The stack of nomination letters on the table in the SCR was distressingly high, relative to the number of fellowships the college had to offer for the coming year: only one.
The Dean sighed, and regretfully sorted through the mounds of paper to pull out six letters. These had been written on behalf of the candidates that the SCR had laboriously narrowed their list down to, after two hours of discussion. The remaining thirty-some letters she pushed slowly to one side, and glanced up at the clock.
"Perhaps we'll be able to get this sorted before tea," she said, sounding unconvinced.
"Run through the names one more time, if you'd be so kind," the Warden said.
"As you like. First comes Miss Peasegood, whose subject is the Petition of Right and the period of Personal Rule."
Miss Peasegood had been at school with Miss Hillyard, who had supported her candidacy emphatically, although perhaps not effectively. The other dons glanced at each other, but none seemed to want to speak first.
"It's not my field, so I should defer to your judgment on the matter," the Bursar said hesitantly, with a nod to Miss Hillyard, "but I wondered whether we might not expect someone to have published a bit more than she has, twelve years after taking her degree?"
"She's published good work on George Villiers," Miss Hillyard responded sturdily, "although I grant you that it's only appeared in two articles, so far. But with three years for research and writing, I'm sure she'd complete her book."
"She does have much less in the way of publications than the other finalists, though," Miss Barton observed. Miss Hillyard narrowed her eyes, but declined to respond.
"Miss Summerby, whose subject is von Kleist, is the next on the list," the Dean said. "I rather liked her article on Der zerbrochene Krug." The Warden agreed warmly, while Miss Shaw noted that the Bodleian's holdings were very strong for research on von Kleist, which Miss Summerby would find useful.
The Dean picked up the next letter in her pile. "I'm afraid that we might not be able to offer such facilities to Miss Harkiss, however," she said regretfully. Miss Edwards, the science tutor, looked up at this, as Miss Harkiss's field was physical chemistry.
"I know we haven't the laboratories for her subject, but if we did get someone in here who did top notch work, perhaps we'd be able to get a grant to build our own labs," she said forthrightly. "It's hard having to bargain for space over at Magdalen or Bailliol-Trinity, to be honest."
"Considering Miss Harkiss's subject, we'd have to petition our colleagues at Jesus to allow her to use their facilities," the Warden said thoughtfully. A thoughtful pause followed this observation. It was one thing to admit, when forced, that Shrewsbury simply didn't have the endowment of the men's colleges, but it was quite another to go ask for space for one's own fellow, cap in hand. The Warden at Jesus had been known to oppose women's degrees for years, and was still rumored to resent his defeat on this matter.
"Perhaps having someone who does brilliant work as a fellow would help us to get more laboratory space for women dons overall," Miss Edwards began again.
"It would be even more helpful if we had the endowment income to build our own facilities for the natural science tutors and fellows," Miss Hillyard said bluntly. The Bursar met her eyes and nodded.
"We haven't had the time yet to build up the sort of endowment that the college really needs," the Dean responded, cocking her head to one side and fixing Miss Hillyard with a bright glance. "And we've had to devote the money we do raise to building projects first, you know. Lecture rooms and a library large enough to house everything had to come first."
"I quite agree," Miss Hillyard retorted, "and yet I don't see the men's colleges having to face the same choices. Of course, their old students are much more affluent, and are better able to support their endowments. Very few women have such wealth at their disposal. And even if they do, how many husbands would agree to endowing their wives' colleges, instead of their own?"
"Some of those who've gone up since the War have done very well for themselves," the Bursar noted. "Look at Harriet Vane, for example, or Miss Alderton. She just opened up an establishment, off Bond Street. Perhaps some of them might be in a position to help the college, in time."
"Unfortunately, we won't be able to increase our endowment or build a new set of physical chemistry laboratories before Miss Harkiss would come into residence," the Warden observed. "Who was next on that list, Miss Martin?"
Miss Martin peered at the letter in her hand. "A Miss Rose Dobbs. She's been a tutor at Royal Holloway the last five years in PPE."
"I met her at a conference in London last year," Miss Barton said eagerly. "She's an extremely bright young woman, from a quite poor family. She was a scholarship student at the University of Edinburgh."
"A Scottish degree," the Bursar said, pensively.
"I read her book on class prejudice in the leading girls' schools," Miss Chilperic said, a bit timidly. "It was well-argued, but I couldn't help wondering about whether her research was entirely sound."
"It bordered on being a polemic," Miss Hillyard said acidly.
"But surely she brings a different perspective to the topic," Miss Barton said, leaning forward earnestly. "And in light of that, she might also contribute a great deal to our discussions here in the SRC."
Miss Martin looked thoughtful. "Surely our discussions are lively enough?"
"That shouldn't be the basis for awarding a fellowship, at any rate," the Warden observed. "Who is next on your list?"
"Miss Mary Bonham," the Dean said, sounding a bit dubious.
"She's very sound on Caxton," said Miss Lydgate warmly.
"I'm sure you're right," Miss Martin responded. "And yet, we do expect this fellow to publish something at the end of three years."
"Miss Bonham is unlikely to produce a book in less than ten years, I should think," Miss Hillyard said wryly. Sitting next to her, Miss Edwards murmured agreement.
"She does work very slowly," Miss Lydgate admitted. "But I believe her eyesight isn't very good."
"And last on our list is Miss de Vine," Miss Martin said.
"She's been abroad for some time, " Miss Lydgate said thoughtfully. "This would give her the chance to revive her career as a scholar, I should think."
"If she were truly dedicated to scholarship alone, then I wonder that she took up the position as Provost at Flamborough," Miss Hillyard said, acerbically.
"I heard that she found the amount of personal contacts required there somewhat unpleasant," Miss Lydgate responded, "although she was very clever at straightening out their finances."
"I expect she couldn't bear to see the job done so badly by someone else," the Bursar commented, pragmatically. "Her predecessor left their finances in a mess."
"I imagine she wasn't quite so talented at persuading donors to be generous, however," Miss Martin said, ruefully. "She lacks any talent for dissembling. But her work on Tudor finances opened up entirely new lines of inquiry, I understand." Miss Hilyard agreed reluctantly that this was true.
"She wrote a slightly critical review of your monograph, I believe?" Miss Edwards said, one corner of her mouth curling upwards slightly.
Miss Hillyard flushed. "She had a different understanding of the origins of the Ecclesiastical Appointments Act, certainly, but earlier drafts of the Act were clearly . . . "
At this point, the Warden intervened with a reminder that they should focus on the matter at hand, which was warmly seconded by the Dean.
"We can't take all evening on this," Miss Martin commented. "I do want my tea."
"Taken as a whole," the Warden said ruminatively, "it seems that Miss de Vine has done work that has contributed greatly to her field, and she's a productive and brilliant scholar. Perhaps we should support her return to the research side of things." Miss Edward and Miss Chilperic both nodded, and Miss Hillyard gave a reluctant assent.
"She's doing excellent work," Miss Martin added, "and I expect that she'll further enhance the reputation of the Barraclough Fellowship."
"And it puts her in a position where she can do work that is much more pleasant for her than her role as Provost," Miss Lydgate added.
"Then it's settled," the Bursar said, ringing the bell for the scout who served that staircase. "We'll have our tea now, please," she told the scout who entered.
"I'm sure Miss de Vine will be very pleased to hear the news," Miss Martin observed. "I'll find out where your letter should be directed and pass that on to your secretary," she said to the Warden.
A tray crashed to the floor, and the dons all turned toward the source of the sound.
Miss Martin sighed. "Fetch another pot, please," she said to the scout, sounding somewhat tired. "And ask Carrie to send up some extra scones. I'm feeling quite peckish."