William Martin, 2003, 576 p.
I’ve always been disappointed that I never had a chance to go to Harvard, and I don’t know why I feel this way. I doubt that I would have fit in at all, since Harvard enrollees aren’t typically former high school losers who sit in the school parking lot and smoke and listen to “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” over and over again during lunch breaks. Harvard students have 4.0 GPA’s. Harvard students are driven and ambitious. Harvard students are like Tracy Flick in Election (which is a great book, BTW). I was the antithesis of a Harvard student, but still…
This may be the reason why I picked up a copy of Harvard Yard. Perhaps somewhere deep in my subconscious I continue to yearn for that rarefied old-school Harvard atmosphere of tweediness and pipe-smoking and snobbish joviality. Since I won’t be attending Harvard now or ever, the least I can do is read about the place now and then, and Harvard Yard seemed to be a good choice for some vicarious wish-fulfillment.
The novel is large; 576 pages, and it’s chock-full of history. Harvard Yard traces the history of Harvard from its founding in the mid-1600’s to present-day. The novel also has an interconnected modern storyline, in which the protagonist, Peter Fallon, is attempting to locate an unpublished Shakespearean play entitled “Love’s Labors Won.” The manuscript was gifted to Robert Harvard by The Bard himself and brought to America by his son (and Harvard founder), John Harvard. John gave it to a protegé before he died, and it was then hidden and lost and found and lost once again over the course of many years.
Harvard Yard is impeccably researched and written with an exactitude that I find to be quite laudable, but it was these very qualities that contributed to my increasing restlessness as I continued to read, and read, AND READ. It felt like a never ending story. There is just too much detail, and my interest began to wane as time progresssed. I think Martin (and his editors) made a huge mistake when they decided to include the Peter Fallon bibliomystery, because it detracts from the voluminous historical fiction aspects of the novel. Either make it one or the other, dagnabbit!
Overall, though, Harvard Yard was a good read, and I learned a great deal about Harvard and Puritans and The American Revolution and suffragism and civil rights and everything in between. How long will I retain this knowledge–oops, it’s already gone! That’s what I get for being a slacker and listening to devil music during my angsty adolescent years. Now leave me alone–I need to get back to World of Warcraft. There are a few demons that still need killin’…
For your viewing pleasure, here are some photos of Harvard, both old and new:
Harper’s Weekly, 1885
Physics Faculty, ca 1900
Harvard College Observatory, 1900
Here are a few other notable Harvard grads: