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HARVARD YARD
by William Martin
Warner Books, October 2003
580 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 0446530840


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In 1605, Robert Harvard goes to Stratford to woo Katherine Rogers. He asks his friend, Will, for help. Robert and Katherine's first child is a boy they name John, and Will gives his friend, Robert, a holograph prompt copy of a play, Love's Labour's Won. In 1825, the plague attacks, and most of John's family is taken. On his deathbed, Robert makes John promise never to sell his books. In 1837, John Harvard, Puritan, takes ship for the New World, with his faith and his library and little else.

Within a year, John Harvard lay dying, but not before he entered his apprentice, Isaac Wedge, in the new theological institute in the middle of a field all the way out of town, in Cambridge. At that time, he also willed his library of 400 books and some money to the new institution.

The rest of the book is a history of Harvard, based on the conceit that a Shakespeare manuscript was part of the original bequest to the school and Isaac Wedge undertook to keep the manuscript hidden because the Puritans, who came to the New World so they could practice their form of religion in peace, would not allow any dissenters in their midst, and modern plays were the devil's work.

I remember reading William Martin's BACK BAY around the time it first came out, in 1979, and enjoying it tremendously. That book told the story of a Paul Revere tea set that had been lost and how Peter Fallon, a Harvard historian, found it in contemporary Boston, so when I heard that Martin was back with HARVARD YARD, I immediately wanted to read it.

Harvard, from its beginning, was an elitist institution, and Martin shows this very well by using the history of the (fictional) Wedge family as the hook on which to hang the story. Harvard Yard is open to the public and as we walk through it, in order to attend a concert at Sanders Theatre, which is still in use, we look around and wonder what it would have been like to attend a place like this when we were young college students. Many of the 19th century building are still standing and still in use. The modern day machinations of Peter Fallon and the Wedge family are somewhat less gripping than the historical aspect of the novel, but the book is well worth reading, if only for the history of Boston and Cambridge so well summarized here.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, October 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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