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By Shirley Marchalonis
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Extra resources for College Girls: A Century in Fiction
But Miss Millay was not born to set them right," and E. W. H. " 34 Lapsley fares somewhat better, though there is no enthusiasm either way in the reviews; the Times found her novel "readable, intelligent, informative. " 35 The reviewers accepted all the novels as true, almost reportorial, accounts, inside looks at women going to college. None finds much significance in the fact that three of the novels portray the experience as negative and painful, while the one positive account rejects the standard college trimmings.
By this time, however, popular wisdom, and perhaps the colleges themselves, had made "the college girl" image even more specific. A 1920 feature in a popular magazine defines each: Smith College turns out the doer; Wellesley, the student; Vassar, the adventurer; Bryn Mawr, the social philosopher; Mount Holyoke, the conservative.... There is a standard joke to the effect that "If you give a piece of work to graduates of the women's colleges, the Vassar girl will sit down and talk about it, the Bryn Mawr girl will philosophize over it, Mount Holyoke will pray over it, Wellesley will go down to the library and read all about it, and Smith will go out and do it..
The women's communities, once special and rewarding, are now perverse and threatening. Though conformity to an image that would please the outside world was the goal, the colleges themselves seem to have little awareness of the changes in women's lives off their campuses. They are trying to hold back the tide, and the students caught between college and the world must suffer while the colleges do their best to negate the advances women had made. In the earlier fiction, students moved from a narrow world into a magical and widening one, but Rebecca and her contemporaries are modern young women who move from freedom into confinement and restriction in a college that has institutionalized itself into rigidity and cares more about its image than its students, an institution that instead of being in the vanguard is now dragging its feet.
College Girls: A Century in Fiction by Shirley Marchalonis