David Lodge

The English author, David Lodge (born 1935), wrote novels that frequently reflected his class-consciousness, Catholic background, and/or his life in academia.

David Lodge was born on January 28, 1935, to working-class Catholic parents, William Frederick Lodge (a saxophonist and clarinetist in dance bands) and Rosalie Murphy Lodge. They lived on the outskirts of London. As a child, he lived through the darkest days of the blitz—the German bombing attacks in 1940. Like many other schoolboys, he was evacuated to the countryside for the remainder of the war years. He grew up during postwar years of economic hardship. At age ten, he was enrolled in the St. Joseph's Academy Catholic grammar school, and entered University College, London in 1952. He graduated with a Bachelor's degree in English (with honors) in 1955 and a Masters degree in 1959. After a two-year stint in the Royal Armored Corps (1955-1957), he went on to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Birmingham and joined the English faculty in 1960. 1959 was also the year that he married Mary Frances Jacob and with whom he fathered two sons and a daughter. Lodge spent part of 1969 as a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He was assistant to the British Council in London and became Lecturer. In 1971-1973, he became Senior Lecturer and was an instructor from 1973-1976. In 1976, he was appointed professor of modern English literature at Birmingham and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 1987, he took early retirement from his university post to devote himself to his writing.

Lodge's first attempted novel The Devil, The World, and The Flesh focused on Catholic characters living in a small part of London. It was not published. Lodge's early novels, The Picturegoers (1960) and Ginger, You're Barmy (1962), reflect his class-consciousness and Catholicism and show the influence of Catholic novelists Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, as well as that of the "Angry Young Men, " the circle of 1950s writers who attacked the deeply-ingrained British class system. The British Museum Is Falling Down (1965), a departure from his earlier realism, is a slapstick farce on a serious ethical topic—the Roman Catholic ban on artificial birth control. The novel chronicles a day in the life of Adam Appleby, a graduate student who is preoccupied with the thought that the Vatican-approved "rhythm method" may have failed again and that his wife may be pregnant with their fourth child. For Adam and his wife, Roman Catholicism has been reduced to "large numbers of complicated graphs, calendars, small notebooks full of figures, and quantities of broken thermometers, " as if the religion offered no larger vision of faith. The novel includes a number of parodies, including a Kafkaesque run-in with the British Museum bureaucracy and a final interior monologue by Adam's wife, inspired by Molly Bloom of James Joyce's Ulysses. In fact, the entire novel, with its one-day time frame, urban wandering, parodies and allusions, is an homage to Joyce's masterwork.

Lodge's fourth novel, Out of the Shelter (1970), is his most autobiographical work, based on a vacation that he spent visiting an aunt in Heidelberg in 1951. Lodge called the novel a mixture of Bildungsroman (or "coming-of-age" tale) and "the Jamesian international novel of conflicting ethical and cultural codes." Emotionally scarred by the London blitz, the teenaged Timothy Young travels to Germany to visit his sister, who works for the U.S. Army of Occupation. There he is surprised to find, amid the ravages of war, a life of material luxury and sexual adventure. The latter forms the basis for much of the novel's comedy.

In Changing Places (1975), Lodge began to mine a rich vein of academic comedy which would become the hallmark of his most notable fiction. Inspired by his stay at Berkeley, the novel's premise involves an exchange between two professors. Philip Swallow is a monastic, un-worldly scholar from the English University of Rummidge, "a backwater institution of middling size and reputation"; Morris Zapp is a brash cosmopolite from the prestigious State University of Euphoria, a stand-in for Berkeley. The plot allows Lodge to reverse the Jamesian international theme by having the reserved, naive English-man confront the full force of the American student revolution of the 1960s, with its sit-ins, love-ins, and happenings. Zapp, meanwhile, must adjust to the genteel poverty of English academic life. By the novel's end, the two have swapped not only places, but also wives. Changing Places won both the Hawthornden Prize and the Yorkshire Post Fiction Prize.

Winner of the Whitbread Award for Novel of the Year, How Far Can You Go? (1980; first published in the United States as Souls and Bodies) is an ambitious novel which follows the lives of ten Catholic friends for nearly three decades. With broad strokes, Lodge traces their early sexual encounters, wobbly marriages, and mid-life crises. A common thread is their continuing struggle to reconcile their once-solid faith in Catholicism with the tensions and temptations of contemporary life. The book is itself a social history of changes in the Roman Catholic Church, as the characters come to grips with the Vatican II revision of the Latin Mass, the debate over contraception, the liberalization of the religious orders, and the growth of both the ecclesiastical left and the evangelical charismatic movement. While the novel is laced with comic episodes and satiric assaults, it is at heart a serious and soul-searching work.

Lodge called Small World (1984), winner of the Whitbread Award for Fiction, a "kind of sequel" to Changing Places. Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp share the stage with a large cast of globe-trotting academicians, "like the errant knights of old, wandering the world in search of adventure and glory" as they jet from one international conference to the next. Among them is Persse McGarrigle, a young Irish professor for whom the conference circuit turns into an Arthurian romance in quest of a beauteous but elusive graduate student; his innate chivalry remains unshaken even as she reappears in a series of erotic guises. Most of the others are in hot pursuit of a more worldly prize, the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) Chair of Literary Criticism, a do-nothing post with a tax-free annual salary of $100, 000. The novel is an intricately-plotted farce involving mistaken identities, found infants, and botched kidnappings.

The epigraph of Nice Work (1988), taken from Disraeli, speaks of "two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings as if they were … inhabitants of different planets." Such is Lodge's portrayal of the academic and industrial communities of Rummidge. The two protagonists are Robyn Penrose, a feminist theoretician whose specialty is the 19th-century industrial novel and who does not have a clue about modern industry; and Victor Wilcox, manager of a local foundry, with nothing but scorn for the professorial beehive across town. They are brought together by the "shadow scheme, " a government exchange program to promote understanding between the two communities. After Robyn becomes Vic's "shadow, " her attempts to reform the Dickensian working conditions of the foundry create a near-disaster and ultimately make them strange bedfellows. Nice Work received the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award.

Lodge has also written a number of distinguished books of criticism, including The Modes of Modern Writing (1977) and Working with Structuralism (1981). His latest collection The Practice of Writing focuses on writing techniques needed for any practicing writer in any medium.


Further Reading on David Lodge

Write On: Occasional Essays, 1965-85 (1986) is a collection of Lodge's shorter pieces. An interview with David Lodge appeared in Publishers Weekly, August 18, 1989. Peter Widdowson's "The Anti-History Men" (Critical Quarterly, Winter 1984) is a critical study of Lodge and his fellow novelist Malcolm Bradbury. Other sources of biographical reference can be found in Biography on David Lodge by Angela Friend, Dictionary of Literary Biography. British Novelists Since 1960 Volume 14 part 2:H-Z and the Guide to Contemperary Novelists, The New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975), and New Statesman & Society Vol.8, No. 352