George Mason U law professor Peter Berkowitz is the latest to write about Tom Wolfe’s new novel “I Am Charlotte Simmons” (the subject of an IWF symposium), and I think he gets it:

“HOW LITTLE THE RADICALNESS of the sexual revolution has been appreciated and how much questioning its consequences is deemed bad manners or worse has been amply demonstrated by the smugness with which many of the first wave of reviewers have ridiculed Tom Wolfe’s new novel. To hear the critics, speaking in the name of all that is hip and happening, tell it, I am Charlotte Simmons, though told with Wolfe’s trademark gusto and, as the critics grudgingly acknowledge, a rollicking good read, is a pathetic exercise in voyeurism by an old man repelled by, but in reality hopelessly unable to come to grips with, the social and sexual life of today’s college students. As if the stripping of eros and romance from sex, the most recent stage of which Wolfe chronicles in his big book, has not been a defining feature of campus life for four decades. As if Wolfe’s critics, in or fast approaching middle age, have a better grasp of what is going on in campus bedrooms, dormitory common areas, frat-house parties and college formals, student newspapers, seminars and lecture halls, Saturday-afternoon tailgaters, big-time basketball team practices, and university-president offices than Wolfe, who has been leading the league in reporting on American culture for almost 50 years and who, in preparing to write his third novel, took the trouble to spend fours years visiting campuses across the country and gathering information.”

One of the perceptive questioners at the IWF book event asked the panel to comment on Charlotte Simmons’ choices. Berkowitz is also good on this subject:

“Charlotte is not a comic heroine like Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse, who stumble and fall, learn how to love, and find soul mates to marry. Nor is she a tragic heroine like Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina, whose yearnings overrun their loveless marriages and prove disastrous to themselves and those around them. Charlotte is neither elevated nor broken by the vulgar deflowering and the crises, academic and personal, that it provokes. Instead, as March Madness approaches and Dupont’s basketball team peaks for the NCAA championships, she overcomes the disabling depression into which she had fallen and recovers her health. But she is no longer quite the same person, having learned in Wolfe’s wonderfully ambiguous final pages to quiet her conscience and tame her pride, to use her brains and her body to get along and get ahead, and to find a boyfriend she likes, who brings her high status, and enables her to join in with the crowd, but whom she never could love. In short, despite her upbringing and gifts, Charlotte proves herself to be an excellent student of the university’s unofficial but central teaching: the old restraints are antiquated and high ideals only interfere with the attainment of the authentic goods civilized life has to offer.”