Campus novel

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A campus novel, also known as an academic novel, is a novel whose main action is set in and around the campus of a university. The genre in its current form dates back to the early 1950s. The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy, published in 1952, is often quoted as the earliest example, although in Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel and Its Discontents, Elaine Showalter discusses C. P. Snow's The Masters, of the previous year, and several earlier novels have an academic setting and the same characteristics, such as Willa Cather's The Professor's House of 1925, Régis Messac's Smith Conundrum first published between 1928 and 1931 and Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night of 1935 (see below).

Many well-known campus novels, such as Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim and those of David Lodge, are comic or satirical, often counterpointing intellectual pretensions and human weaknesses. Some, however, attempt a serious treatment of university life; examples include C. P. Snow's The Masters, J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Philip Roth's The Human Stain, and Norene Moskalski's Nocturne, Opus 1: Sea Foam. The novels are usually told from the viewpoint of a faculty member (e.g., Lucky Jim) or the viewpoint of a student (e.g., Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons). Novels such as Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited that focus on students rather than faculty are often considered to belong to a distinct genre, sometimes termed varsity novels.

A subgenre is the campus murder mystery, where the closed university setting substitutes for the country house of Golden Age detective novels; examples include Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night, Edmund Crispin's Gervase Fen mysteries, Carolyn Gold Heilbrun's Kate Fansler mysteries and Colin Dexter's The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn.


Campus novels exploit the fictional possibilities created by a closed environment of the university, with idiosyncratic characters inhabiting unambiguous hierarchies. They may describe the reaction of a fixed socio-cultural perspective (the academic staff) to new social attitudes (the new student intake).

Significant examples[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Jo Allen Bradham, "The American Scholar: From Emerson to Alexander Theroux's Darconville's Cat," Critique 24.4 (Summer 1983): 215-27.


  • Kenneth Womack: Academic Satire: The Campus Novel in Context in A Companion to the British and Irish Novel 1945-2000 (Blackwell Publishing 2005, ISBN 1-4051-1375-8)
  • Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Merriam-Webster 1995, ISBN 0-87779-042-6 (eingeschränkte Online-Version (Google Books))
  • McGurl, Mark. "The Program Era: Pluralisms in Postwar American Fiction." Critical Inquiry 32.1 (Autumn 2005): 102-109.
  • Showalter, Elaine. Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel and Its Discontents (OUP; 2005; ISBN 0-19-928332-X)
  • Carter, Ian. Ancient Cultures of Conceit: British University Fiction in the Post-War Years (Routledge, Chapman & Hall; 1990; ISBN 0-415-04842-7)
  • Philippe Chardin. Alma Mater - premier roman comique inspiré par l'université française, Paris, Atlantica-Séguier, 2000.
  • Dorie LaRue. Learning Curves, 2011.

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