A Horror of PhD Theses

Edmund Wilson, T.K. Whipple:

I believe that those years at the Graduate School were, apart from his interest in the Lit, rather a barren time for T.K. I think of him always as enmeshed in two interminable Ph.D. theses: one on the influence of the Greek orator Isocrates on Milton’s prose style, the other on the seventeenth-century epigram. There was something rather nightmarish about it: at first there had been only one thesis, which he was never able to finish, and then presently there were two, and I felt that the whole thing was hopeless. I used to go over to see him in the Graduate School, a sumptuous Gothic creation which had just been erected by Ralph Adams Cram in the middle of the Princeton golf links and which was then being broken in. T.K. would invite me to a dreary enough dinner in the immense medieval dining hall, where the faculty sat on a dais and the students filed in in black gowns to the boom of a fugue of Bach from a hand-carved organ loft.

The Graduate School was a luxurious affair, and there was something about that life he liked. But, as a man from Kansas City, he couldn’t help being funny about the suits of armor in the halls; and I never went over to see him without a feeling of desolation. I would traverse the enclosed court, where the new gray stone in its rawness did not in the least remind you of the stone of Oxford or Cambridge. I would ascent the monastic stair, knock at the oaken door, and find T.K. inert in his Morris chair, imprisoned amid the leaded windows, unable to bring himself to get through any more volumes of seventeenth-century epigrams and unwilling or without any appetite to read anything more stimulating. It was as if he had succumbed to some terrible doom from which he was powerless to save himself and from which nobody else could save him. The whole spectacle gave me a horror of Ph.D. theses from which I have never recovered.

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One thought on “A Horror of PhD Theses

  1. When I saw the title of the post, I thought it was going to be a proposal for a collective noun.

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