My teenage son was talking to me about the Simpsons episode when Marge Simpson fell for her university tutor, while she was going out with Homer.
We got onto the subject via inspirational teachers. He mentioned his options at school and why he’d chosen not to go with certain subjects. And what did it come down to? Yes, the quality of the teaching. Did he like the teacher? And did they make the subject interesting?
That was what it was all about.
A sober reflection.. and it reminded me of how vital our teachers are to us. If a subject is taught imaginatively, we love it. If we have a dull teacher, we’ll probably dislike that subject. We may even choose to drop it.
What a tragedy.
But Marge Simpson’s predicament drew me on to other aspects of teaching – by the inspirational and the not-so inspirational:
“Falling for your university tutor.”
I immediately thought of how fertile a subject this can be for novelists. And yet there are few examples.
Malcolm Bradbury wrote his novel The “History Man”about university life in the seventies. It centred upon the dreadful Howard Kirk. He was the prototype of the libidinous university tutor of the early 1970’s; but also in terms of his sociopolitical theories and his whole worldview, and how it impacted on his attitude to relationships, he was a man of his time.
In the TV adaptation of the book I remember one particular scene. Howard and his wife were sitting at the breakfast table with their children and he was having a go at her for giving the kids the choice of too many breakfast cereals. “Stop giving them so many options!” he snapped.
Another famous example is Joyce Carol Oates’ novel “Beasts”, set in a New England college. As I read Oates’ account of a university seminar, and she described the reactions of the girl students to their tutor, I had a terrifying moment. It was truly sinister. I thought, “Was Joyce Carol Oates one of the people in my Contemporary American Lit seminar?” Was there a Junior Year Abroad student from the US sitting in our circle? Because she exactly captured the effect our tutor had on us; how we felt about him, how we reacted, the things he said, his personal style…
Then I worked out the dates Joyce Carol Oates would have been at university, and reasoned with myself – and breathed more freely.
The similarity, though, was still uncanny.
My first adult novel (unpublished) was set in a university; the main characters were undergraduates, and it revolved around relationships between the academics, as well as those between the students and their teachers.
Have you read any novels in which the student falls for her university tutor? It seems that they may be few and far between. But I’ll be happy for you to prove me wrong! Find out here about other books I love.