A Darkening Green
Notes on Harvard, the 1950s and the End of Innocence
This is a book about the end of childhood. Much of it is drawn directly from a diary the author kept while he was a bright but insecure freshman at Harvard in the 1950s. From these pages emerges a precise description of the raw, half-understood experience of late adolescence—the anguish and arguments, the rivalry and anxiety about sex, the facile cynicism and desperate fumblings for purpose, the bull sessions held late at night—just as Peter Prescott recorded them only hours after the event.
These diary excerpts are contained in a narrative that examines that freshman experience from a vantage point of twenty years. Thus, we are able to look at the past with a double perspective: Th e exact record, unclouded by memory or nostalgia, of what was said and done is set in a structure that reveals the form of the experience. Th e result is an ironic, witty, and often moving book.
Writing with some compassion and even more asperity, Peter S. Prescott not only captures the confl icts and emotions of a single year, but probes beneath the surface of memory to explore certain tribal customs and rites of passage as they are played out in the classrooms and living quarters of the college. A few famous people—T. S. Eliot and Edith Sitwell among them—play brief parts in this chronicle, but young Prescott's attention was primarily engaged in his struggle with his extravagant roommates and an assortment of eccentric undergraduates.
Peter S. Prescott was book review editor for Newsweek. His books include Encounters with American Culture (Volumes 1 and 2), and The Child Savers: Juvenile Justice Observed. His critical essays about books and other cultural phenomena have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers.
Anne Lake Prescott is Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor of English at Barnard College. She is a specialist in the English Renaissance and is affi liated with the comparative literature program and the medieval and Renaissance studies program at Barnard College. Her most recent book is Renaissance Historicisms: Essays in Honor of Arthur F. Kinney.