This essay argues that in its opposition to the business of college sports, the American campus novel has undergone very few changes over the past century. Debates about college sports replicate, either literally or metonymically, the assumed economic and social functions of college education as such. Campus novels like Owen Johnson's Stover at Yale (1912) are committed to the belief that the corruption of sports by business interests emblemizes the corruption of the university as a whole, while the ideal of sports uncorrupted by business represents the ideal of the university itself. Similarly, when commercialized sports are condemned today, the narrative critique imagines an alternative academic world—as we see in Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding (2012)—in which economic corruption is abolished and true academic merit is valued. However, despite the ten-fold increase in college enrollment over the past century, America's most influential educational institutions largely serve the same social classes as they did in the past, and largely for the same reasons. The essential difference is that while the benefits of higher education were once understood as form of inherited privilege, today they are understood as justly earned reward, and, I argue, it is both this similarity of the student population and this difference in that population's understanding of itself that makes the campus novel such a necessary form in contemporary American society.
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Christopher Findeisen; “The One Place Where Money Makes No Difference”: The Campus Novel from Stover at Yale Through The Art of Fielding. American Literature 1 March 2016; 88 (1): 67–91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-3453660
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