The Small Room

The Small Room



The Pequod Review:

May Sarton's ninth novel, The Small Room (1961), is told from the perspective of Lucy Winter, a first-year teacher at a small New England woman's college. The plot — in which Winter discovers that a star student has committed plagiarism — develops in a sort of predictable way, but Sarton creates a strong setting and has moments of very good observations:

The girls arrived, and settled like flocks of garrulous starlings, perpetual chatter and perpetual motion. Lucy, looking down from her office on the fourth floor of one of the oldest buildings, compared the campus to a stage where a complicated ballet was being rehearsed. Small groups flowed together and parted; a girl in a blue blazer ran from one building to another; five or six others arranged themselves under an elm, in unconsciously romantic attitudes, a chorus of nymphs. The effect was enhanced by the freshmen's required red Eton caps, and by the unrequired but almost universal uniform of short pleated skirts and blazers. Looking down on all this casual, yet intimate life from above, Lucy felt lonely and a little scared.

If she had feared that Appleton's emphasis on scholarship might have brought forth a group of cranks or creeps, girls in spectacles, girls who walk with their heads down, monsters of morose self-absorption and shyness, the reverse appeared to be true. They were frighteningly healthy and natural, but undifferentiated. And Luey longed to separate the dancing corps into individual faces and names, to make contact with an actual class. She sighed and turned back to her desk, threw out the notes she had been laboriously making, and decided suddenly to do something quite different. To prepare for this first class, she found herself exploring and recovering areas in herself that had been blotted out by the last years. She had been living in someone else, now she must draw on her-self. She had never realized until now what extraordinary teachers she had had, nor what complex threads had been woven together to bring her to the moment, this perilous, exhilarating moment when she would be asked to summon all that she held in her hands and to communicate it.