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.
heat and fever; and helps, by widening speculation, to ease the burden of Mystery …” They were familiar passages, of course, being rediscovered once more as if the ink were barely dry on the page. The students were excited (who would not be?). Lucy watched Hallie quietly pushing them to analyse, to bring together and consider as a whole the growth of this young man of genius, watched her do this with a casual question, with a smile of enjoyment, drawing attention to specific words, “a diligent
halter. Lucy went right over to her and held her, as she staggered forward, then led her to the daybed and helped her out of the coat. “Why don’t I make us some coffee? It won’t be very good, hot water out of the tap, but it might sober us up. I’ve been to a cocktail party, and could do with a little coffee myself.” Jane said nothing at all, just sat there, leaning forward, hugging herself, while Lucy busied herself with Nescafe and paper cups. She sensed that, for the moment, it was best to
didn’t know the cost. Maybe she was only protecting her own skin, not mine.” “Have you talked with her yourself, Jane?” “Yes, of course,” Jane sneered, “she had me in for a little session. She was very kind, blind as a bat, inhuman and cruel without even knowing it.” “That is not my impression of Carryl Cope,” Lucy said gently. “She wants to take me to Europe with her this summer,” Jane said, obviously aware that this statement would be startling. “That is generous.” “No, just guilt.” God,
for you, not enough for me as your teacher. Your intelligence is, if you will, an angel. You are putting it to poor work for an angel. Really, that paper was full of hatred and self-hatred, hatred of the intellect, hatred of all those critics who can prove themselves superior to the artist they analyse because they can analyse him.” Had she gone too far? Jane looked up, met Lucy’s eyes and did not waver. “Yes, I guess that’s true,” she said, quietly. “You win.” Then she sat down, hugging herself
pause. Lucy felt compelled to get up, walk down from the raised platform to the windows, and look out, as she talked to them first about her father. “His hobby,” she said, “was cabinet-making. In the large old-fashioned apartment where we lived one room was devoted to his tools and workbench.” How dull it sounded! She longed to make this room vivid, to evoke in the dank classroom its sweet clean smells of wax, of resin and turpentine. She longed to bring before them her father in an old pair of