Friday, December 15, 2006

Pg. 69: "Faculty Towers"

Elaine Showalter is Professor Emeritus of English at Princeton University and a past president of the Modern Language Association.

Her books include A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing; The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and Culture in England, 1830-1908; Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media; Inventing Herself: Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage; and Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel and Its Discontents.

I invited her to apply the "page 69 test" to Faculty Towers; here is what she reported:
Faculty Towers is my contribution to a series called "Personal Takes," in which critics are invited to write "about the persistent hold particular writers, artists, or cultural phenomena have had on their imaginations." I chose to write about the Anglo-American academic novel of the last half-century, perhaps as a self-exorcism of the stories that had haunted me for forty years. Of course, some reviewers complained because I didn't give a comprehensive overview of the academic novel since 1820; others wondered why I was being so personal, while still others wished I had been more personal. But page 69 is probably the only really controversial page in the book. It is at the beginning of my chapter on the feminist academic novels of the 1980s, and I am discussing Death in a Tenured Position (1981), by Carolyn Heilbrun, a Columbia professor of English who wrote popular mysteries under the pseudonym "Amanda Cross."

Usually I disliked the heroine of the Amanda Cross books, another English professor and part-time detective called Kate Fansler; and was irritated by her complacency and snobbery. Because Heilbrun was revered by my generation of feminist literary critics, any criticism of her work, especially soon after her death in 2003, was bound to offend some women readers. But Death in a Tenured Position was so painfully relevant to the time, and to the experience of many women academics newly hired and tenured at formerly male universities, that it had to be part of every female academic's personal pantheon. Hired by Harvard, Professor Janet Mandelbaum is found dead in the English department men's room. Kate Fansler is called in to solve the crime, which turns out to be a suicide -- Mandelbaum has been made so miserable by her male colleagues that she takes arsenic. A bit of warning during a decade of apparent progress, and one that certainly resonated with me when I considered offers from Harvard and Princeton in 1984. Although there are many academic novels that took hold on my imagination, I think Death in a Tenured Position is the only one that gave me nightmares.
Many thanks to Elaine for the input.

Click here to view the table of contents and read an excerpt from Faculty Towers.

An author's quote from the back cover of the book:
"I have been a character in academic fiction at least twice, once a voluptuous, promiscuous, drug-addicted bohemian, once a prudish, dumpy, judgmental frump. I hope I am not too easily identified in either of these guises . . . although I can tell you that I preferred being cast as the luscious Concord grape to my role as the withered prune."
Click here for a brief interview with Showalter about the book.

For a Q & A with Showalter about her book, Teaching Literature (2002), click here.

One of Showalter's contributions to literary scholarship--she coined the term gynocritics to describe literary criticism based in a feminine perspective:

In contrast to [an] angry or loving fixation on male literature, the program of gynocritics is to construct a female framework for the analysis of women’s literature, to develop new models based on the study of female experience, rather than to adapt male models and theories. Gynocritics begins at the point when we free ourselves from the linear absolutes of male literary history, stop trying to fit women between the lines of the male tradition, and focus instead on the newly visible world of female culture.
Previous "page 69 tests":
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue