Alexander (Louis) Theroux Jack Beatty - Essay

Jack Beatty

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"None would wish it longer." Thus Dr. Johnson on Paradise Lost. Thus any reader not named Theroux on Darconville's Cat. Still, if you have a month to spare and want to put muscle on your vocabulary, you might dip into it, only go slowly, one toe at a time, as if the book were a Maine bay. It's actually a romance about a young professor at a Virginia girls' college who falls in love, as one might fall into the maw of Mount Saint Helens, with an even younger student, whom he courts, and is on the point of marrying when she calls it off. She (Isabel) loves a sailor, you see. Darconville, the spurned professor, takes revenge by writing this novel, which, among many other things, is a summa of misogyny. Darconville's bad luck in love is not the main source of this spleen; it is the teaching of Dr. Crucifer, a gypsy scholar who haunts the attic of Harvard's Adams House, where Darconville goes to teach after being jilted by Isabel. Dr. Crucifer is a self-administered eunuch, an erudite woman-hater, and a great snoring bore. He is a preposterous creation, and as he goes on and on and on, spewing his polysyllabic prejudices, even readers named Theroux must weary, stumble, finally fall, too exhausted to scale yet another immense, small-printed page. Page? Better call it a Calvary, for though this book begins in comedy, it ends in torture. Yet for the first 50 pages I thought I was scouting one of those oddball American masterpieces, like...

(The entire section is 600 words.)