Women's University Fiction, 1880–1945
tual university. Not only is the ormer requently used as a romantic backdropor exploration o the latter, but, in a subgenre in which almost all authors arerecent products o the institutions they describe, the act o writing itsel isimplicated in the very experience it tries to capture. Nor is the act o reading university ction ree rom this type o ideological baggage; Paul Deslandes’sconession in the opening pages o
Oxbridge Men –
that, as an outsider, herst experienced and became ascinated with Oxbridge culture through ction
is one that represents a normative, although certainly not universal, read-ing experience. University ction orces the reader to consider not only the place o university lie in the world, but necessitates a renegotiation o his orher own position towards university lie, a position that may range rom Des-landes’s eeling o alienation
‘the sense o separation I elt rom this world was palpable’
– to the sense o almost celebratory ownership displayed by studieslike Elaine Showalter’s
(2005). What this diversity o reading/ writing approaches suggests is that university ction has an important role to play in both reecting and shaping cultural views o the nature and purpose o higher education.In my own study o university ction, perhaps or some o the same reasonsthat Deslandes admits to in the opening o his study, I have chosen to ocuson those who regarded themselves as outsiders. Te study considers ull-lengthctional narratives written about British student lie by women in the latenineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during a time in which both highereducation generally, and the education o women in particular, were undergoing rapid expansion and change. My selection o novels requires some explanation;shared generic characteristics rather than setting have been my main tool o cat-egorization.
I deliberately chose to ocus only on novels describing student lieat universities; unlike today, most university ction o the period describes thelives o students rather than the aculty politics o later novels like David Lodge’s
or Malcolm Bradbury’s
Te History Man
When I reer to‘university ction’, thereore, unless explicitly stated I reer to novels o studentexperience, the Oxbridge
which I discuss in more detail in Chap-ter 1. Another actor in the decision to narrow down my source texts has beenmore practical. No studies o the British women’s university novel exist and as aresult, most bibliographical sources remain remarkably incomplete.
Identiying and locating university novels, many o which were not considered o lasting literary value at the time o their publication, has been an exciting but di culttask. O the ction that is accessible, the vast majority is set at Oxord and Cam-bridge, where, perhaps not coincidentally, women experienced one o the mostchallenging and visible struggles to gain admission and equal status as under-graduates.
Carol Dyhouse sums up what appears to be the general view among historians o women’s education when she points out that Oxord and Cam-