I may be embarking on an Alison Lurie binge, thanks to Nancy/Silver Season’s recommendation of Lurie in a comment on my post, “Are University Towns Paradise?”
Years ago I read a lot of Alison Lurie, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for Foreign Affairs, a witty novel about two American professors on sabbatical in London. She was very popular in the ’80s and ’90s, and my favorite was The Truth about Lorin Jones, a novel about a biographer.
Do people still read Lurie? Alas, our library has discarded Lurie’s books, so I searched online bookstores. I found an e-book of her first novel, Love And Friendship, for $1.99. Not only is it one of the best college-town novels I’ve read, but it is as accomplished as Mary McCarthy’s satire, The Groves of Academe. Lurie’s wit is less biting, but she doesn’t spare the absurdity of academic life. And she transcends the college town satire with her vivid, believable characters and detailed descriptions of the chilly winter landscape (adultery is often pursued outdoors) and the politics of college life (you must conform socially and stay on the good side of department heads and deans) .
In Love and Friendship, published in 1962, we follow a small group of professors and their wives over the course of an academic year. The men teach at Convers College, in the tiny town of Convers, Pennsylvania.
No one came to Convers except to go to school. The local farmers took their onions and tobacco and corn over to Hampton, and bought their clothes and furniture there. They could not afford and did not want the button-down shirts and imported ski sweaters which were sold in the two local men’s shops, or the hand-rubbed chairs displayed by the Convers antique dealers.
The heroine, Emily Stockwell Turner, a faculty wife and the mother of a small boy, doesn’t mind Convers: her brothers went to school here, her father is on the board of trustees, and now her husband, Holman, teaches English here. But she has always felt cheated at being barred from Convers because of her sex. And we realize that she is still barred from the college because of her sex: the wives have little to do besides volunteer gigs and hobnobbing with each other.
Fortunately, she likes Miranda, a hippieish woman whose husband Jules is decidedly odd, and she spends hours socializing with her while Holman is at work. Then she meets Miranda’s friend, a philandering music professor, Will Thomas. Soon Will and Emmy, who is called Emily by Will, are rolling in the hay, or snow, at every opportunity. Emmy is always giggling, and their frequent sex outdoors makes her think of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. They are in love, but Will’s definition of love is different from Emmy’s.
Love is not all: every college has politics. And, alas, they want a scapegoat. Miranda’s husband, the strange, intellectual Jules, is brilliant but a nonconformist. Everyone knows that the college wants to fire him. But the actual firing takes a hilarious twist, which I cannot reveal. This is overall a very charming book, beautifully-written, light and bright.
I hope there will be an e-book sale on Lurie!
I certainly haven’t read Alison Lurie, I had heard of her but had no idea what kind of books she wrote. Thanks for the review.
It’s been years! She’s much better than I remembered.
On Mon, Sep 25, 2017 at 1:29 AM, mirabile dictu wrote:
I am a great Lurie fan and never tire of re-reading her novels. I enjoy the fact that she creates a whole world with recurring characters, some of them being protagonists i some boos and mere silhouettes in others – a little like Barbara Pym’s characters. “Love and Friendship” is one of the first I read. Convers appears in many others. I agree with you about “The Truth about Lorin Jones”.
Oh my goodness, now that I know there are recurring characters I really MUST keep reading her!
On Mon, Sep 25, 2017 at 2:34 AM, mirabile dictu wrote:
I first came to Alison Laurie through her books on children’s literature- we both lectured in the subject. I then read some of her novels, certainly ‘Foreign Affairs’ but I don’t remember ‘Love and Friendship’, which sounds as if it ought to be Jane Austenesque. Like you, though, it’s years since I read anything by her. I wonder how easy she would be to find in the UK?
It’s fascinating that both you and Ellen like her nonfiction! The heroine of Foreign Affairs goes to London to do research on children’s literature. (And it’s fascinating that that is your subject.) There are many good libraries that still carry Luries’work, but our library, alas, is known for the new books and discards many, many older, not necessarily old, books.
On Mon, Sep 25, 2017 at 5:28 AM, mirabile dictu wrote:
I like Alison Lurie very much but I don’t know her from her novels: I love her non-fiction, her essays, her very occasional life writing and her books: I’ve read her Women and Ghosts (about the gothic connection with women) and The Language of Clothes (intelligent, informative). Whenever she has an essay in the LRB, NYRB or TLS, I go over to it first (upon opening the issue). She is one of the several women writers where I find I prefer her non-fiction and life-writing to her novels. I know this is not that common but I cannot be alone as these women do write these sorts of non-novel books too. I prefer the non-fiction and life-writing of Margaret Atwood to her novels (especially her books on Canadian literature), often in the case of Margaret Drabble I prefer her non-fiction and life-writing to her novels. Not always: I loved the Waterfall, Through a Needle’s Eyes, The Seven Sisters, but I preferred above all these her book called Jigsaw Puzzles (life-writing) and I loved her book on landscape in literature. I love women biographers (literary biographers) as much as any woman novelist .. Tomalin, Glendinning, Harman ….
Lurie is brilliant: I loved The Language of Clothes. It has been years and years since I read her novels, but Love and Friendship really impresses me. It does not read like a first novel.
On Mon, Sep 25, 2017 at 6:14 AM, mirabile dictu wrote:
I’ve heard of Lurie, like others, but never read her. The trouble is, there are so many neglected books and authors out there that unless you get a recommendation you often don’t pick up on them. But I shall give her books a second look now if I come across them!
I know! Nancy’s recommendation brought me back to Lurie. When a writer’s work drops out of sight, the books are, alas, forgotten.
On Mon, Sep 25, 2017 at 10:02 AM, mirabile dictu wrote:
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