A novel about work. William Stoner’s undistinguished career and workplace politics, his marriage to Edith, his affair with his colleague Katherine, and his love and pursuit of literature.
He wondered again at the easy, graceful manner in which the Roman lyricists accepted the fact of death, as if the nothingness they faced were a tribute to the richness of the years they had enjoyed; and he marveled at the bitterness, the terror, the barely concealed hatred he found in some of the later Christian poets of the Latin tradition when they looked to that death which promised, however vaguely, a rich and ecstatic eternity of life, as if that death and promise were a mockery that soured the days of their living.
Swept along in a small mass of students and teachers, he passed the open door of Archer Sloane’s office; and he had a glimpse of Sloane sitting in his chair before his desk, his face uncovered and twisted, weeping bitterly, the tears streaming down the deep lines of the flesh. For a moment more, as if in shock, Stoner allowed himself to be carried along by the crowd. Then he broke away and went to his room near the campus. He sat in the dimness of his room and heard outside the shouts of joy and release, and thought of Archer Sloane who wept at a defeat that only he saw, or thought he saw; and he knew that Sloane was a broken man and would never again be what he had been.
looking at her, Stoner was assailed by a consciousness of his own heavy clumsiness.
She was educated upon the premise that she would be protected from the gross events that life might thrust in her way, and upon the premise that she had no other duty than to be a graceful and accomplished accessory to that protection, since she belonged to a social and economic class to which protection was an almost sacred obligation.
Her moral training, both at the schools she attended and at home, was negative in nature, prohibitive in intent, and almost entirely sexual. The sexuality, however, was indirect and unacknowledged; therefore it suffused every other part of her education, which received most of its energy from that recessive and unspoken moral force. She learned that she would have duties toward her husband and family and that she must fulfill them. Her
Like many men who consider their success incomplete, he was extraordinarily vain and consumed with a sense of his own importance
“I’ll try to be a good wife to you, William,” she said. “I’ll try.” He realized that it was the first time anyone had spoken his name since he had come there.
Then, as if on a quiet impulse, he bent a little and touched his lips to hers; Edith’s hand came up lightly to his hair, and they remained so for several moments while the others looked on. It was the chastest kiss Stoner had ever seen, and it seemed perfectly natural.
He suspected that he was beginning, ten years late, to discover who he was; and the figure he saw was both more and less than he had once imagined it to be.
“I am different, I believe,” she said to her. “I really believe I am.” But William Stoner knew that she was speaking to him. And at that moment, somehow, he also knew that beyond her intention or understanding, unknown to herself, Edith was trying to announce to him a new declaration of war.
He took a grim and ironic pleasure from the possibility that what little learning he had managed to acquire had led him to this knowledge: that in the long run all things, even the learning that let him know this, were futile and empty, and at last
In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.
But William Stoner knew of the world in a way that few of his younger colleagues could understand. Deep in him, beneath his memory, was the knowledge of hardship and hunger and endurance and pain. Though he seldom thought of his early years on the Booneville farm, there was always near his consciousness the blood knowledge of his inheritance, given him by forefathers whose lives were obscure and hard and stoical and whose common ethic was to present to an oppressive world faces that were expressionless and hard and bleak.
And like any traveler, he felt that there were many things he had to do before he left; yet he could not think what they were.