Suzanne Fields

Beware the man, Greek or not, bearing the gift of Amontillado, the dark amber-brown Spanish sherry that can get a girl into trouble. The man, too. The girl will get her revenge if it takes her 20 years.

That's what happened to Harold Bloom, a celebrated professor of literature at Yale. He took a bottle of Amontillado to Naomi Wolf, when, as a senior student in independent literature studies, she invited him home to dinner in 1983. "He drank continually," she tells us in a cover story in New York magazine. She drank, too. When the candles had flickered low, and two other guests departed, she gave him her manuscript of poetry.

Instead of reading it, he got in her face, sherry breath and all, and recited the seductive poetry of a sloshed professor: "You have the aura of election upon you."

With the swiftness of a rake out of Restoration Comedy, he placed "his heavy, boneless hand" on her "hot thigh." This was not how the eager student had wanted the evening to end. If this was election, she wanted a recount. She ran to the sink and threw up.

Heloise and Abelard, this was not. Naomi Wolf did not get herself to a convent, nor was Harold Bloom castrated. The professor finished the Amontillado still in his glass, recorked the bottle, and told the maiden with vomit breath that she was "a deeply troubled girl." Naomi was not exactly a maiden - by her own telling she had long since been known by a man - but she nevertheless simmered with the fury of a woman whose poetry was scorned.

In what has to be an award-winning rationalization for writer's block, she says, "I never wrote a poem after that." So emotionally laden was the awful experience 20 years later that she burst into tears when she described the dreadful trauma to a reporter for the New York Observer. Her story had to be told to save other victims from heavy, boneless professorial hands at Yale.

She does not want us to think she was deprived of later opportunity to round her heels, but the Ivy League would never be the same. "What Harold Bloom's hand on his student's thigh set off was not a sexual crisis," she writes. "I was sexually active - and not even especially modest. An unwanted hand on a thigh from a date was nothing. Nor was it an emotional crisis. I wasn't that vulnerable. What it set off was a moral crisis, shaking my confidence in the institution I was in."

She attempts to bring down the institution with the wet powder of rumor, gossip and innuendo, and Yale is likely to survive, but the smear of a famous man was nevertheless spread across the pages of a magazine.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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