A few days ago I posted the first snippet of Campusland, my new novel. While the protagonist is Ephraim Russell, an English teacher longing for tenure, Devon University is a place filled with strange tribes, each with its colorful members.
Lulu is a freshman - excuse me, first-year - who aspires to be a New York socialite and thinks college, even one as prestigious as Devon, is sidelining her while rivals back in Manhattan jockey for It Girl status.
But then her upper-class friend Shelly takes her to meet an eccentric bunch she can relate to, and things turn for the better...
The Society of Fellingham
“I told Lulu that Devon is not the social wasteland she thinks it is,” Shelly said.
“Well it is, God knows, but there are redoubts of civility,” Win said.
“I take it you mean here?” Lulu said. Win just smiled, eyebrows arching. “So, where is here, exactly?”
“The Society of Fellingham.” It came out Fellingum.
“She wants to know what goes on here, you wanker,” Shelly said.
“What goes on here, what goes on here….How shall I say it? We are a haven, a refuge, if you will, for a certain sort. We value the arts and have frequent soirees, most notably for Lord Fellingum’s birthday. We are comfortable in formal wear, and most of us speak several languages.”
“Je vois,” Lulu said. I see.
“Ah, très fábuleux, mon cher.” Win clinked his glass on Lulu's, pleased with their mutual fabulousness. “But I really should defer to Frazier.” Turning, he waived across the room. “Frazier, a moment.”
Frazier disengaged from a conversation with an impossibly thin brunette girl with enormous gold hoop earrings and traversed the room. “Hello, Shel.” His eyes turned to Lulu. “Well, whom do we have here?”
“Harris.” Win let the word hang there for a moment, as if divining the name’s uncertain origins. “Well, Lulu, meet Frazier Langham, our club historian. Frazier, meet Lulu Harris, freshman.”
“The pleasure is mine,” Frazier said. He sported a blazer and rep tie, perfectly knotted. “And aren’t we supposed to be saying freshperson, or something?”
“Wait, we have an historian?” Shelly asked.
“It’s first-year now,” Lulu said. “The word ‘fresh’ targets us for sexual violence. I got a pamphlet. It’s all there.”
“A pamphlet! How wonderful!” Win declared, clapping his hands. “You must bring us one. One has so much trouble keeping up with the nomenclature.” He laughed, imagining he had made a particularly clever bon mot. “Anyway, Frazier here is, in fact, the society’s historian. I thought he might give you the sordid details.”
“I will go all the way back to the beginning.” Frazier liked few things more than talking about the Fellinghams. “Our little island of civility was founded nine years ago by - “
“Hold on, you sure you can keep track of all that history, Frazier? I mean, nine years…”
“Shut up, Shel, you harpy!” Win blurted. “It’s important for any organization to have institutional memory.”
“Okay, I’ll be good. Do go on.” Shelly smiled and sipped her Pimm’s.
“The Society of Fellingham,” Frazier continued, “was founded nine years ago by Sir Alexander Hargrove. A freshman at the time, he found the university’s social options lacking, at least for one as he, born of the British aristocracy. The society was named for Hargrove’s direct ancestor, Lord Herebert Fellingham, the 2nd Marquees of Fellingham, who lived in the seventeenth century and was a prominent supporter of James II. Sir Alex was a traditional monarchist, you see, and the society’s mission statement asserts that we will strive to reinstate the primacy of monarchic rule, and that America, in particular, should be returned to the monarchic fold. Also, there should be many formal affairs with free flowing alcohol.”
“Long live the Queen!” shouted Win.
The few dozen others in the room stopped what they were doing. Raising their Pimm’s, they shouted back, “Long live the Queen!”
Frazier continued. “The scepter was chosen as our symbol, and you can see our sacred scepter, handed down through generations of Hargroves, hanging over the mantlepiece.”
Shelly snorted. “I didn’t know they made cubic zirconium way back then.”
Frazier ignored her. “Sir Alex decreed that only students who were members of the aristocracy could join, but he soon discovered this meant Fellinghams would have a membership of two, himself and Ahmed Farooq. Ahmed was the grand-nephew of the deposed Shah of Iran, so he was a fellow traveler, aristocratically speaking. Regrettably, Farooq’s family had been chased from the family seat by street mobs during the Revolution, but he still qualified. Ahmed aside, though, Sir Alex was distraught to learn that he had arrived in something of an aristocratic wasteland.”
“He did know he was in, like, America, right?” Lulu asked.
“That’s not entirely clear. He was intoxicated for most of the six years he was here, by all accounts, and he may not have technically graduated. Pembroke College at Cambridge had been the family’s scholastic heritage for centuries but they say Sir Alex couldn’t settle on a subject of study, which makes admission at Cambridge problematic, as was the fact he may or may not have written, “Bugger off” as the response to one of his A-Level essay questions. We believe he chose Devon because it’s the closest approximation to Oxbridge, with our gothic spires and house system. But some details of the story are lost in the mists of time.”
“He graduated three years ago,” Shelly offered, being helpful, as always.
“Anyway, Sir Alex decided to grant admittance to others who could at least act with the appropriate social graces, and Fellinghams was founded with nineteen initial members. They had no house, of course, and held meetings at the residence of a former professor, one who professed to be an Anglophile. Regrettably, it turned out he was a predatory homosexual, which made it necessary to make other arrangements. A year later, Sir Alex set his eyes on this very edifice. Lacking sufficient funds for the purchase, as his family was some three generations removed anything resembling actual wealth, he persuaded his now close friend, Ahmed, to foot the bill. Ahmed’s family had managed to escape Iraq with Swiss bank accounts of considerable health, you see, so it was a small matter.”
“To the damn Persian!” Win cried.
“To Ahmed!” answered everyone.
“So, how goes it with the whole monarchy thing?” Lulu asked, suppressing a giggle.
“Splendidly,” Win answered. “We’re having a party to celebrate Prince Harry’s birthday next month. Perhaps you might attend.”
“Huzzah!” Frazier cried, in apparent agreement.
Someone turned the music up and the night became a blur of alcohol, toasts, and slightly loosened neckties. In the fullness of the evening, Win removed the scepter from the mantle and led a march around the living room, waiving the scepter from side to side like a drum major. Each time the line passed the bar a slug whiskey was all but required. Presently, it was decided that food was an urgent requirement, and so Win led a small parade to Gino’s Pizza down the block, everyone singing That Gay Old Devon That I Love along the way. Five pies were ordered in high Elizabethan English from Gino, otherwise known as “my good man.”
Gino didn’t mind - this wasn’t the first time. But he did wonder about the university now and then.-->