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UP AT OXFORD by Ved Mehta


by Ved Mehta

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03544-1
Publisher: Norton

 An engaging memoir of life at Oxford University in the 50's, by the prolific--and blind--Indian-born Mehta (The Stolen Light, 1989, etc.). When Mehta was growing up in India, Oxford was regarded as the training ground of prime ministers, the ``holiest of holy places of pilgrimage,'' but the author arrived there circuitously, via high school in Arkansas and Pomona College in California. Oxford was in a curious transition in the 50's, with seventy percent of its undergraduates supported by scholarships yet residing in glamorous suites of rooms (Mehta lived in rooms that had been previously used by Gerard Manley Hopkins and Harold Macmillan), living rather grandly on credit, and celebrating eccentricity, conversation, wit, and the life of the mind (in these days before the sexual revolution, Oxford was essentially a male society). Mehta says that entering Oxford was particularly difficult for Americans, who came into competition with Englishmen who had been subject to intense training in their areas of specialization--and who were intellectually much older, if emotionally much younger, than their Yank counterparts. Meanwhile, Mehta savored the Oxford life: the opportunities to meet the great; the associations with some of the most brilliant students of his generation; the visits to places like Birr Castle in Ireland, with a hundred rooms and ``just the usual footmen, cooks, scullery and sub-scullery maids, and of course, the housekeeper and the butler''; and the dinners at the Thistle Society as a kind of honorary Scot. This isn't, however, a conventional collegiate memoir: Mehta's blindness, feelings of inadequacy, sense of ``years of rejections and disappointments,'' and ultimate failure to get a First Class degree give it a bittersweet, sometimes slightly forced, quality.