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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 324

The two main characters are Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp. Both are 40-year-old white male English literature professors. The plot involves their switching positions in the United States and England.

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Philip Swallow teaches at the University of Rummidge in the Midlands. He is a modest, obliging person without much professional ambition. Swallow is married to Hilary, who briefly accompanies him but then returns to England. He excels at teaching but has done little research. At the start of the novel, he lacks confidence, is eager to please, and is very suggestible. While teaching in Zapp’s spot at California’s University of Euphoria, he has affairs with Zapp’s daughter and his wife, Désirée, and gets caught up in the student protests.

Morris Zapp goes from his tenured post at University of Euphoria to teach at Rummidge. He is a celebrated expert on Jane Austen but largely uninterested in teaching. Zapp’s ego and inflated self-importance often help him get his own way. In England, he becomes more compassionate but has an affair with Swallow’s wife. His experience dealing with student protests comes in handy and gains him respect on campus.

Désirée Zapp is Morris’s estranged wife. The faculty exchange helps him stave off her request for a divorce after she has made him move out of their house. In his absence, she becomes involved in the women’s movement and has an affair with Philip, who moves in with her.

Hilary Broome Swallow is Philip’s wife; the couple married while they were students and have three children. Her primary roles are wife and mother. After returning to England, she re-evaluates the state of their marriage and then begins the affair with Zapp largely as retaliation for Philip’s cheating.

Melanie Byrd is Morris Zapp’s daughter. Swallow meets her without knowing this. Aside from their brief sexual relationship, she represents the youthful energy that revitalizes Swallow.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 702

Morris Zapp, like all the rest of David Lodge’s characters in this novel, is a type. He is the quintessential American academic hotshot, who doubles as a typical male chauvinist. At work, Morris is a terror. The preeminent Jane Austen scholar, Morris’ one ambition is to write a series of commentaries on Jane Austen that will make all other efforts in the field useless. After Morris, no one will write any more books or articles about Austen, since Morris will have anticipated every possible contribution. Morris also wants to employ teams of graduate assistants to do a series of commentaries on every other author, until he has finally put a stop to literary criticism. This kind of grandiose ambition is typical of Morris, not only at the office but also in the bedroom, where his vigor and his desire to be the dominant male cause Desiree to complain that she “always felt like an engine on a test bed. Being, what do they call it, tested to destruction?”

Yet Morris is beset by his own success. Professionally, at age forty he has tasted all the meaningful accomplishments. On one level, he is justifiably satisfied with himself: “His needs were simple: a temperate climate, a good library, plenty of inviting ass around the place and enough money to keep him in cigars and liquor and to run a comfortable modern house and two cars.” His security begins to crumble, however, when he realizes that at forty he has gone about as far as he can expect to go, and when Desiree tires of her husband’s domineering personality and asks for a divorce, she adds a personal dimension to his nagging professional doubts. Lodge uses Morris to examine what happens to a man who has achieved a modern version of the American Dream.

Similarly, Philip Swallow is a type of the...

(The entire section contains 1647 words.)

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Critical Essays