Oxford 1968-9. In the evenings, after dinner in hall, groups would take shape informally in the quad. There was Richard Cobb's lot, making for the buttery and another round of worldly banter. There was this or that sodality, taking a cigarette break or killing time before revision. There was my own cohort, usually divided between the opposing tasks of selling the factional newspaper, or distributing the latest leaflet, or procuring another drink. And there were the Americans. I remember James Fenton noticing how they would cluster a little closer together and talk in a fashion slightly more intense. Mainly Rhodes or Fulbright scholars, they had come from every state of the union with what amounted to a free pass. The Yanks of Oxford were accustomed to going home and taking up a lot of available space in the American academy, in the American media and in American politics or diplomacy. Yet for this contingent, the whole experience had become deeply and abruptly fraught. They were far from home and they were deeply patriotic. You could tell that they had been told by their selection committees, before embarking on the Atlantic crossing, that they should comport themselves as ambassadors and emissaries. But those local lawyers and Rotarians and Chambers of Commerce had not prepared them to hurry up, finish their studies and take ship to Vietnam.
LRB 6 June 1996 | PDF Download