Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy

Mark Ford writes:

Jarrell began his only novel, Pictures from an Institution, in 1951, and it was published in 1954 (not 1986 as the jacket copy to this reissue impossibly states). The year after he was demobbed he spent a semester teaching at Sarah Lawrence college in Bronxville, New York; one of his colleagues there was Mary McCarthy, who used the experience to write her own campus novel, The Groves of Academe (1952). As in his analysis of the army, to which he at one point compares the semi-fictional college of Benton, Jarrell sets out to show how an institution is ‘always a man’s shadow shortened in the sun’ (he’s alluding to Emerson), even if that institution fancies itself a progressive liberal arts college. Jarrell’s focus is not, however, on the rank and file, who in this case would be the students – they barely appear in the novel – but on the staff, and the genre switches from sentiment to satire.

(LRB 21 October 2010)

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