Changing Places

by David Lodge

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Changing Places (1975) is a "campus novel" by British novelist and literary critic David Lodge. It is the first of three novels by Lodge that comprises a trilogy concerned with British and American academic life. The two other works of the trilogy are Small World (1984) and Nice Work (1988).

The novel is in part a roman a clef (i.e. a novel about real things, but these things are given fictional names); the University of Rummidge is based on the University of Birmingham—where Lodge himself taught—and the State University of Euphoria is a stand-in for the University of California at Berkeley. Morris Zapp, the American professor and star literary critic, is based in part on Stanley Fish. Additionally, Morris Zapp's wife, Desiree Zapp, is to a degree based on Fish's wife, Jane Tompkins. Although the plot is not based on actual events, many of the characters represent either actual people or the sort of people one is likely to encounter on the campuses portrayed.

The first major theme of the novel is the social and political unrest in the late sixties and early seventies. The student movement is an active part of the plot and reflects changing hierarchies and power relationships within the academic environment. In this setting, there are power imbalances between students and faculty and even a level of casual sexual fraternization that would no longer be considered acceptable.

Changing gender roles is also a major theme of the novel. The two wives struggle to find their identities in a world in which men have traditionally been professors and women have traditionally been "faculty wives." While Desiree asserts her own scholarly identity and embraces feminism as a scholar and as a woman in order to fight institutionalized sexism, Hilary Swallow is a prototypical "faculty wife" who gave up her own career to become a wife and a mother, and she lives a diminished and unsatisfying life. Both women struggle with forging their own identities and relationships—in part, through having affairs with each other's husbands.

Another theme in the book is the way that the competitive nature of the academic star system affects the quality of teaching and scholarship. The American model—grounded in completion over prestige and innovation—is portrayed as dynamic and exciting but in some ways less focused on genuine literary appreciation and effective instruction. Conversely, the more hidebound British model is shown as flawed in its lack of imagination but more effective as a means of instruction. Underneath the comedy, Lodge gives a balanced sense of the virtues and vices of both academic cultures.

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