Authors: Richard Yates
A GOOD SCHOOL
Richard Yates was born in 1926 in Yonkers, New York. After serving in the US Army during the Second World War, he worked as a publicity writer for the Remington Rand Corporation, and for a brief period in the sixties as a speech-writer for Senator Robert Kennedy. His prize-winning stories first appeared in 1953 and his first novel,
, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1962. He is the author of eight other works, including the novels
A Good School
The Easter Parade
Disturbing the Peace
, and two collections of short stories,
Eleven Kinds of Loneliness
Liars in Love
. Richard Yates was twice divorced and the father of three daughters. He died in 1992.
ALSO BY RICHARD YATES
Eleven Kinds of Loneliness
A Special Providence
Disturbing the Peace
The Easter Parade
Liars in Love
Young Hearts Crying
Cold Spring Harbor
The Collected Stories of Richard Yates
Table of Contents
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Epub ISBN 9781446420591
Published by Vintage 2007
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Copyright © Richard Yates 1978
Richard Yates has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in the United States in 1978 by Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence
First published in Great Britain in 2006 by Methuen Publishing Ltd
Excerpts from this work first appeared in
The New York Times Book Review
Grateful acknowledgement is made to Campbell, Connelly & Co. Ltd, for permission to quote from the lyrics of ‘Good Night Sweetheart’ by Ray Noble, Jimmy Campbell and Reg Connelly. Copyright © 1931, renewed 1959 by Campbell, Connelly & Co. Ltd, London, England. Rights throughout the United States and Canada controlled by Robbin Music Corporation, New York, N.Y. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
To the memory of my father
Draw your chair up close
To the edge of the precipice
And I’ll tell you a story
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
As a young man, in upstate New York, my father studied to be a concert tenor. He had a fine, disciplined voice that combined great power with great tenderness; hearing him sing remains the best of my early memories.
I think he sang professionally a few times, in places like Syracuse and Binghamton and Utica, but he wasn’t able to make a career of it; instead he became a salesman. I imagine he joined the General Electric Company in Schenectady as a delaying action, in order to have a few dollars coming in while he continued to seek concert engagements, but before very long the company swallowed him up. By the time he was forty, when I was born, he had long since come down to the city and settled into the job he would hold for the rest of his life, that of an assistant regional sales manager for the Mazda Lamp Division (light bulbs).
People still asked him to sing at social gatherings – “Danny Boy” seemed to be the popular favorite among request numbers – and sometimes he did, but more and more often in later years he would decline. If pressed, he would take a backward step and make a little negative wave of the hand, smiling and frowning at the same time: all that, he seemed to say – “Danny Boy”; the years upstate; singing itself – all that was in the past.
His office in the General Electric building was barely big enough to contain a desk and a framed photograph of my older sister and myself as small children; it was in that cubicle that he earned however much money it took to send my mother what she asked for every month, year after year. They had been divorced almost as long as I could remember. He greatly loved my sister – I think that must have been the main reason for his unflagging generosity to us – but he and I, after I was eleven or so, seemed always bewildered by each other. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement between us that, in the dividing process of the divorce, I had been given over to my mother.
There was pain in that assumption – for both of us, I would guess, though I can’t speak for him – yet there was an uneasy justice in it too. Much as I might wish it otherwise, I did prefer my mother. I knew she was foolish and irresponsible, that she talked too much, that she made crazy emotional scenes over nothing and could be counted on to collapse in a crisis, but I had come to suspect, dismally, that my own personality might be built along much the same lines. In ways that were neither profitable nor especially pleasant, she and I were a comfort to one another.
The art of sculpture and the idea of aristocracy had always appealed to her equally, and so, after the divorce, she became a sculptor who longed to have rich people admire her work and accept her into their lives. Both her artistic and her social ambitions were forever thwarted, often in humiliating ways, but there were occasional tantalizing moments when everything seemed to be coming together nicely for her.
One of those times occurred in May or June of 1941, when I was fifteen. For the past year or so she had conducted a small weekly sculpture class in her studio, which was also the living room of our Greenwich Village apartment, and one of her
students was a rich girl of exceptional beauty and charm named Jane. I think Jane must have romanticized my mother as a struggling artist, as many people seemed to do (I did too); in any case, upon dropping out of the sculpture class to get married, she invited us to attend the wedding.
It was a real Society wedding, held outdoors on Jane’s parents’ enormous lawn in Westchester County, and we’d never seen anything like it. The groom was almost as stunning as the bride, a young naval officer in a flawless white uniform with a choker collar and stiff black-and-gold epaulets. There was an orchestra, there was a dance floor on a specially-built platform trimmed with white canvas, and there were what seemed hundreds of lovely girls who danced with their partners as soon as Jane and her naval officer had used his fiercely gleaming sword to cut the cake.
I was wearing a cheap, big-shouldered winter suit, badly outgrown, that my father had bought for me at Bond’s in Times Square. And if I was uncomfortable, I hate to imagine how my sister must have felt: she was only about a year younger than Jane; she knew none of these splendid boys and girls; her clothes must have been every bit as wrong as mine; and still she trailed along with me after our mother, smiling, moving from one cluster of chattering guests to another over those acres of lawn, nibbling tiny watercress sandwiches.
“Is this boy in school?” a woman’s harsh voice inquired.
“Well, actually,” my mother said, “I’ve been trying to think of a school for him, but there are so many schools and it’s all so confusing I really—”
“Dorset Academy,” the woman said, and now I got a look at her: big, gruff, a good deal of loose flesh under the chin. “It’s the only school in the East that understands boys. My boy loved it.” She shoved a folded watercress sandwich into her mouth and
chewed it mightily. Then, talking around her chewing, she said “Dorset Academy, Dorset, Connecticut. Don’t forget it. Write it down. You’ll never be sorry.”
I wasn’t home the day W. Alcott Knoedler, headmaster of Dorset Academy, came to visit my mother in response to her letter of inquiry, but I heard about it afterwards in great detail. The headmaster himself! Wasn’t that something? He’d happened to be in New York; he’d had her letter with him; he’d just dropped by to tell her about Dorset. She apologized breathlessly – her studio was a terrible mess; she hadn’t been expecting visitors – and when she heard the tuition fee she could only tell him how sorry she was: fourteen hundred dollars was out of the question. And the remarkable thing was that W. Alcott Knoedler didn’t go away. Occasionally, he explained, it was possible to arrange a downward adjustment – perhaps even half the normal tuition. Would seven hundred be within her means? Could she consider it, at least? And would she and her son give him the pleasure, later in the summer, of being his guests for a tour of the Dorset campus?
“He was just – I don’t know – just the nicest man,” she told me. “I can’t tell you how nice he was. And it sounds like such an
school. It’s very small, only about a hundred and twenty-five boys, and you see that means each boy gets more personal attention and so on. Oh, and do you know what he said?” Her eyes were bright.
“He said ‘Dorset believes in individuality.’ Doesn’t that sound like the perfect kind of school for you?”
Our tour of the campus that July was a delirium of acquiescence. It was, as my mother must have said twenty times, a beautiful place. Dorset Academy lay miles from any town in northern Connecticut. It had been built and founded in the
nineteen-twenties by an eccentric lady millionaire named Abigail Church Hooper, often quoted as having said her life’s ambition was to establish a school “for the sons of the gentry,” and she had spared no expense. All its buildings were of thick, dark red stone in what we were told was “Cotswold” architecture, with gabled slate roofs whose timbers had intentionally been installed when the wood was young so that in aging they would warp and sag in interesting ways. Four long classroom-and-dormitory buildings formed a lovely quadrangle, three stories high and enclosing many big trees. Beyond it, along curving flagstone walks, lay an attractive assortment of other buildings large and small, each with its sagging roofline and its display of deep, expensive lead-casement windows, and there were rich lawns.