Stoner - A Novel by John Williams

Stoner - Photographic Portrait of John Williams
Photographic Portrait of John Williams

The novel "Stoner" by John Edward Williams (August 29, 1922 – March 3, 1994) is the author’s third novel, published in the United States in 1965 by the Viking Press.

John Edward Williams was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, to a highly rural family, since his grandparents were farmers.

After World War II, and at the urging of Alan Swallow, owner and operator of Swallow Press, Williams attended the University of Denver.

From there he received his Bachelor of Arts and then his Master of Arts degrees, and completed his studies at the University of Missouri with a Ph.D. in English Literature.

Shortly afterwards he returned to the University of Denver, where he remained for three decades as a professor, teaching Creative Writing and English Literature.

Williams wrote four novels – as well as his marriages – and poetry. His first novel, Nothing But the Night (1948, Swallow Press) was disowned by its creator – quite rightly from our point of view. The second, Butcher’s Crossing (1960, Macmillan) and the fourth, Augustus (1972, Viking Press) are two notable works; his third, Stoner, is simply a classic masterpiece.

In this work, the reader wanders in the life and times of the hero of the same name, who, following an academic career, has the honor and privilege of being ranked among the most emblematic "successful" Losers of the universal literary production.

From this novel, a small excerpt is presented immediately below, where the hero is still an undergrad.

John Williams - Stoner (1/4)

[…] In a moment of silence, someone cleared his throat. Sloane repeated the lines, his voice becoming flat, his own again.
"This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long."
Sloane’s eyes came back to William Stoner, and he said dryly, "Mr. Shakespeare speaks to you across three hundred years, Mr. Stoner; do you hear him?"
William Stoner realized that for several moments he had been holding his breath. He expelled it gently, minutely aware of his clothing moving upon his body as his breath went out of his lungs. He looked away from Sloane about the room. Light slanted from the windows and settled upon the faces of his fellow students, so that the illumination seemed to come from within them and go out against a dimness; a student blinked, and a thin shadow fell upon a cheek whose down had caught the sunlight. Stoner became aware that his fingers were unclenching their hard grip on his desk-top. He turned his hands about under his gaze, marveling at their brownness, at the intricate way the nails fit into his blunt finger-ends; he thought he could feel the blood flowing invisibly through the tiny veins and arteries, throbbing delicately and precariously from his fingertips through his body.

John Williams - Stoner (2/4)

Sloane was speaking again. "What does he say to you, Mr. Stoner? What does his sonnet mean?"
Stoner’s eyes lifted slowly and reluctantly. "It means," he said, and with a small movement raised his hands up toward the air; he felt his eyes glaze over as they sought the figure of Archer Sloane. "It means," he said again, and could not finish what he had begun to say.
Sloane looked at him curiously. Then he nodded abruptly and said, "Class is dismissed."
Without looking at anyone he turned and walked out of the room. William Stoner was hardly aware of the students about him who rose grumbling and muttering from their seats and shuffled out of the room. For several minutes after they left he sat unmoving, staring out before him at the narrow planked flooring that had been worn bare of varnish by the restless feet of students he would never see or know. He slid his own feet across the floor, hearing the dry rasp of wood on his soles, and feeling the roughness through the leather. Then he too got up and went slowly out of the room.

John Williams - Stoner (3/4)

The thin chill of the late fall day cut through his clothing. He looked around him, at the bare gnarled branches of the trees that curled and twisted against the pale sky. Students, hurrying across the campus to their classes, brushed against him; he heard the mutter of their voices and the click of their heels upon the stone paths, and saw their faces, flushed by the cold, bent downward against a slight breeze. He looked at them curiously, as if he had not seen them before, and felt very distant from them and very close to them. He held the feeling to him as he hurried to his next class, and held it through the lecture by his professor in soil chemistry, against the droning voice that recited things to be written in notebooks and remembered by a process of drudgery that even now was becoming unfamiliar to him.

John Williams - Stoner (4/4)

In the second semester of that school year William Stoner dropped his basic science courses and interrupted his Ag School sequence; he took introductory courses in philosophy and ancient history and two courses in English literature. In the summer he returned again to his parents’ farm and helped his father with the crops and did not mention his work at the University.

John Edward Williams, Stoner (1965)

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