What is incomprehensible and mysterious about Stoner is that he loves the worlds that words make in books. In the English Department at the University of Missouri between 1920 and 1960, where he passes his days, this love is neither well-known nor highly regarded. That he lives only to read, to write, and to talk about literature makes him an academic failure in the company of career-makers who care nothing for words and ideas.
Michael Jackson has put up a good review of one my favourite novels.
Sadly, academics who love their subjects simply for their own sake are often few and far between and they don't often do particularly well. But for all the disappointment in Stoner's life he is to me a sort of hero because he never loses that sense of love of learning that first propelled him to want to study literature. Over the last few years many people have asked me why I wanted to do a phd when, obviously, at my stage in life it's not a sound career move (in the sense that the investment from foregone income is unlikely to be recouped).
The answers are complex I guess but in the mix is the opportunity to do something that is challenging and to do just do it for it's own sake. Most of us don't get too many opportunities to do that in life. Stoner being a poor farm boy is an unlikely character to devote his working life to a study of romantic poets, it would have been far more sensible to follow the crowd, make the compromises, and pursue a 'practical' career. Williams shows that there are no happy endings in Stoner's choice, yet he is clear that Stoner made the right choice - that's the strength and beauty of this remarkable novel.