're impossible to understand, just that there's a lot more going on than we usually want to think. Heroes and villains, in the right setting, swap roles without changing their behavior; the selfless are revealed as the most selfish and and vice versa. And just when you think the you've got the point--the fathomless difficulty and complexity of morality!--it turns out that the 'moral' is really a very minor, almost unimportant way of thinking about the world. The closest thing we have to a hero is an ex-communist, now anarchist, poet, named Keogh (named by McCarthy, I assume, for a beloved Irish boxer in Ulysses). He's disgusted by the bickering and time-serving of the University faculty, and does the 'right' thing--in this case, helping the villain--but mainly just wants to get the heck out of the place. Your beloved moral complexity looks very different to a man who's spent his life on the barricades for justice. Also, McCarthy's syntax is complex and subtle. Not so long ago, that counted as good writing, and hopefully it soon will again. I should add that my friend JP told me about this book, and he includes pertinent quotes in his review:

What do You think about The Groves Of Academe (2002)?

Begins as a character and social study of a brilliant, arrogant academic at a small progressive private college in the fraught political climate of post-war America trying to save his job while stoking up his sense of misunderstood martyrdom, then veers into an entertaining satirical portrait of academia, the academic tendency to argue oneself into immobility, and the contemporary art scene (with the very funny scenes at a poetry conference held at the college). Insightful, fascinating bits along the way, but the book as a whole never quite coheres into a narrative whole.

I went great guns with this book for the first 50-60 pages or so as a passenger on a road trip last weekend. Then I put it down and after that it was a real pain to pick back up and continue with the same level of enthusiasm.I thought it would be good to read after finishing Owen Johnson's Stover at Yale - Stover was an undergraduate beginning his first year at Yale, and the protagonist of McCarthy's book was Henry Mulcahey, a professor at a progressive college. Stover spent the majority of his time trying to figure out where and how on campus he would fit, while Mulcahey discovers in the first chapter of his story that he has been denied reappointment in the academic field. Stover's society were other undergraduates - his classmates, his girlfriends, secret campus societies such as Skull and Bones; Mulcahey's society is comprised of his fellow academics - his peer professors and president of the college mostly, but also a touch of interaction with his wife.McCarthy's story is a satire on the whole academic field, and anyone who has spent time with professors can see the connection even today. Professors can be, and often are, just as catty, gossipy, and out for blood as the students they teach. But the story itself is also rather cold, not all that humorous, and honestly a little on the Big Yawn side. I actually enjoyed the discussions of literature and philosophy, and the philosophy of literature, but when having to try to understand Mulcahey's own choices and motives I found myself a little fuzzy.On a side note I read this book specifically because I had read and enjoyed McCarthy's How I Grew... and I could have sworn I had read some others by her. I have it in my head that I really dig her work all around, but upon closer inspection through Goodreads discovered that perhaps How I Grew was the only McCarthy I had read prior to The Groves of Academe. Now I'm just annoyed.

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