A member of our Facebook group recently presented the opening page of the Owen Johnson’s 1911 novel “Stover At Yale,” a coming-of-age tale about a young freshman at New Haven.
Dink Stover, freshman, chose his seat in the afternoon express that would soon be rushing him to New Haven and his first glimpse of Yale University. He leisurely divested himself of his trim overcoat, folding it in exact creases and laying it gingerly across the back of his seat; stowed his traveling-bag; smoothed his hair with a masked movement of his gloved hand; pulled down a buckskin vest, opening the lower button; removed his gloves and folded them in his breast pocket, while with the same gesture a careful forefinger, unperceived, assured itself that his lilac silk necktie was in snug contact with the high collar whose points, painfully but in perfect style, attacked his chin. Then, settling, not flopping, down, he completed his preparations for the journey by raising the sharp crease of the trousers one inch over each knee — a legendary precaution which in youth is believed to prevent vulgar bagging. Each movement was executed without haste or embarrassment, but leisurely, with the deliberate savoir-faire of the complete man of the world he had become at the terrific age of eighteen.
As far as literary devices go, Johnson introduces us to his hero through the character’s wardrobe. And since most characters change over the course of a novel — what is called character arc — I’m assuming his ideas on natty attire among his fellow Yalies get challenged. I haven’t picked up the book in years and can’t seem to find it. Does anyone remember if Stover continues to dress in this manner?
In the meantime, I took the opportunity to dig up some of the illustrations that accompanied the book. The past is another world, as they say. — CC