Ah, Princeton: Where the 1950s never died

One day I really have to write an essay on my absolutely all-time favorite magazine: Princeton Alumni Weekly.

In this week’s edition, a letter writer named Houghton Hutcheson—of course—from Bellaire, Texas—of course—writes a grumbling missive about an earlier feature on Jennifer Weiner. Weiner is the fiction writer who’s been on a campaign to broaden our definition of literature to include books often relegated to the chick lit shelf.

After the usual harrumphing about how there’s no such thing as gender in Literature, Hutcheson coughs up this hairball:

Mirroring her [Weiner’s] own life experiences, many of her featured characters are “plus-size women.” Let’s be honest; do you know any men who would find this formula appealing?

I dunno. Many of Homer’s characters are strapping, bloodthirsty warriors. Many of Swift’s characters are giants or midgets. Many of Mann’s characters are phlegmatic hypochondriacs. And yet, for centuries, women have somehow managed to get past the outer trappings of these characters. So why is it so inconceivable for Houghton Hutcheson from Bellaire, Texas to get inside the mind of a plus-sized woman? Oh right: because there’s no such thing as gender in Literature.

Ah, Princeton: where the 1950s never died.


  1. gigiistheone October 21, 2014 at 10:41 am | #

    Haha; you made my day!! Love these thoughts!!!

  2. gigiistheone October 21, 2014 at 10:42 am | #

    Reblogged this on Random Thinking and commented:
    I still love Corey Robin!!

  3. Rosalind Petchesky October 21, 2014 at 10:48 am | #

    This is great, Corey. Jennifer Weiner was briefly my research assistant in 1992, when she was still an undergrad at Princeton studying literature and feminist theory. She was an amazing writer already then, and her successful career (and life) in the subsequent decades are the fruit of hard work, determination and great talent. Thanks for taking on the Princeton zombies on behalf of feminist literary cool. Ros P.

  4. jonnybutter October 21, 2014 at 11:40 am | #

    Arg, Ros P beat me to it! I was going to say that the 50s did die, they just didn’t stay dead.

  5. Susan Davis October 21, 2014 at 12:07 pm | #

    Here’s a question for your future essay to tackle: why oh why does it have to be weekly? Wouldn’t a semi-annual excrescence be enough?

  6. aletheia33 October 21, 2014 at 12:17 pm | #

    Corey Robin, you are too young. My father went to Princeton in 1932-36 and hated it. One must say “Ah Princeton: where the 1890s, and even the pre-Civil War era, have never died.”

    We must be more grateful for these elders, whom every elite university counts among its chief supporters; they serve as living testimony to what has gone down. In fact, earnest grad students should right now be doing fieldwork on and getting oral histories from them, before it is too late.

  7. Roquentin October 21, 2014 at 2:54 pm | #

    In a reverse trajectory of most people, I was uninterested in politics when I was young and was reactionary even when I was. This held true until the middle of my college career when I became so disgusted by things said by conservatives I knew that I never wanted anything to do with any of that again. I’m sure Princeton is plenty bad in its own right, but if you can imagine the level of reactionary sentiment at a semi-rural university in Iowa (Iowa State to be exact), it was palpable to say the least. To the point where it was so ordinary you wouldn’t even recognize it as such.

    To their credit, the university worked pretty hard to counteract some of that, but a constant tide of kids rolled in like that every year. Atheism was fairly commonplace. Since it was primarily a science and technology school, there was an underlying hostility to fundamentalist Christianity in particular and religion in general. I still maintain Iowa does pretty well politically for a state with such a low population density. Illinois is considered “blue” but it is solely and exclusively because of Cook County. The rest of the state is right wing as hell.

  8. jonnybutter October 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm | #

    I was hanging around Princeton in the early 80s, and will never forget one Spring when all the Biffs and Muffys were sticking their HiFi speakers out dorm windows, blasting one song over and over. Can you guess what it was? Let’s see…early 80s…right around when the zombie was really twitching back to life…

    ‘Sweet Home Alabama” of course! Absolutely true story/memory. And precious few of these Muffs and Biffs were actually from either Alabama or the rest of the Deep South, believe me. They were from New Jersey, a lot of them. They LOVED that song. Over and over and over.

    • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant October 22, 2014 at 11:04 am | #

      And we know why, don’t we?

      They might not have done so if they knew that Neil Young’s critique of that song suggests that Ronnie Van Zant intended a far less reactionary and more nuanced politics than the songs fans may be confortable with.

      “In Birmingham they love the gov’nor… BOO, BOO, BOO!”

      Young and others (such as music historians, and Mr. Van Zant himself) claim that that lyric is intended as a mockery of Wallace, hence the “BOO”-ing.

      • jonnybutter October 22, 2014 at 1:30 pm | #

        Yeah Donald, knowing that Young and Van Zant were buddies and all that really doesn’t change what that song meant or means for people (however vaguely). The Imaginary South (the ‘Greater South’ if you will) means something deeper and vaguer to many non-southerners than to people actually from there. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the South, and have found that the kind of romanticism some nons have – an illusion which natives feed as hard as they can, like any savvy townie does for tourists – tends to burn off when you’re really, physically there day after day. Just like any other fantasy does when you actually go try to live in it.

        By the way, speaking of humorlessness and political cluelessness, Neil Young. I mean…er…Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World, y’all!

        • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant October 22, 2014 at 2:06 pm | #


        • Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant October 22, 2014 at 2:21 pm | #

          Oh, yeah (hey, how did we get off Eichmann and onto Skynyrd?!)

          I always wondered: Just what did Van Zant mean by “…a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow”? When he wrote that did he mean to include the American Black male born south of the Mason Dixon Line to count as “a Southern man”? Just what demographic do listeners picture when they hear that lyric?

          Jes’ askin’.

      • Roquentin October 23, 2014 at 7:20 am | #

        I once got drunk and sarcastically sang “Okie from Muskogee” at karaoke. It was funnier because I still had long hair at the time.

  9. jonnybutter October 22, 2014 at 3:19 pm | #

    HA. Yeah, I didn’t mean to hijack the thread. I just thought it was such a perfectly Princeton scene. All those white Princeton kids longing for that real ‘down home’ feeling.

    Yeah, I don’t know what else he could have meant by that line, and also by flying the Confederate flag during shows. Clearly, Skynyrd supported the civil rights struggle for black people, but that support, or evidence for it, was very very very very subtle.

  10. gstally October 30, 2014 at 11:03 pm | #

    And it’s always better to be a witless fool than a dead dog…

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