Academia in Fact and Fiction

by Ludmiła Gruszewska-Blaim (Volume editor) Merritt Moseley (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 386 Pages


«Academia in Fact and Fiction» comprises twenty-eight essays on the relationship(s) between the university and the practice of belles lettres. The collection includes studies of the teaching of fiction by university professors; the fit – or misfit – between the creative writer and the academy; the depiction of the university, its staff and atmosphere, in literature, cinema and new media; and the varieties of academic fiction ranging from the ludic and satirical to the tragic. Most of the works addressed in the volume are British or American, modern or contemporary, but the historical range extends to Victorian and Shakespearian works, and the geographical range includes novels and poems from Russia, New Zealand, and Nigeria. Among the genres discussed are, in addition to the «literary novel», plays, detective fiction, fanfiction, utopias, mysteries and alternative history. The contributors are international and cosmopolitan.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • The Dean’s Address: In Defense of the Humanities (Andrzej Ceynowa (University of Gdańsk))
  • Prologue
  • Novelists in the University – Good for the Academy? Good for the Novel? (Merritt Moseley (University of North Carolina at Asheville))
  • Part One: Academic Fictions
  • ‘Ghost of the Old Joy’: The Vocation of Literary Scholarship, According to Stoner (Joseph Ballan (University of Copenhagen))
  • ‘Mortal Combat with the Forces of Evil and Sin’ on the Campus: Functions of Puritan Intertext in Francine Prose’s Blue Angel (Natalia Vysotska (Kiev National Linguistic University))
  • Academic Fiction and Historical Ifs: Stephen Fry’s Making History (Wojciech Klepuszewski (Koszalin University of Technology))
  • Wander Boys, or What Do Writers Do, When They Are Not Writing: Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys and John McNally’s After the Workshop (Marta Łysik (University of Wrocław))
  • The College Mystery and the Mystery Academic Novel: A Preliminary Differentiation (Ludmiła Gruszewska-Blaim (University of Gdańsk))
  • The Multiple Identities of Norman N. Holland in Postmodern Mystery and Academia (Elżbieta Perkowska-Gawlik (Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin))
  • Bill James’s Body Language: A Lecture on the Academic Mystery Novel (Zbigniew Głowala (Jagiellonian University in Kraków))
  • The Academic Play: A Missing Genre? (Rudolf Weiss (University of Vienna))
  • For the Love of Words: On Language and Cinematography in Academic Novels and Films (Corina Selejan (Lucian Blaga University Sibiu))
  • From an Academic Satire to a Drama Film: Anna Benson Gyles’ Adaptation of Carol Shields’ Swann (Patrycja Podgajna (Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin))
  • Part Two: Academia and Creative Writing Across Time and Media
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost: A Humanist Satire on the Early Modern World of Academia (Dieter Fuchs (University of Vienna))
  • Study/Cell Drama? On Images of Scholars and Scholarship In the Drama by Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Jacek Fabiszak (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań))
  • ‘Let None but Skilful Workmen Elaborate Precious Material’: Education and Academia in Late Victorian Utopias (Marta Komsta (Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin))
  • A Humanist Writes a Utopia: Science and Education in John Macmillan Brown’s Limanora: The Island of Progress (1903) (Katarzyna Pisarska (Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin))
  • Images of Academia in Charles Williams’s Fiction (Andrzej Sławomir Kowalczyk (Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin))
  • Beyond Satire: C.S. Lewis’s Vision of the University (Jadwiga Węgrodzka (University of Gdańsk))
  • Life as Art, a ‘Systematically Correlated Assemblage’: Vladimir Nabokov’s Quest for Identity in His Novel, Pale Fire, and His Memoir, Speak, Memory (Geoffrey Green (San Francisco State University))
  • Critical Illusions: Anti-Criticism in Vladimir Nabokov (Vyatcheslav Bart (University of Tel Aviv))
  • David Foster Wallace on Academia, Academese Subdialect and Creative Writing (Maja Wojdyło (University of Gdańsk))
  • Forensic Imagination, Literary Studies and Academe in Julia Kristeva’s Detective Novel Murder In Byzantium (Zofia Kolbuszewska (John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin))
  • ‘The Twin Lies of Entertainment and Enlightenment’: Zadie Smith as the Academic Novelist (Urszula Terentowicz-Fotyga (Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin))
  • The Professor As War Hero in Selected Nigerian Biafra-Novels (Ewald Mengel (Tomas Bata University of Zlin/ f. University of Vienna))
  • Mashing Up Theory, Creative Writing and Net Art: Mark Amerika’s remixthebook (Grzegorz Maziarczyk (John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin))
  • Academia in Harry Potter Fanfiction (Monika Drzewiecka (University of Gdańsk))
  • Creative Writing: A Tool for Exercising Civil Presence (Izabela Morska (University of Gdansk))
  • The Schubert of Country Punk: Performance as Interpretation (Rafaël Newman (Independent scholar, Switzerland))
  • Index
  • Notes on Contributors

← 8 | 9 →


The Janus face of academia (one of its masks looking aloof and inscrutable, like that of an ancient magus or a medieval priest, and the other convivial and generous, especially to the young) rarely occupies the attention of journalists, fictionists or filmmakers. Societies, both ancient and post/modern, that have sustained their ‘groves of academe’ for ages, providing them with locations, a relatively high, though over the ages fluctuating, social status and either lavish or barely sufficient subsidies do not like to seriously deliberate the role and condition of higher education.

Scholars and scientists as cultural personae have always been most opaque figural signs, intellectually and emotionally too distant from the general public to raise their genuine interest. More surprisingly, academia is rarely a matter of interest to academicians, which is, as Burton Clark rightly observes, “a remarkable failing in an estate composed of scholars and researchers devoted to the task of assisting others to understand the natural and social phenomena that make a difference in shaping the modern world” (2). Academia educates the elite and, by the same token, affects the lives and shapes the future of the general public. Ironically, the latter often view the academy as ‘a world apart’ – the ivory tower having little to do with ‘real life’ or themselves. The fact that social order, culture, economy and politics, not to mention science, thrive on ideas born in academia, more often than not evades their immediate perception. Underrepresented in mass media academic endeavour tends to be transparent, never attracting as much attention as far less spectacular achievements of politicians or other decision-makers. Little public thought or voice is given to scientists, even less to humanists – professors of languages, literatures, history and fine arts, whose opinions and beliefs, passed on by their graduates employed as teachers, touch the minds and lives of every single generation. Notwithstanding constant presence of humanists during the long process of education, most consumers of the contemporary world wonder what good comes of subsidizing Faculties of Languages, History or Comparative Literature and Culture. ← 9 | 10 →

The rapid post-Second World War reforms opening higher education to the masses affected the representation of academia in all media. The corporatization of discourse that was enforced on university administration a few decades ago penetrated all levels of academia altering the position of university professor. Encouraging humanities professors to consider their ‘productivity’ and ‘profits,’ making them use concepts such as ‘student-credit hour’ and view students as ‘customers’ aimed at redefining the role of university professors and reducing the distance between academia and the global market by forming more commercial and thus flexible attitudes towards teaching and research. The changes have found their meagre reflection in literature and cinema that dramatized the clash between the myth of liberal education and corporate reality responsible for commodification of knowledge, dehumanization and mediocritization of higher education. Academia and its traditional values have found devoted defenders who insisted that “[a] university is not an industrial or financial corporation, not a factory. We do not, or should not, manufacture commodities for sale; we do not, or should not, invent services for cash. Maximizing returns – making profits – is not the ‘bottom line’ for higher education. We do basic research and scholarship that should serve the common good, not corporate greed” (White 75). Alas, the voices of reason – resounding not only, though mainly, within the university walls – were disregarded. With the general public uninterested in academia, the implementation of educational models serving mainly the interests of the global multinational corporations took place first in the U.S. and then gradually spread across the world. The humanities, more than any other disciplines, were subject to a heavy critique for their ‘impractical’ and ‘unprofitable’ attitudes.

Idealized or satirized academia as represented in literature and culture of the previous epochs provided twentieth- and twenty first-century writers and filmmakers with a convenient model from which to depart. Despite unpropitious circumstances, the Faculties of Humanities are still havens for scholars as well as poets, playwrights, prose writers, and performers, whose success in literature or show business is often overshadowed by their academic status. To accentuate this happy coalition of creative potentials in professors of humanities as well as a whole range of ‘uses’ of academia, the authors of articles collected in our monograph Academia in Fact and Fiction discuss higher education as well as educators from different angles ← 10 | 11 → and across time and media. The purpose of this book is to point to the presence of humanists and scholars not only within the academy but also beyond it, e.g. on the publishing market – among best-selling fiction writers, in cinema as well as in ‘real life.’ We believe that academia, viewed on the one hand as a community of free and sceptically-minded recluses, alienated to succeed (Damrosch 6), and on the other as an institution based on a patterned isolation of disciplines participating in never-ending interdisciplinary and cultural dialogue, ought to be more extensively mediated. Unless ‘de-constructed’ through familiarization in all possible media, the university envisaged as a workplace of “lone worker[s] in the dark library of the soul” (Bromwich, qtd. in Damrosch 98) will remain a haunting image bordering on the unreal.

Academia in Fact and Fiction comprises twenty-seven essays that trace multiple representations of academic endeavour. The two parts of the volume, entitled “Academic Fictions” and “Academia and Creative Writing Across Time and Media,” focus, respectively, on: novels, plays and film adaptations dealing with academic life and deploying other markers of academicity (Part One); creative writing and academia as topos and inspiration in different genres of literature, cinema and the new media (Part Two). The opening of the book consists of Dean Andrzej Ceynowa’s address “In Defence of the Humanities,” given during the parallel international conferences that inaugurated scholarly activities in the newly built Faculty of Languages and Cultures building, University of Gdańsk 2015; and “The Prologue,” in which Professor Merritt Moseley from the University of North Carolina at Asheville reflects on the presence of “The Novelist in the University: Good for the Academy? Good for the Novel?” (L.G-B)

Works Cited

Clark, Burton R, ed. The Academic Profession: National, Disciplinary, and Institutional Settings. Oakland, CA: U of California P, 1987.

Damrosch, David. We Scholars. Changing the Culture of the University. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995.

White, Geoffrey D., ed. Campus, Inc. Corporate Power in the Ivory Tower. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2000. ← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →

Andrzej Ceynowa

The Dean’s Address: In Defense of the Humanities1

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, thank you for coming, for this way you probably unwittingly entered our kabbala to demonstrate that there is no universal crisis of the humanities, that humanities can still flourish, and that it is possible to convince even the die-hard neoliberal university capitalists that liberal arts education is not only good in itself (good for the souls of those who study them), but has a positive and important contribution to make to general prosperity and economic development of a country.

We are here to contemplate “Academia Across Time and Media,” and possibly to find in “Scholars as Fictionists” this special value which, when recognized, will be the saving grace of the humanities in the eyes of the contemporary university capitalists who look to returns on the investment (cost of education) as the only justification for authorizing any kind of studies. The organizers of these two parallel conferences developed the idea that we should highlight the fact that among our teacher-colleagues there is a great number of active creative artists who put their fiction-honed brains to rational analysis and instruction in critical thinking and analysis.

First there was this idea. No, no. First there was this building, under prolonged construction. (Originally it was supposed to be completed three years ago. But, so what? It is here now.) No. First there was our constant frustration that no matter what we did, we would be told that we cost too ← 13 | 14 → much, are a drain on the University finances because we are all the time in the red and that we should size down. Then there was the building and then there was the idea that we should do something about the bad name we were getting in some quarters.

Do the humanities, or liberal arts education in general, need defending? Yes and no. Yes, because for example philosophy as presently practiced, has precious little in common with philosophy as ‘philo Sophia,’ as love of wisdom. In the past the great questions were: ‘What is the good life? What is the meaning of life? Why are we here?’ And so on. At present the answers are rather disappointing: good life is anything you are comfortable with; there is no meaning to life, our being here is perfectly coincidental and our being here, on the individual level as well on the species level, is completely irrelevant. This sentiment was probably best expressed by lines Stephen Crane wrote in 1899, not long before his death,

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist.”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”

So, we are irrelevant and have to justify our existence to the outside world. (And coincidently at about the same time there came first complaints that pragmatic university presidents see no reason why anybody should learn Latin, Greek and the classics.)

But to return to our initial question, if the humanities need defending, my second concurrent answer is ‘No, the humanities need no defending.’ Proof? We are here to enhance the celebratory joy of our opening of this newest addition to this brand new campus: our new building housing the Faculty of Modern Languages and Cultures. This is our conspiratorial reason for enticing you to come here and share our joy.

I think we are all sick of hearing another disquisition on the ‘defense of humanities.’ Of late it has become quite fashionable to defend the humanities from the barbarians who allegedly would like to eliminate the liberal arts education from the world as a useless waste of time. Some idiot journalist, fishing for a by-line, reports that this or that tough-minded politician or businessman blurted out: ‘Those damned artists and humanists cost too much and produce nothing.’ As a result ‘a crisis for the humanities’ is ← 14 | 15 → announced and we all jump to the humanities’ defense. Last year we had here a show of the ‘Defend the humanities!’ hysteria when one of Polish provincial universities closed its department of philosophy. This was supposedly a definitive proof that young people see no value and no future in studying philosophy and that university administration and its governing bodies, first the Faculty council and then the Senate of this august institution, decided that there is no need to resuscitate that dead weight and they should let go of philosophy from an institution boasting the illustrious appellation of a ‘university.’ But I think that, to put it mildly and generously, this is pure nonsense. Probably the professional philosophers in that department, in a perfect postmodernist manner, philosophized themselves into absolute relativism, where there is no distinction between values, and thus philosophized themselves out of all relevance to present and future life. But it seems to me that deep down in our hearts none of us is a relativist: if we were, we wouldn’t be here and we, at least some of us, would not be professors. I want to argue about the greater relevance and importance of my values over yours, and I would like to win the argument, not with a club but with a reason, and I do not want to be told that the difference between your values and my values does not matter because relatively they are the same. If you say that our differences do not matter, you have nothing to tell me, and why should I, a man in the street, listen to you and provide you with your livelihood from my taxes?

It is a tough time for the humanities because under postmodernism, or even earlier, since the onset of scientism, i.e., deification of scientific materialism as the only arbiter of what is, human values do not exist (they would say that they do not exist ‘objectively’). Somebody may be deluded into believing that they exist subjectively, but this kind of existence is not verifiable, is subject to absolute annihilation by reigning radical skepticism and cannot be the basis for constituting any community.

We have a choice between the materialist world, which for us exists only as a bundle of facts, and the humanistic world in which, in addition to facts, we have values and meaning, and (on the part of human beings) we have the spirit. But for the last couple of decades some scientists and humanists have joyously told us that human beings are no more important or sacred than a rock or a frog. On the other hand we are told that we are Nietzschean gods, who took over the divine throne of the Christian God, ← 15 | 16 → revel in transvaluation of all values and in their radical relativization, and are a law onto ourselves and are supreme individualists whose skin is so thin that any word that we would care to call an insult could completely ruin our personality and dignity, which we, by the way, also don’t have. I know that it may sound bizarre but it is no more bizarre than postmodern anthropology, ethics without free will, etc. If that is the case, who needs the humanities?

It is a great unfathomable paradox that in the age of rhetoric of rights (everybody has all sorts of rights, including the right to unbridled expression) and no duties, no obligations towards our fellow men, the humanities are being relegated from higher education as unnecessary and useless.

I have been told recently that I must be terribly unhappy and internally conflicted because, on the one hand, for the last twenty years I have been a rector, a deputy rector for research, and now a dean – thus, a member of that hated bureaucratic clique which is the bane of all scholars and scientists – and, on the other hand, I am a member of this lowly humanistic class, scorned by the administrators as leeches on the healthy financial body of the university. You cannot be such two different persons in one body and remain sane. But I am not conflicted or frustrated and believe myself to be quite sane. I positively enjoy playing the Cassandra at the beginning of the academic year chanting: ‘They are not coming. There are fewer and fewer of them. What can we do to make them come to us?’ Only to change the tune when the recruitment period is over, when I admit to being a false prophet and announce that we have again admitted more students than the year before and ask my colleagues ‘What would be fun to offer to students in the coming year?’ But this question I ask as a person who believes that it is possible to expand the compass of liberal education even in our technicized and computerized, capitalistic and materialistic world.

As you know very well, students are not naïve: they won’t come to study something that they won’t enjoy and that they will not be able to use in their efforts to earn a living later. They think and they choose. They come to departments and faculties where they will be able to study humanities, because they want to have as many options open as possible. They are like students in the middle ages and in early modernity who came to the university to get general education and not professional training. That training they, both then and now, get on the job. They do not want to be force-fed ← 16 | 17 → narrow, specific knowledge that will be obsolete in five or at most in ten years. They don’t want to go into those areas of study that will railroad them into a very narrow corridor of choices. Of course, there are some people who want to have their life planned in minor details by others. And such people are necessary too. But I dare say they are not humanists, they have not had the experience of liberal arts studies.

But to return to the reason why we wanted to invite you to come. This building is more spacious than other buildings on the campus and boasts one thing that not all that many universities possess: a concert and a performing hall. Its walls will be used to exhibit art works created by students of Gdańsk Art Academy and hopefully other artists who will want to exhibit in our spaces. Students of the Gdańsk Music Academy, in exchange for free concerts, are already using the concert hall as a practice auditorium twice a semester. It is also becoming a practice and performing hall for our famous university choir, our dance ensemble and student theaters.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (March)
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016. 386 pp.

Biographical notes

Ludmiła Gruszewska-Blaim (Volume editor) Merritt Moseley (Volume editor)

Ludmiła Gruszewska-Blaim is Associate Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Gdańsk. Her publications include books and edited volumes on 20th- and 21st-century literature and utopian cinema. She is co-editor of the Peter Lang series «Mediated Fictions: Studies in Verbal and Visual Narratives». Merritt Moseley is a retired Professor and Department Chair of English at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is the author and editor of several books on contemporary British and Irish fiction.


Title: Academia in Fact and Fiction