The Small Room: A Novel
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In the hallowed halls of one of New England’s most prestigious colleges, a young woman finds new and unexpected life as professor while a scandal brews just on the periphery
On the train north from New York City, Lucy Winter takes inventory of her life. Twenty-seven and newly single, Lucy is headed toward a fate she never anticipated: professorship at a women’s college in New England. Her doctorate degree, obtained from Harvard, was more of a hobby than a professional aspiration—something to occupy her time while her fiancé completed his medical studies nearby. But at Appleton College she finds new enthusiasm in academia, teaching young women to be brilliant in a society that does not yet value their intellect.
When Lucy discovers a scandal involving a star student, she ignites controversy on the campus. Many in the faculty rush to either defend or condemn the student, who is carrying the burden that often accompanies excellence. At the center of the political maelstrom is Lucy, who, despite her newfound difficulties on campus, is finding that her unexpected detour to Appleton may lead to a more rich and rewarding life than she ever anticipated.
An insightful and inspiring study of scholarship, teaching, and women in academia, The Small Room is also the memorable story of a young professor coming into her own.
northern Michigan, Defoe. I’m sure you’ve never heard of it. Anyway, all they talked about there was religion and sports.” “And whether anyone had been caught smoking,” Debby chimed in. “Smoking, of course, was a sin.” His round face beamed. “Probably brilliance in a woman would also have been thought a sin, but there was no opportunity to discover.” “It does sound peculiarly grim,” Carryl Cope said distantly. She was visibly not interested in what went on in northern Michigan. “Didn’t it
Dean,” Blake said with false cheer. “You know what we are up to, of course.” “The Seaman case, I presume,” she said with a fleeting smile. “Precisely. There are two sides to this question. Jane’s and the college’s. I am going to ask Miss Winter to brief us on what she knows of Jane’s present state of mind. Let us get all the facts on the table before we jump to any rash conclusions.” Lucy felt like a small child who has somehow got herself involved in a grown-up scandal and must present
Cope, I mean—did you?” “Oh, we heard each other all right. Didn’t John hear you? I sometimes think men don’t ‘hear’ very well, if I take your meaning to be ‘understand what is going on in a person.’ That’s what makes them so restful. Women wear each other out with their everlasting touching of the nerve. What am I saying?” She sounded really shocked. “I must have gone mad. Never thought such a thing, let alone said it in my born years. You have a very pernicious effect on people, Lucy.” And she
freezing into a “character,” from the immobilized nature caught in its own prison like Olive Hunt, driving too fast, speeding back into the coil, the inextricable coil. “Do you have to commit suicide?” Lucy asked aggressively, because she felt compassion for and also impatience with the old child beside her. “I like driving fast. It’s a relief.” “I didn’t mean the driving.” “What did you mean?” “What drives you to cut yourself off from Appleton and from Carryl. Why must you do it?” Lucy
passionate love, between the Beveridges, between Carryl and Olive, there was strain, if not hatred, something dark and struggling in the dark … herself and John. Only the innocent Atwoods appeared to be immune, and that might be, she surmised, because they had never quite grown up. “If you go to Italy,” she thought aloud, “you will be planting everlasting conflict in the children, surely. They will never be either wholly Italian or wholly American.” “But they will love Italian girls, Italian