Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy

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University of Chicago Press, Apr 30, 2010 - Fiction - 277 pages
3 Reviews

Beneath the unassuming surface of a progressive women’s college lurks a world of intellectual pride and pomposity awaiting devastation by the pens of two brilliant and appalling wits. Randall Jarrell’s classic novel was originally published to overwhelming critical acclaim in 1954, forging a new standard for campus satire—and instantly yielding comparisons to Dorothy Parker’s razor-sharp barbs. Like his fictional nemesis, Jarrell cuts through the earnest conversations at Benton College—mischievously, but with mischief nowhere more wicked than when crusading against the vitriolic heroine herself. 

“A most literate account of a group of most literate people by a writer of power. . . . A delight of true understanding.”—Wallace Stevens

“I’m greatly impressed by the real fun, the incisive satire, the closeness of observation, and in the end by a kind of sympathy and human warmth. It’s a remarkable book.”—Robert Penn Warren

“Move over Dorothy Parker. Pictures . . . is less a novel than a series of poisonous portraits, set pieces, and endlessly quotable put-downs. Read it less for plot than sharp satire, Jarrell’s forte.”—Mary Welp

“One of the wittiest books of modern times.”—New York Times

“[T]he father of the modern campus novel, and the wittiest of them all. Extraordinary to think that ‘political correctness’ was so deliciously dissected 50 years ago.”—Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph

“A sustained exhibition of wit in the great tradition. . . . Immensely and very devastatingly shrewd.”—Edmund Fuller, Saturday Review

“[A] work of fiction, and a dizzying and brilliant work of social and literary criticism. Not only ‘a unique and serious joke-book,’ as Lowell called it, but also a meditation made up of epigrams.”—Michael Wood


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - karl.steel - LibraryThing

I wish he'd written more than one novel. Jarrall is of course most famous for 'The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,' which was, along with 'The Hollow Men,' one of the poems responsible for getting me ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - sonofcarc - LibraryThing

This may be the most consistently witty book ever written. There may be a sentence that couldn't be extracted and framed, but you would have to hunt for it. The usual disclaimer about resemblances to ... Read full review


1 The President Mrs and Derek Robbins
2 The Whittakers and Gertrude
3 Miss Batterson and Benton
4 Constance and the Rosenbaums
5 Gertrude and Sidney
6 Art Night
7 They All Go

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About the author (2010)

Randall Jarrell (1914–1965) was the author of six volumes of poetry and the recipient of the National Book Award for Poetry in 1961. Pictures from an Institution is his only novel.

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