Brian Tate, forty-six years old, holds an endowed chair in his department and has written two scholarly studies and a textbook, but “he is a dissatisfied and disappointed man.” With a long line of accomplished ancestors, he has felt the need to be successful but has not attained the deanship that he covets. All of his worldly efforts have been colored by his awareness of being only five feet five—and “all his adult life Brian had behaved so as to compensate for, even confute, the sign set on him by fate.” He has become, in fact, a dull man, a man whose self-discipline has led him to a dead end. Although his conjugal life has not always been perhaps as complete as his fancies have led him to dream, he has enjoyed a contented married life and has never exploited his students sexually. He has had his invitations and turned them down, scorning the weakness of colleagues who have fallen. “He loved Erica, and he had serious work to do.”
So although it is hard to admire Brian Tate, it is easy to sympathize with him in his misery. He certainly gets little profound satisfaction from his misalliance with Wendy. A middle-aged student of George Kennan and American foreign policy cannot be expected to find a gratifying way of life in the company of young rebels passing around joints and cliches about the establishment. He is at the end of the novel a chastened man, “embarrassed and ashamed of his behavior over the past year.”
For Erica Tate, the discovery of Brian’s affair is a crushing shock. Erica has always...
(The entire section is 630 words.)