The Headmaster's Dilemma

The Headmaster's Dilemma by Louis Auchincloss Read Free Book Online

Book: The Headmaster's Dilemma by Louis Auchincloss Read Free Book Online
Authors: Louis Auchincloss
Tags: General Fiction
with him. She took the blame for having thrust herself into the academic program, but criticized him for not having checked her. She reduced his protests to a resigned silence and affirmed that it was her duty now to find a more fitting role for herself in the Averhill community. She ended with a ringing assertion of her conjugal devotion, and that night they made passionate love.
    She now resolved to accept her position as a faculty wife, and, as a start, to cultivate the society of the other faculty wives. She organized a book class to meet for a buffet lunch at her house on alternate Mondays that was soon well attended. She decided to also include the women teachers, though all but one declined, on the alleged ground of a too busy schedule, but for the real reason—at least Ione suspected—that they considered the faculty wives a bunch of old tabbies. She also invited the husbands of any women teachers, but only one of these, a shrill gossipy type, accepted.
    The first book selected for discussion was
The Scarlet
, and it was followed by
Madame Bovary
and then
The House of Mirth
. Ione was a bit nonplussed to discover that the ladies tended to confine their "criticism" of classic fiction almost exclusively to the expression of their like or dislike of the characters involved. It was as if Hester Prynne or Emma Bovary or Lily Bart were up for membership in the book class. And all would have been turned down, even over the acid dissent of the solitary faculty husband.
    In an effort to stir up some more lively comment she proposed
The Ambassadors
for the next meeting. She had seen what students could make of it; it might be interesting to see what an older group would.
    Mrs. Warren, the senior member of the class, wife of the sexagenarian head of the Latin department, who, with the aid of a fortune inherited from her wealthy New York clan, had built a grotesque gothic mansion near the campus, was a berouged, bewigged, would-be grande dame who deemed herself the leading intellectual of the group on the basis of a slim volume of privately printed verse. She took it upon herself to lead the discussion.
    "Of course, in my youth, it was taken for granted that any young man who paid more than a tourist's visit to Paris was there for an immoral reason. He was naturally expected to come home and go into a proper business and marry a proper girl. That was the system, and who is to say that it didn't work? Look around you, and see what we have today. Strether was a perfect ass to assume that Chad Newsome had the slightest moral obligation towards a designing and married French woman ten years his senior. There was a time in history when such women were whipped at the cart's tail. And good enough for them, too. I'd have saved a few lashes for Strether himself. He actually believed that a young man should give up his home, his family, and his business, and tie himself to the apron strings of an old tart because she has taught him how to enter a theatre box gracefully after the show had started!"
    "Oh, but Mrs. Warren, you're leaving out love!" protested Mrs. Littleton, the pretty new bride of a handsome physics teacher. "It is love that has turned the crude young Chad into a charming and poised gentleman. Strether has seen that Chad has attained the sublime in life and can't bear to have him give it up."
    The room now joined in heartily. But the tide was clearly in Mrs. Warren's favor, and the romantic views of the physics teacher's wife were in the minority. Ione suspected that there was some feeling in the group that the latter was too junior a member to be quite so vociferous, but there was no doubt that they were sincere in their belief that the novel perniciously promoted adultery and expatriatism. She decided at last to protest.
    "I can't help thinking that some of you may be missing what is really going on in Strether's mind and heart. He sees that Chad is basically a child of Woollett and that he is bound in time to

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