I was asked to write a personal reflection about my English Lit. Advisor at Haverford for a scrapbook to be given him at his retirement party. I was nervous about writing something for the English department, since my “academic” style writing is a bit rusty, but I thought I would share the results with all of you.
The anecdote about Professor R. that comes first to my mind is as follows. I recall going into Professor R.Â?s office as an advisee early in my junior year with some plan, now forgotten, to escape or to minimize the requirement that I take two classes covering the period after 1800. I left his office enrolled in a class on slave narratives, but not before prodding him about why Henry James was absent from the curriculum. I had always enjoyed reading Henry James in my free time, and often saw him referred to as a figure of great importance in American literature, but I rarely saw any Henry James on any syllabus. James was my idea of palatable post 1800 literature (although I did end up enjoying the slave narrative class). The next year Professor R.Obliginglyy taught the class I was looking for, more or less. Henry James ended up sharing the top billing with Thomas Pynchon, preventing me from escaping post-modernism in my senior year. I enjoyed the class, including the coerced introduction to Pynchon. But beyond the direct pleasures of the classroom, the syllabus set off ripples that extended into the months and years before and after the class itself.
I spent the summer before the class reading up on James and Pynchon in preparation for the high page count syllabus. As it happened, I had an accidental room mate that summer, Chip, who was also much interested in Thomas Pynchon. We were thrown together in an unfamiliar city by our affection for a pair of best friends, and ended up rooming with each other instead of the objects of our affection. This disappointing turn of events gave us more time and energy to devote to our reading, to get to know one another, and to discuss Pynchon. I am always reminded of our summer together when I see his name in the paper, as he has since made a name for himself as a novelist. When I got back to Haverford in the fall, I convinced my freshman roommate and close friend Alan to take the class with me. Our discussions of the course material followed a trajectory not dissimilar to SlothropÂ?s, from initially focused to finally diffuse as we moved through the semester. Finally, since reading out loud from Pynchon and James featured in our courtship, my wife, Doris, has fixed on the idea that she should read something from each author. After 10 years of trying, she has not yet finished anything from either one. But perhaps once our kids are in college in another 15 years or so, she will find the time and stamina. Or perhaps one our kids will beat her to it. In any case, the ripples from the initial inclusion of Pychon with James on that syllabus continue to follow me, and each of them brings Professor R. and his class back to my mind.