In Praise of Student-Teacher Attraction

Cristina Nehring

  • Blue Angel by Francine Prose
    Allison and Busby, 314 pp, £12.99, June 2001, ISBN 0 7490 0580 7

Theodore Swenson regrets his virtues. The protagonist of Francine Prose’s novel has been a popular creative writing professor for twenty years, but he has never – not once – slept with a student. Most of the time he attributes this to his love for his wife: ‘His marriage meant everything to him. That’s what he imagined telling admiring students if it ever came to that.’ Unfortunately, it never did come to that. In gloomier moods, Swenson knows he is simply ‘too stupid or timid or scared’ to elicit so much as an invitation to impropriety. This, after all, is the guy who ‘finds it trying to walk anywhere with a student’, to whom ‘conversation is tough enough when everyone stands in one place,’ and who shudders to think that ‘forward movement creates so many chances for awkward stalls and collisions, decisions about who goes first, right or left, mini-crises.’ This is Prufrock repackaged for the 21st-century college campus.

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[*] Reviewed in the LRB by Elizabeth Lowry (14 October 1999).

[†] Cape, 176 pp., £12.99, 12 July, 0 224 06193 3.