Harvard Yard
William Martin
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Buy *Harvard Yard* online

Harvard Yard

William Martin
Warner Books
Paperback
720 pages
December 2004
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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William Martin's Harvard Yard chronicles the history of prestigious Harvard University, the first institution of higher education established in America in the mid-seventeenth century -- an era defined by Puritanism, a strict religion that addresses the life of the spirit in service to God, stripped of all comforts and conceits.

John Harvard, the surviving son of Robert Harvard (formerly of Southwark, England), makes a new start in America after his family is decimated by the plague that scourged Europe in 1625. The entire Harvard family library is donated to the newly founded Harvard University, the site the permanent residence for the collection. Of the many valuable books, there is one that is of particular value to John Harvard and his wife: a hand-written play by William Shakespeare, "Loveís Labour Found," written for the couple.

The quest for this Shakespearean work is the central theme of Harvard Yard, following the playís history through the years once it becomes part of the library, but is later removed to a safer place. The small volume becomes a point of contention because of Calvinist fervor -- plays are thought to be the work of the devil, a source of temptation for the fertile minds of young men.

Fast-forward to the present. Antiquarian book dealer Peter Fallon is called to Harvard by his fellow alumni, descendants of the Wedge family, a dynasty integral to the formation of Harvardís educational policy and financial resources. Fallonís task is to research the authenticity of the Shakespearian play, soon to be recovered after all these years and worth millions of dollars. There is a huge market for this collectible and private patrons are willing to go to great lengths for ownership. Along with legitimate dealers there are criminal elements, all vying for information that will lead to this great prize.

Moving back and forth in time, Harvard Yard revisits the original manuscript and its unique place in the Harvard library, making a case for the playís removal from the library when its survival is threatened by the historical imperative of the Puritan ethic, as well as the suggestion of its possible reappearance.

As in his previous novels, Cape Cod and Back Bay, William Martin makes Harvard Yard a successful blend of fiction and history. Many of its characters play pivotal roles in the evolution of higher education in America, from the Puritan beginnings, classical underpinnings and eventual acceptance of minorities into what is essentially an elite group with great influence in society. No important advances are won without a struggle, and the white male elitist bastion is one of the most resistant to change of any kind.

Harvard remains a powerful name, both historically and politically. Harvard Yard is an engrossing read thanks to the authorís lively approach to historical events, the evolution of higher education and the silent war for equal opportunity. Fleshing out the characters who live on the pages of history, Martin adds a human dimension through their differences, both personal and religio-philosophical. As well, the author broadens the scope of the story, giving human dimension to the past and our interpretation of the future.

© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book


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