It is a Friday morning in April and students are assembled in Lovejoy 100 in clumps and knots. The course is The American Short Story. The story de jour, “Goodbye, Columbus” by Philip Roth. Five minutes into his lecture, Charlie Bassett is ranging the hall like a border collie, moving up and down the aisles, into the rows, leaning over his charges and holding their attention with his furrowed gaze, his almost-manic gestures, the mesmerizing sing-song of his voice.

“And where did Neil go to college?” Bassett asks, of the Roth character’s short-lived social climb.

“Rutgers,” the students reply.

“Rutgers,” Bassett repeats slowly, enunciating carefully as though the word contains a subliminal clue. “Rutgers is not Radcliffe. It never will be. He’s a librarian.”

The word hangs in the air like a soap bubble. Bassett lets it turn slowly as smiles break out around the room and the lesson sinks in. That in America, we are defined by what we wear, by what we eat. We are how we earn our money.
And then Bassett’s off again, arms raised in exhortation, alluding to Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, calling on students by barking their last names. But of course, it is a bark that has no bite, an affectionate gnawing felt by hundreds of Colby students over the past 30 years.

But it may not be felt much longer.

Charles Walker Bassett, Lee Family Professor of American Studies and English, officially retired at the end of the spring ’99 semester. After 45 years in the classroom, Bassett, 67, is scheduled to step down. The father of American studies at Colby has reached the point where he will no longer have to play Lovejoy 100. As they say in the central Maine that he has long called home, Charlie Bassett is getting done.