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Stoner (New York Review Books Classics) by…
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Stoner (New York Review Books Classics) (original 1965; edition 2006)

by John Williams, John McGahern (Introduction)

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2,1051463,129 (4.3)179
Member:andyg227
Title:Stoner (New York Review Books Classics)
Authors:John Williams
Other authors:John McGahern (Introduction)
Info:NYRB Classics (2006), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Rating:****1/2
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Stoner by John Williams (1965)

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» See also 179 mentions

English (104)  Dutch (22)  Italian (8)  Spanish (4)  French (2)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (145)
Showing 1-5 of 104 (next | show all)
An excellent character study of the main character and all others. It was a rich tragic and heroic study of an ordinary life. ( )
  snash | Nov 18, 2014 |
Beautiful prose. Sad story of a university professor who is the brunt of unkindness by his family and his faculty. ( )
  Doondeck | Nov 17, 2014 |
I was reading this novel this summer as the earthly life of someone very dear, a professor in Missouri, came to an end. An odd and sad coincidence and, perhaps because of that I could not stop reading. Loved the novel and would recommend, in particular to academics. ( )
  nbsp | Nov 8, 2014 |
There are many aspects to this novel--Stoner's marriage, the straight-jacket of university politics--that could have made for pathos, but Stoner is ultimately a heroic figure despite circumstances. I was impressed. I only question whether a reader not interested by academe would enjoy the novel. ( )
  brocade | Aug 30, 2014 |
From its title and year of publication, you may think “Stoner” is about a drugged-out hippie from the pre-Haight-Ashbury days, but it’s not. It’s about 18-year-old William Stoner from rural Missouri who enters the University of Missouri in Columbia in 1910, initially intending to study agriculture and return to his family’s farm after graduation. Instead, he meets a disillusioned but dedicated teacher (Archer Sloane) in a required English class, changes his major, and becomes a graduate student in English literature. Ultimately, he takes the position of assistant professor of English at the university, teaching there until his death in 1956.

In a song (“Love Minus Zero/No Limit”) from his 1965 album “Bringing it All Back Home,” Bob Dylan said, “there’s no success like failure and failure’s no success at all” – words that could apply to John Williams, the author of this sad but moving novel published in the same year. It sold around 2,000 copies after its initial printing, but almost 50 years later and almost 20 years after its author’s death the book is now a rediscovered classic – called “the greatest American novel you’ve never heard of” by Tim Kreider, writing in the New Yorker in 2013.

One day, in that first English class, Stoner is asked by Sloane the meaning of Shakespeare’s sonnet 73 (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold ...”) and he can only stammer, “It means … it means… .” The sonnet describes the compression of time we all experience as we age. At a meeting with Sloane where Stoner explains his intent to change his major, Sloane says to him, “You’re going to be a teacher” and Stoner can only respond, “Are you sure?” Sloane has seen something in him of which Stoner is only dimly aware.

In graduate school, Stoner becomes friendly with fellow students David Masters (the brilliant one who enlists and is killed in France in World War I) and Gordon Finch (the less bright but affable one who also enlists but survives to return to the university and eventually become a dean). Stoner chooses not to enlist and finishes his PhD in 1918. During this time, he meets an attractive quiet girl (Edith Bostwick) at a reception for returning veterans at the home of the Dean of Arts and Sciences. Impulsively, Stoner decides he’s in love with Edith, and the two soon are married. Edith is disturbed and unstable, making Stoner’s life miserable from the start. Stoner alone cares for his daughter, Grace, during her first year of life because Edith is emotionally unable to do so, possibly suffering from postpartum depression. In later years, she successfully orchestrates Grace’s estrangement from her father.

When Sloane dies of a heart attack in 1924, Finch serves as interim department chair and hires the brilliant, arrogant, and physically disabled Hollis Lomax from Harvard. Stoner soon comes into conflict with one of Lomax’s pets, Charles Walker, a disingenuous and lazy graduate student who has minimal mastery of his subject and, like Lomax, also suffers from a physical disability. Stoner, who is on Walker’s PhD committee, refuses to pass Walker during his oral PhD defense. Lomax is incensed and embarks on a mission to destroy Stoner’s spirit, if not his career. Finch tries his best to help Stoner, but is limited in what he can do. The Dean of the College agrees to let Walker retake the exam with a different set of examiners, and he passes. After Lomax takes over the chairmanship of the English department, he relegates Stoner to teaching almost entirely entry-level English composition courses.

Although most of his personal and professional life is bleak, Stoner soldiers through it. He does experience one brief interval of happiness when, at age 43, he has an affair with a graduate student, Katherine Driscoll, who is in her late 20’s. When the affair comes to light, and Lomax threatens to fire Driscoll, she chooses to resign and leave the university. Their affair is the only time Stoner has ever experienced a loving relationship, and the two orchestrate a brief but happy romantic interlude in the Ozarks over a Christmas holiday. Later, in 1949, Stoner discovers that Katherine has published a book. She is teaching at a liberal arts college in the east and remains unmarried. The dedication of the book reads, “to WS.” Stoner continues in his job, remaining at the rank of assistant professor until his death.

From this summary, you may think “Stoner” is a depressing book, but it shouldn’t be. William Stoner is a great example of someone who continues to do the job he loves despite much adversity. He remains true to his principles and his love of teaching and learning. ( )
1 vote sdibartola | Aug 11, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Williamsprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Krol, EdzardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Torrescasana, AlbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is dedicated to my friends and former colleagues in the Department of English at the University of Missouri. They will recognize at once that it is a work of fiction--that no character portrayed in it is based upon any person, living or dead, and that no event has its counterpart in the reality we knew at the University of Missouri. They will also realize that I have taken certain liberties, both physical and historical, with the University of Missouri, so that in effect it, too, is a fictional place.
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William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.
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"Born the child of a poor farmer in Missouri, William Stoner is urged by his parents to study new agriculture techniques at the state university. Digging instead into the texts of Milton and Shakespeare, Stoner falls under the spell of the unexpected pleasures of English literature, and decides to make it his life. Stoner is the story of that life" -- publisher description (January 2007).… (more)

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NYRB Classics

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Editions: 1590171993, 1590173937

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