Stillman’s 1978 ‘Damsels’ short story

Somehow this slipped through the net, but I’m glad I caught it… Last week David Haglund at Slate tracked down some pieces written by Whit Stillman in the 1970s in a magazine called The American Spectator. One of these is a “long-ish short story that prefigures Stillman’s movies – especially his newest one, Damsels in Distress“:

Like that new film, which follows a group of girls who work to prevent suicide at fictional Seven Oaks College by promoting tap dance and good hygiene, “Under the Condor” is about collegiate depression. Published in three parts, the story begins with a macabre epigraph: “Japanese students blow their brains out when they do not get into the college of their choice; Americans some time after they do.” While Damsels was inspired by a group of 1970s Harvard undergraduates, “Under the Condor” actually portrays a set of 1970s Harvard undergraduates; the story is overstuffed with local color: Lowell House, Plympton Street, Lamont Library, Café Pamplona, and so on.

The protagonist is “Jane Repton of Quincy House,” a sophomore. Her father is a senior partner at the amusingly named firm of Solitary, Poor; her mother’s family fortune has dwindled to “a few hundred thousand dollars in worthless Confederate government bonds and an allegiance to the courtly ways of a bygone era.” Jane writes poetry, and has lately become depressed. Her earnest classmate Ben Pasquali is about to found COTTON MATHER’S Magazine for the Arts at Harvard, dedicated to “interestingness.” (“By calling the magazine ‘Cotton Mather’s’ I hope to gain for it the acceptance of the descendants of the Puritans,” Ben says, “who still really run things at Harvard.”)

And Haglund links to all three parts of the story, available online. I haven’t had a chance to read these yet, but it’s a great find.

The same site also has a couple of other Stillman articles from the same periodical:

The only other thing on that site that I don’t think we’ve seen here before is an article Stillman wrote in 2000 at Salon, in which he “picks five essential books for the Bass Weejuns set.” He describes them in more detail, but the titles are:

  • The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell (unabridged edition)
  • Essay on Man by Alexander Pope
  • Childhood, Boyhood, Youth by Leo Tolstoy
  • Portrait of Max: An Intimate Memoir of Sir Max Beerbohm by S.N. Behrman
  • The Price Was High: Fifty Uncollected Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald

UPDATE: I thought it seemed unlikely that we didn’t already have that last link on this site; we did, on the Press page but I think the article’s title may have changed since the link was added there.