the professor


“Having labored in the dusty groves of academe for over twenty years, I felt – as a new millennium unfolded – a desire to write more directly and personally than had previously been the case.” Terry Castle is as good as her word. These largely autobiographical essays (six short, the seventh very long) are at times extremely personal, strong, provocative, and sexually explicit. At the same time they are ruminative, questioning, open. I doubt if her particular groves were ever dusty. Part of the charm of her book comes from Castle’s willingness to think aloud, to entertain doubt and uncertainty, and to be alert to the dangers of self-censorship, even while exercising it at times, she says, to protect the privacy of other people. A “late developer”, Castle’s homosexual awakening was tentative, but blossomed at graduate school in the upper Midwest, where an affair with a closeted older woman – “the professor” of her title – lowered a difficult backdrop against which her subsequent relationships played themselves out (the stage is now more happily occupied by Blakey, whom Castle married a few years ago in San Francisco). Certainly “the professor” did much to determine Castle’s choice of dissertation topic: “Richardson’s Clarissa (1749) – a massive, morally ambiguous, relentlessly tragic epistolary novel about an intelligent young woman who is tricked, seduced, and harried to death by a charming amoral rake. Gosh, I wonder what made me choose that for a subject”.

more from Angus Trumble at the TLS here.