Perhaps because he’s a football player, Dink Stover has been at Yale for a hundred years. Hey, the real world is coarse and common, would you want to leave?
One hundred years ago this month Owen Johnson published his college novel “Stover At Yale,” which is long on novel but short on college. I attempted to read this some 15 years ago and didn’t get very far. No surprise I can’t find it in my bookcase.
Alexander Nazaryan of The New York Daily News did a fine write-up yesterday about the book’s anniversary, as well as its shortcomings (Yale and academic life figure little in the novel, the protagonist being interested solely in football and social advancement). The article also acknowledges the current phenomenon we refer to as Ivy Trendwatch. — CC
Surprised that you didn’t mention that F. Scott Fitzgerald called this book a “textbook.” What can the novel teach us? Perhaps it offers a way of thinking through how we got from then to now and how students at colleges and universities are actively engaged in what Pierre Bourdieu called “social reproduction.” That includes all the ephemera of the so-called “college experience”–the clothing so carefully studied by this website and others, attitudes, great moral or existential awakenings, and even, yes, hazing.
“Stover” is part of the curriculum in Prof. Jay Gitlin’s prescient American Studies course, “Yale and America.” Great post all the way around. Nazaryan, a Dartmouth man, provides a keen narrative of both the book and the era.
I wondered if we might hear from the Squeeze Man. Coincidentally I was clearing out my inbox and found an email in which you mentioned recently rereading it.
Alas for circa 1912 college novels I prefer “Zuleika Dobson.”
This book SHOULD be in your bookcase. Give it another go. The very first paragraph brilliantly captures the style and, in the particular, the acute consciousness of style of students at elite colleges of the time. Freshman Dink, on the train to New Haven, wears a lilac silk necktie “in snug contact with the high collar whose points, painfully but in perfect style, attacked his chin.” Then, taking care to be seen “settling, not flopping,” into his seat, Dink raises “the sharp crease of the trousers one inch over each knee–a legendary precaution which in youth is believed to prevent vulgar bagging.” At Lawrenceville, where he was a “big man,” Dink “caused a revolution” by parting his hair on the side, not in the middle. Yes, Stover at Yale is long, nearly 400 pages, and contains many pages of pure dialogue (which may put modern readers off) but it also conveys much about the class divisions, student cliques, secret societies, the importance of football and more about life at Yale a century ago. It is a look into vanished age.
Hawthorne’s “Fanshawe” (1828) is perhaps worth a look too. Thank you for the reference to “Zuleika Dobson.”
Another great read of the era. “Life With Father,” the classic play derived from the autobiographical stories of Clarence Day provides a mirror image of “Dink Stover” from the view of an iconic Wasp family living in New Haven at the turn of the century amidst the hierarchy of the Yale power structure.
Zuleika Dobson, yes indeed; even better if one both embraced and defied the 70s by quoting it to young women for whom one had an affinity.
@Dick Press: Saw your note about attending the Yale history class–sounds like fun! Hope it was educational for both you and the students.
Discovered Stover at Yale by accident online in the Project Gutenberg E-version, and, even though it requires slower reading at times because it’s full of words, phrases, and things from another era and very unknown to us of today, I’m kept at thrall. (Some things I google and cannot find a definition.) This is a very funny book! The humor is truly on point and amazingly universal. In that sense it’s true literature: it seems to apply to all ages and across time. I know I felt like that in college! It does make me somewhat sad in a nostalgic way, having now been made aware of this subtle and easy sense of wit being rare or not practiced in our times. To readers to give it a try and stick with it, it’s a lot like reading Shakespeare, in that one has to fight one’s way through here and there but the prize shines forth so brilliantly, hanging in one’s mind like some precious thing, happily remembered for a long time.
Interestingly enough, I had once found online an image drawing of an old-fashioned but very dapper young guy sitting on a fence, which I nabbed and downloaded and keep in a folder of cool pictures. I just found out that this is the logo of NY menswear brand Paul Stuart and it shows Dink Stover sitting on a fence at Yale.