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The Groves of Academe

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  293 ratings  ·  39 reviews
Henry Mulcahy, a literature instructor at progressive Jocelyn College, is informed that his appointment will not be continued. Convinced he is disliked by the president of Jocelyn because of his abilities as a teacher and his independence of mass opinion, Mulcahy believes he is being made the victim of a witch-hunt. Plotting vengeance, Mulcahy battles to fight for justice ...more
Paperback, 312 pages
Published December 23rd 2002 by Mariner Books (first published 1952)
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Average rating 3.28  · 
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Justin Evans
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Interesting to wonder why Mary McCarthy's 'Groves' is so little read, while 'Stoner' is re-released to great acclaim seemingly every five years I hear my wife calling, she says, "Gee, why could this book by a woman that's just like that book by a man be less highly rated even though it's just as good and about the same tings: English department at a small regional school that's a little bit quirky and prone to infighting and incompetence. Gee, I wonder why? WHATEVER COULD IT BE, MISOGYNIST?.

Lea
...more
John-Paul
Jun 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Regarding the faculty:

“Everyone felt called to stipulate, like a lawyer, his own degree of interest in the case, and to distinguish his own area of human solidarity from that of his neighbor, carefully set up boundaries and limits, eminent domain.” “These continuous factional disputes and ideological scandals were a form of spiritual luxury that satisfied the higher cravings for polemic, gossip, and backbiting without taking the baser shape, so noticeable in the larger universities,
...more
Catherine
Nov 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mainstream-us, 2009
*whistles* Goodness, what a scathing literary commentary on liberal arts schools. It says something about McCarthy's ability to discern the archetypes humans tend to inhabit that while reading Chapter IV: 'Ancient History,' I could have sworn I was reading about my own college, now, not a fictional college in 1952. She has nailed the aspirations of liberal arts schools, the petty politics, the process of mellowing (or radicalizing) that comes with age, the physical feel of such a campus - and it ...more
Judy
Oct 31, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of campus novels


Another campus novel of the several I read this fall. (You Deserve Nothing; The Secret History) I wonder if Donna Tartt read Mary McCarthy. One difference from Tartt's book is that in The Groves of Academe the professors and President of Jocelyn College are the focus of the novel rather than the students. A similarity is that in both books the colleges are small and progressive though the stories are 30 years apart in time.

Henry Mulcahy, middle-aged, unsuccessful, overburdened, reneg
...more
El
Oct 31, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I went great guns with this book for the first 50-60 pages or so as a passenger on a road trip last weekend. Then I put it down and after that it was a real pain to pick back up and continue with the same level of enthusiasm.

I thought it would be good to read after finishing Owen Johnson's Stover at Yale - Stover was an undergraduate beginning his first year at Yale, and the protagonist of McCarthy's book was Henry Mulcahey, a professor at a progressive college. Stover spent the majority
...more
Richard
Apr 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Imagine Nabokov's Pnin. Then imagine the protagonist is Pnin's evil twin.
Matt
Aug 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
A funny, smart, and insightful book that felt, to me at least, as also marking the end of a certain kind of literature. The book itself includes a certain amount of talk about "Jesuitical" habits of mind, that trained argumentative style that for some of us will always be the ulitmate form of intellectual investigation, and the characters definitely engage in that here, at this peculiar depth of strategy and counter-strategy, investigating morals and motives at a level of psychological depth tha ...more
Marina Morais
Apr 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
I might have not appreciated this book as much had I not gone to Film school for five years - or any other Arts/Humanities course for that matter.

The description of the minds and quarrels and attitudes and dialogues of scholars is just perfect. It's a very toxic environment established by smart people who were led to think at some point in their lives that they are smarter than the others.

There are many interesting discussions concerning all the different branches connect
...more
Lucy Barnhouse
Sep 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is an enjoyably brutal romp through the absurdities of academia and academics. McCarthy's prose is deliciously and mercilessly precise as she skewers the foibles of a small liberal arts college community during the heady days of the Red Scare and experimental poetry. Much in the machinations of college administrators, faculty, and students is firmly rooted in this specific cultural context; much, for better and for worse, is instantly recognizable to anyone who has spent time among the grov ...more
Leslie
Nov 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Begins as a character and social study of a brilliant, arrogant academic at a small progressive private college in the fraught political climate of post-war America trying to save his job while stoking up his sense of misunderstood martyrdom, then veers into an entertaining satirical portrait of academia, the academic tendency to argue oneself into immobility, and the contemporary art scene (with the very funny scenes at a poetry conference held at the college). Insightful, fascinating bits alon ...more
Julia Cain
Feb 27, 2008 rated it did not like it
I had to drop this book. After 4 months of trying to get through it I just gave up. The language in the book is dated. The character descriptions are funny and very elaborate but go on and on and eventually lost me. Probably a good book for book on tape when one can't get to sleep. On to the next book - Hurray!
Chris Bull
A fierce battle for little gain

Those argumentative people in your classes who would argue for its own sake, well many of them became academics. After 45 years in academia, I had the bad fortune to see many of them split departments and colleges into factions, with no one the winner.
Mark Astle
Not my taste

I struggled to interest myself in the problems of the characters. The conflicts were primarily internal and academic and require tedious conversations to unwind. In the end, it was of little interest to me whether the unpleasant protagonist met an unpleasant end of not.
Janet Gardner
Oct 15, 2013 rated it liked it
I generally love campus novels, and this one started out with real promise. But by the second half, I was dragging myself through because I cared just enough (barely) to want to see how things wrapped up. Uneven, to say the least.
William Francis
Nov 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Hard to finish and dated
But I finished it
Shoshana G
Yeah, I just don't care.
Caroline Bartels
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book as I found McCarthy’s book, The Group, to be quite fascinating. But I was bored to tears by this and found it tedious. There was quite a bit of humor in it, and as a person with a masters degree in English there were certainly members of Jocelyn’s English Dept. faculty that I recognized, but it just felt like McCarthy was trying too hard.
Bob
May 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think of Mary McCarthy, perhaps imprecisely, in the same breath with Dawn Powell and Janet Flanner as the quintessence of a certain urbane, New Yorker magazine-centric, Manhattan literary sensibility of the mid-20th century.
Whether that appraisal is here or there, I believe this kind of satire is what is called "wickedly funny." Her eye for the material details of clothes and food and furnishings that correlate with every character's social class and beliefs is brilliant and her similes
...more
Joe
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic-fiction
A classic academic novel. McCarthy writes beautiful prose, and can be quite funny, but the novel feels dated and arch. All of the characters are eloquent but self-absorbed, and the pleasure of seeing through the self-interestedness of everyone's motives in each and every scene soon begins to pale. A plot would have been nice, too.
James
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: education, fiction
Ugh... This novel started out so promising. Then it very quickly descended from an interesting character study to a mess of intellectual rivalries and literary allusions that gave me a headache. I'm a pretty well read and intelligent guy. When your novel descends to a point where I can hardly follow what's going on, your text is wayyyy too obscure.
Nathanial
Feb 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
satire of a 'progressive' private school, circa '50s Red Scare. Shifts characters from chapter to chapter, possibly to show instability of point of view during the plots of scheming, manipulation, and revenge. Caps it off with a 'conference of poets,' which gives ample opportunity for a more removed perspective to provide commentary.
Sheenagh
Jun 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: pb
Excellent novel set in a 'progressive' college in the throes of McCarthyism. Rather like if one of the Great American Novellists (TM) actually realised what a repellent human being their self-insert main male characters were.
Elizabeth
Jan 01, 2011 rated it liked it
A biting academic satire. The first chapter was truly brilliant.
Mark
Dec 30, 2007 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John Mccullough
An interesting and entertaining book about academic retribution. Not McCarthy's best, but better than SOOOOOO many other books on academia.
l.
Aug 12, 2012 rated it liked it
The first chapter is great.
Tina Huntz
A unique and challenging novel. One that I must revisit in the future.
Dan
Mary McCarthy's "The Groves of Academe" is a perceptive novel of 1952 examining academic politics at a fictional medium-size experimental college in east-central Pennsylvania. It is informed by her experience teaching at two private liberal arts colleges. My (educated) guess is that McCarthy accurately characterizes a number of academic sorts and some students. It is lightly satiric but not unsympathetic.

The narrative follows the byzantine debates and evolving realizations among facu
...more
Bill FromPA
Mar 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1950s, campus-novels
The novel comes across as slow and involuted at first - McCarthy's characters behave like real academics for whom overthinking things is a way of life - but gradually picks up its pace. What seems to be the main plot arc: whether or not Joyce scholar Henry Mulcahy will retain his position at Jocelyn College gets unexpectedly resolved about 2/3 of the way through, but what feels like the novel's coda, a highly entertaining account of a poetry conference at the college, contains a real sting in it ...more
Donald
Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
First-rate in all particulars. McCarthy's intellect, literacy, and vocabulary are so far above the norm, and a liberal education in her time was so superior to today's norms, that her writing may well be a bit of a challenge for much of our contemporary audience. But the book skillfully captures the time and the academic milieu, especially in the eastern U.S. of the era. For anyone who has worked in that setting (even in more recent times), the story offers chuckles, chortles, and nods of recogn ...more
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Mary McCarthy (1912–1989) was an American literary critic and author of more than two dozen books including the 1963 New York Times bestseller The Group. Born in Seattle, McCarthy studied at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and graduated in 1933. After moving to New York City, McCarthy became known for her incisive writing as a contributor to publications such as the Nation, the New Repub ...more