This is the first book which I have read by May Sarton and I did enjoy it. The book is set in a prestigious women’s college in America but I’m not absolutely sure what age the students are supposed to be, they did seem quite young to me which wasn’t helped by the fact that there seemed to be a habit of women calling younger women ‘child’.
Lucy Winter had only done her Ph.D at Harvard because her fiance had been studying at the medical school nearby but the relationship founders and she accepts a teaching post, not at all sure that it is the right thing for her to do.
I think the relationships between the staff of the college were written very well as I’ve experienced similar conversations amongst university lecturers at a time in my life when almost everybody I knew had a Ph.D.
Anyway, it isn’t long before Lucy discovers that Jane, a supposedly brilliant student has nicked somebody else’s work obviously thinking that nobody will ever find out because it had been published years ago. Jane is a protege of Prof. Carryl Cope who is very well thought of within the academic world and is convinced that Jane does possess a ‘brilliant mind’. We don’t have any evidence of it though and I do find it a weird concept given the fact that we are talking about history.
Much as I love books and literature/history in particular, brilliant is not the adjective which would spring to mind. Let’s face it, nobody studying for an arts degree is going to cure cancer or do anything else really important for the world. Have I been influenced by my Chemistry Ph.D. husband in this? I don’t think so, it’s just common sense.
I digress. Eventually the rest of the students hear that Jane has been caught plagiarising but it has been hushed up. They were already upset by the favouritism shown to Jane previously and they revolt. Unknown to the other students, Jane feels that Prof. Cope has been pushing her too hard and it is decided that she is in need of a psychiatrist. This decision causes more problems for the college as Olive Hunt, a very wealthy elderly patron is dead against the idea of the college employing a psychiatrist and has always said that she won’t leave the college her money if they go against her wishes.
The whole experience has torn the college apart and even threatened a marriage as people take opposing views of the situation.
Was it just a simple case of Carryl Cope identifying with the young Jane and therefore giving her special treatment or, given the fact that Carryl was a lesbian was she attracted by her? If Carryl had been a male professor he would definitely have been suspected of having an ulterior motive for his behaviour. Carryl’s long term relationship with Olive Hunt had fizzled out so perhaps that was the reason for singling Jane out for special attention. Or, did Carryl feel that her own intellectual abilities were waning hence her pressure on Jane to come up with ‘brilliant’ work. Profs. have been known to nick student’s work or at least take the kudos for it.
Does this sort of thing happen every year in every university? It’s a sad fact that there are students who manipulate university staff for their own gains, it happened 30 odd years ago when my husband was a student and it was in evidence again more recently when my son was at uni. Am I being too Presbyterian about the whole thing?
Probably but I just think that the same rules should apply to everyone.
I could say a lot more but I’ve gone on too long already. This was an interesting book which was first published in 1961.
I read The Small Room for Slaves of Golconda where there is a discussion on the book taking place at the moment.