Charles A. Hobbie, Days of Splendor, Hours Like Dreams:
Four Years at a Small College in the Still North (1963-1967)
Charles “Chuck” Hobbie has written a loving memoir of his undergraduate experience at Dartmouth College from 1963 to 1967, Days of Splendor, Hours Like Dreams: Four Years at a Small College in the Still North. Hobbie’s recollections of his undergraduate days more than a half-century ago are shrouded in what he terms a “halcyon haze” (p.19), and that haze infuses his memoir: it is an unabashedly joyful account of a young man’s four year odyssey, utterly free from the angst and anxiety that frequently underlie personal memoirs. Hobbie’s recollections were shaped in a time that seems quite different from the present, at an institution very different then from what it is today.
Dartmouth, founded in 1769 to educate Native Americans – “Indians” was the term used freely in those days — is located in Hanover, New Hampshire, on the Connecticut River in Northern New England, a serious drive away from anything resembling a mid-size city, yet minutes from largely unspoiled wilderness. Dartmouth in Hobbie’s time was a single sex, all male institution, although that changed in 1972, five years after his graduation. As a point of disclosure, I was a classmate of Hobbie’s but did not know him as an undergraduate, even though we lived in the same dorm during our freshman year, 1963-64. I have come to know him in recent years through alumni activities.
Hobbie majored in English literature at Dartmouth, one of the most demanding fields of undergraduate study. Plainly a globalist before that term had come into vogue, with an affinity for learning about other cultures and countries that far surpassed most of his classmates, Hobbie also studied French and German as an undergraduate and participated in what was then a small overseas study program in Montpelier, France. He spent two transformative summers in Uppsala, Sweden, and had other enriching international experiences. He further found time to partake of a wide variety of extra-curricular activities during his undergraduate years, and developed a deep reverence for the Northern New England wilderness.
Hobbie’s memoir throws much light upon the mid-1960s, a period when the culture and mores in American society as a whole were undergoing rapid change, but just prior to what might be considered the quintessential “sixties” year, 1968. Hobbie provides his readers with a good sense of what single sex education was like in that by-gone era, when the Northeast United States was dotted with numerous single-sex institutions, male and female. Most charmingly, Hobbie provides his readers with an insider’s view of how young men between 18 and 22, suddenly free from parental boundaries, pursued the opposite sex from their remote all-male institution. Dartmouth did not provide easy terrain for this time-honored and always challenging pre-occupation, but Hobbie proved unusually adept at it. His endearing descriptions of a relentless pursuit of a bevy of young women throughout his undergraduate years furnish momentum and gusto to his affectionate memoir.
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Hobbie came to Dartmouth from Buffalo, New York, after excelling in secondary school. Although he gained admission to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Colgate, as well as his father’s alma mater, Cornell, Dartmouth was his only serious choice. His brother had graduated from the college six years previously, and as a high school student Hobbie had fallen in love with the pristine New Hampshire wilderness while working as a counselor in a summer camp in Northern New England. Hobbie entered Dartmouth aiming to become a doctor, and thus spent his early undergraduate years in the ultra-rigorous biology and chemistry courses that were an obligatory part of what was termed the “pre-med” curriculum. Like many of his classmates, Hobbie discovered after a heavy dose of these courses that maybe he didn’t aspire to be a doctor after all. Quite late in his undergraduate career, he selected English literature as his major field of study.
Hobbie can still recall the many English literature courses he wrestled with at Dartmouth, on Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, and the English and American novel, among others. He provides his readers with glimpses into the worlds that opened to him in these courses. He also recounts one of the more quaint features to being an English major at Dartmouth that had no counterpart in other academic departments. The English department was (and still is) located in Sanborn House, an adjunct to Baker Library, the College’s main library, and was built at about the same time, in the 1920s. But even more than Baker Library, Sanborn House was made to look like it had been built in the 1820s or even the 1720s. It had aged wooden panels, stacks of old looking books, and an inviting fireplace; it felt slightly musty, in a cozy way. Hobbie imagined that Sanborn House had been “modeled on some seventeenth-century library in a stately English castle” (p.175).
Weekdays at 4:00 pm, the faculty held tea at Sanborn House, to which undergraduates were cordially invited. You didn’t have to be an English major to attend, but must of the attendees were. Through the “enchanting tradition” (p.174) of afternoon teas, as well as through his course work, Hobbie came to know several of the school’s impressively learned English literature professors on a personal level, and he kept in touch with a handful after his undergraduate years.
Hobbie joined freshman crew during his first year at Dartmouth, and describes learning to coordinate strokes with fellow crew members during early morning and late afternoon practice sessions on the Connecticut River. “There is nothing quite so thrilling as silently gliding down a river,” he writes, “cutting like a knife through the reflections of the autumn colors, sunset, and sky in the water, with the only sounds those of the wind, the straining of the oars, and the rhythmic calls of the cox and stroke” (p.64). But he gave up crew in later years for the Dartmouth Glee Club, a singing group that traveled far and wide delivering stirring concerts to audiences across the United States, along with some stops in Canada.
Hobbie also learned to ski at the ski run located on the edge of the Dartmouth campus. Throughout his undergraduate years, he worked part-time cleaning dishes in Dartmouth’s dining hall. And he spent much time as an undergraduate hiking in the woods, frequently spending nights at the College’s wilderness retreat at Mt. Moosilauke. In some of the memoir’s most affecting passages, Hobbie expresses his ever-deepening appreciation of the Northern New England wilderness – its “stately mountains, vast forests, and pristine lakes and rivers” (p.158) — and how that wilderness shaped the outlook he would take with him upon graduation.
Hobbie channeled in several directions his international bent and his curiosity about cultures different from his own. His two summers in Uppsala, Sweden, where he worked with his older brother who was a university research assistant there, began what he terms a lifelong love affair with Sweden. Hobbie describes himself as having been mesmerized by Uppsala’s “ancient museums, cathedral, and academic structures, intimate charm, student cafes and clubs, narrow cobblestone streets, and old-world aura” (p.116; he was also mesmerized by more than a handful of young Swedish women – see below). During a semester at the University of Montpelier, in Mediterranean France, Hobbie lived with a French family and prepared a long thesis – what the French call a “memoire” – analyzing, in French, Balzac’s Human Comedy. He developed a deep affection for his French family, especially his “brother,” Alain, a young man of Hobbie’s age who provided the American with valuable insights into the mysterious world of French women.
During his final year at Dartmouth, Hobbie arranged to room with a first year student from the Netherlands, for whom he seems to have been an outstanding mentor. Late in his undergraduate career, Hobbie immersed himself in the study of German. Then, in his final trimester, he met with a Peace Corps recruiting officer, and was plainly captivated with the mission of this then-fledgling institution that was the brainchild of President John F. Kennedy. Upon graduating from Dartmouth, Hobbie went on to join the Peace Corps after studying English literature at the University of Wisconsin and served three years in Korea. Today, over 50 years after graduation and armed with a law degree, Hobbie works as Associate General Counsel at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Throughout his undergraduate years, Hobbie pursued young women with zeal and zest, and he shares with his readers what is presumably only a small fraction of his amorous adventures. Before he left home for Dartmouth, Hobbie’s older sister told him to be kind to his dates, “if I ever had any. I wondered what she meant by that,” he tells his readers, “but I hope that I fulfilled her wish” (p.34). His sister need not have worried. Hobbie had plenty of dates as an undergraduate, and appears to have been unfailingly kind to all.
In these pages, Hobbie introduces us to, among others, Lindsey (“[s]mart, personable, athletic and sensitive. . . a long-legged, longhaired, gorgeous, blue-eyed blonde, with full lips and a nice figure;” p.61); Judy (“not only a wonderfully fun, intelligent, and interesting woman but also one of the prettiest girls I had ever met, whose exotic face and long, dark hair completely enchanted me” p.176); Diana (a woman with a “very distinctive and attractive voice, as well as a unique and charming way of laughing that had the cadence of the love song of a chickadee”; p.188); and Connie (the “prettiest blush I ever saw”; p.184).
Not all Hobbie’s relationships ended to his liking. Lindsey, his high school sweetheart, left him for some guy named Doug, whom Hobbie considered unworthy of the young lady’s attention. With no fanfare, Judy abandoned Hobbie for her high school sweetheart. And after Diana had told Hobbie that she couldn’t see him on a particular weekend because she had the flu, Hobbie crossed paths with her on campus in the company of another student. But a young lady named Alice, a student at Simmons College, a women’s school located near Boston, provided Hobbie with what is probably the memoir’s most painful lesson of the heart.
After an initial encounter in Hanover, Hobbie and Alice exchanged flowery letters. Alice’s letters gave Hobbie “some hope that she was interested in becoming a closer friend” (p.109). One weekend, Hobbie traveled to Simmons unannounced, in the hope of surprising Alice. But when he entered her dormitory, he had his own surprise. On the bulletin board in the front hall he saw a “familiar letter – the letter I had written to Alice several weeks before.” Alice had not merely posted the young man’s letter on the bulletin board. To his chagrin, the letter had been “covered with mocking, annotative comments from her Simmons dormitory mates” (p.109). After his visit to Alice’s dorm, the now far wiser Hobbie says he remembers only “being dazed and more humiliated than I had ever been before. That was it for Alice and for Simmons College . . . I also learned to be more careful in the future with candidly expressing my feelings” (p.110).
Readers should not be surprised that Hobbie earnestly sought to bridge cultural divides while overseas. He found Swedish women “tremendously alluring, with their lilting accents, European clothes, elegant but subtle makeup and hairstyles, and confident but innocent sexuality” (p.119). In his first summer in Uppsala, he struck up a short-lived but intense friendship with a “lovely, doe-eyed blond girl” named Leena, who “in many ways personified my ideal girl” (p.118). But Hobbie fell harder that summer for Anna, a mathematics student and a “jewel . . . strikingly beautiful with long blonde hair and blue eyes” (p119-120).
It was “pure heaven” to be with Anna, Hobbie informs us. When he left Uppsala by train at the end of the summer, “[n]o other woman looked attractive or interesting anymore,” although, he quickly adds, “there were lots of very enticing young women on the train” (p.121). The following summer, by accident, he ran across Anna in Stockholm. It seemed liked “divine intervention” (p.165), and the pair had a joyous reunion, although he never saw her again after that evening, much to his regret. While in Sweden, Hobbie also had occasion to dance with American popular singer Eartha Kitt, and befriended Anna Tolstoy, the great novelist’s granddaughter. No wonder young Hobbie found Sweden alluring.
It may come as a disappointment to his readers that Hobbie reveals no French girlfriends from his time in Montpelier. But he frequently went to the beach with Nadia, a German student also studying at the university, an “extremely attractive, dark-haired beauty [who] spilled out of the tiniest bikini I had every seen” (p.168). In his language laboratory exercises at the university, moreover, Hobbie was fortunate to have as an instructor a “lovely blonde student about twenty-five years old with one of the sexiest voices I have ever heard” (p.168).
But if Hobbie came up short in his quest for a French girlfriend while in Montpelier, he tantalizes his readers with Madame Colette Gaudin, his French teacher in his second year at Dartmouth, for my money the memoir’s most intriguing female figure. Hobbie first spotted Madame Gaudin on the Dartmouth ski slopes – a “stunning, exquisitely graceful skier” (p.54) – and signed up for her class almost immediately thereafter. The “gorgeous” Madame Gaudin, with a “husky, seductive voice like the actress Lauren Bacall” (p.53), proved to be an excellent teacher.
Hobbie’s new French teacher “often wore a black, loosely knitted sweater . . . and semed to slowly remove it, stretching it over her head, at least once in each class’ (p.54). Hobbie reveals that he entertained a “secret daydream that a faculty member might wish to have an affair with a reverential man a dozen years younger,” adding that he will be “grateful forever to Madame Gaudin for her excellent French instruction” (p.53). Hobbie barely hints at what he learned from Madame Gaudin’s instruction, leaving his readers yearning for more particulars (readers will be reassured to know that Hobbie found the elusive true and lasting love of his life while serving in the Peace Corps in Korea after graduation, where he met his future wife Young Ei; today he and Young are the proud parents of two adult children and a recently arrived grandchild).
While detailing how he pursued women on two continents, studied literature and sang around the country in the Glee Club, Hobbie weaves into his memoir his growing awareness of the changes that were sweeping the country at large during his undergraduate years. In the fall of 1963, when both Hobbie and I arrived in Hanover, John Kennedy was President; it was in many ways an extension of the 1950s. Haircuts were short, ties, when they were worn (almost never at Dartmouth after the first week, up until graduation), were narrow. Alcohol flowed freely – way too freely, in retrospect – but marijuana was a rare indulgence and few if any undergraduates could have told you what LSD was. War protest did not yet exist, although the United States already had limited involvement in Vietnam’s civil war.
In the winter of 1964, our first winter term in Hanover, there were signs across the country that “the times, they were a changin’,” to borrow from rising singer Bob Dylan. John Kennedy had been killed the previous fall – a traumatic and defining moment for all of us in the first term of our first year. Although we certainly didn’t realize it at the time, the 1950s were giving way to the 1960s. Four guys from Liverpool, who called themselves the Beatles, had taken the country by storm with a new genre of music.
By the time we graduated in 1967, psychedelic drugs were competing with alcohol in many corners of the campus and weekly protests against the Vietnam War had become part of standard campus activity, seeming to increase in intensity each week. Hobbie relates how his opposition to the Vietnam War crystallized in Sweden through intense discussions with students during his summers there (the war also led to Hobbie’s opportunity to dance with Eartha Kitt, who was singing professionally in Sweden because her anti-war activities had undermined her career in the United States).
But nothing to my mind better illustrates the changes of our undergraduate years than two visits of segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace to the campus, the first in 1963, during our freshman year, the second in 1967, weeks prior to graduation. Wallace’s first visit precipitated a firm but modest and fully civil protest. When Wallace reappeared on campus for a second visit in the spring of 1967, he was met with a far more unruly reception, with demonstrators seeking to shout him down when he attempted to deliver a speech in a campus auditorium, then blocking and ultimately jumping on his car as Wallace sought to leave the campus. Hobbie, a strong supporter of civil rights from his earliest undergraduate days, recounts how he happened to be in the vicinity when he spotted the crowd impeding Wallace’s departure and, more or less spontaneously, joined in the excitement of the moment.
Not unexpectedly, Hobbie befriended one of the few African-Americans in our class – one of three, Hobbie indicates. That friendship leads Hobbie to reflect upon the near-total lack of what we would now term diversity: our class consisted of close to 800 white boys. There were no women in the class, to be sure, and at best only a handful of non-Caucasian men. Hobbie seems to have found and become friends with all of them. As he further notes, not all our classmates were spirited heterosexuals like himself. But “gay” was not yet a term in use in those days to refer to one’s sexuality, and the young men whose objects of desire were other young men stayed more or less in a dark closet. One example was Hobbie’s African-American friend, who was also a gay man – a fact I learned only after reading his obituary when he died of AIDS in the 1980s.
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Dartmouth is of course a very different institution today from what it was in Hobbie’s time, with women adding immeasurable richness to the school, and both the faculty and student body achieving demographic diversity beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings in the mid-1960s. But in the era when he attended Dartmouth, Hobbie was quite plainly in the right place. Although perhaps not his objective, his relentlessly upbeat memoir reveals how he maximized the advantages that Dartmouth offered its undergraduates in the mid-1960s.
Thomas H. Peebles
La Châtaigneraie, France
May 27, 2018