The English Department Celebrates Carolyn Soule

26 May 2015
Colorful balloons

Carolyn Soule, who is retiring as Administrative Assistant in English this spring, has worked for the department for more than 40 years and at the college for even longer. After graduating from Carleton as an English major in 1958, she began graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, where she met her late husband, George Soule. Carleton hired George a few years later, and Carolyn returned to work as an assistant at the college.

Kate Soule speaks at a lectern
Kate Soule

After brief stints in the Dean’s office and elsewhere, Carolyn was recruited to be managing editor of the Carleton Miscellany, a job that eventually evolved into the one she has now. Last week, faculty, students, staff, and family gathered to celebrate and share memories at a retirement party in the Great Hall. Speakers included Bob Tisdale, Professor of English Emeritus; Lucy Wasserburg (’15), a current department office worker; Kate Soule, Carolyn’s daughter; and Andrea Grove Iseminger (’59), Carolyn’s friend and Carleton classmate.

The Miscellany sat down with Carolyn to discuss her time at Carleton and what she’s looking forward to in retirement.

How has the department changed since you’ve been here?

Actually, it’s really the same! The professors are genuinely interested in their fields. They’re professionals, but they’re not distant from their fields. And they were joyful teachers, and I think they still are. They were the only English department that I knew of that actually got along with each other! There weren’t daggers drawn; they genuinely liked each other. It was a very congenial, relaxed, happy bunch, and it still is! Everyone cares very much about his or her field, and the majors are the same.

What has been your favorite English department event?

I think the picnic, which has gone on for ages and ages and has the tradition of the grilling and the [softball] game. It may be the oldest, too, because when I was here as a student it existed. It goes back a long way, and the ball game goes back a long way. I don’t know how it started. I think at the beginning it was only for seniors. I remember playing the ball game– I was a good softball player too– and in the course of the game I knocked over my toughest professor. I got a hit and he stood in the way, and so I just bowled him over!

What was your favorite class as a student?

19th century Victorian & Romantic literature, taught by Elvin Kintner; we just got along so well. He wasn’t one of the superstar profs, but he was a scholar. He did a still-respected collection of Browning’s letters. He was wonderful. But I also had two courses from Wayne Carver. He was a wonderful teacher and I loved him too.

If you had to do English Comps right now, what would you write about?

I think I would write about Henry James and particularly zero in on his endings, which were usually sad and somebody usually renounces something. One of the characters in Wings of the Dove says, “She turned her face to the wall.” When there is a chance for a relationship to be lasting or meaningful, it just doesn’t work. But his last novel, The Golden Bowl, ends in a relationship that works. And [James] never writes another novel. I would just look at all these various renunciations and how they varied and why. Why was his mindset like this, and then why did it suddenly end with this final happy ending? I love Henry James, but I wasn’t doing James when I was here [as a student]. If I were doing it now, that’s what I would write about.

Carolyn Soule with student workers
2014-15 Office Workers with Carolyn

What are you looking forward to most in retirement?

Doing what my friends do. They go to lunch! I want to be able to read more, garden more, and to teach myself how to cook. It’s a goal. I’m going to be more imaginative and adventuresome in what I make. I live next to the Weitz, so it will be easy to go over and see plays and things– do more of that than I do now.

What will you miss most about this job and the department?

Everybody. The people. I hope that, since I live close by, I can go to events. I won’t be that far away. But I am going to miss everyone. I just love all the bustle and I love all of the department assistants. I have the best students in the world to help me out! And being a part of a good team is really special. Lots of people are part of a team, but not one they admire. It is nice to belong to a good outfit and be pleased with your colleagues and pleased with the atmosphere. I believe in English literature [laughs]! I really do!

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