Changing Places Essay - Critical Essays

David Lodge

Critical Context

Winner of the Hawthornden and the Yorkshire Post Fiction prizes, Changing Places establishes David Lodge as both a comic satirist and a positivist social critic. The novel acts at once as a send-up of academic life in the United States and Great Britain and as a serious look at the texture and character of modern life.

Besides the aspects of comedy of manners noted above, Lodge exploits the generic possibilities of the novel to make an implicit statement about the evolution of English-speaking cultures from a book-centered culture to a film-centered culture. Lodge employs a range of genres, from straight narrative to epistolary novel to a montage of newspaper articles, but all leave something to be desired and all are discarded, ultimately, in favor of the screenplay, which Lodge uses to relate the details of the main characters’ summit conference in New York. Incorporating many of the aspects of Marshall McLuhan’s work on the visual media, Lodge exhibits the materially different ways in which different generations receive and process information and shows how those methods of perception work to produce materially different cultures.

Morris Zapp and Philip Swallow reappear in a sequel to Changing Places, Small World: An Academic Romance (1984), although not as the central characters. Set in 1979, a decade after its predecessor, Small World satirically sketches a much-changed academic scene (student protest has given way to semiotics) via the international literary conference circuit.