David Lodge 1935-
(Full name David John Lodge) English novelist, critic, editor, and playwright.
The following entry presents an overview of Lodge's career through 1999.
A highly respected author and critic, Lodge is best known for his intelligent, comic novels, including Changing Places (1975), Small World (1984), and Nice Work (1988). Lodge's fiction typically features beleaguered academics and conflicted Roman Catholics—often a combination of the two. His inventive texts abound with allusions, puns, structural innovations, amusing metaphors, and clever incarnations of literary theory in the lives of his characters. A distinguished scholar of the English novel, Lodge has also produced several major works of literary theory and criticism, including Language of Fiction (1966) and Working with Structuralism (1981).
Born in South London, Lodge was the only child of William Frederick Lodge, a dance band musician, and Rosalie Marie Murphy Lodge, an Irish-Belgian Roman Catholic. Lodge was in London with his parents during the Nazi blitz of 1940, but for most of World War II he and his mother lived in the countryside. At age ten he was enrolled in St. Joseph's Academy, a Catholic grammar school in Blackheath. There Lodge cultivated an intense interest in the Catholic faith, which would later become a cornerstone of his fiction. As part of the first generation of English children to receive free secondary schooling in England, Lodge graduated from St. Joseph's in 1952 and matriculated at University College, London, where he earned a B.A. in English with honors in 1955. After completing two years of national service, he returned to University College to finish his graduate work in English literature, concentrating on Catholic fiction in the years since the Oxford movement. In 1959 Lodge completed his degree and married Mary Frances Jacob, a fellow English student. The next year he published his first work, The Picturegoers. In 1960, Lodge accepted a one-year post teaching literature at the University of Birmingham, and the next year he was appointed to a tenure-track position as assistant lecturer. He rose through the academic ranks becoming Professor of Modern English Literature in 1976. His years at Birmingham were interrupted by a 1969-70 visiting professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. Besides writing satiric reviews for a local repertory company during his early years in Birmingham, Lodge also turned to critical work, publishing Language of Fiction, which became one of the most widely read of all contemporary books about the novel. Lodge followed this success with a series of journal articles and books of criticism that established him as one of the most respected literary theorists in England. His books Graham Greene (1966) and Evelyn Waugh (1971) were written for the Columbia Essays on Modern Writers series. At the suggestion of his friend and fellow academic Malcolm Bradbury, Lodge decided in the early 1960s to write a comic novel, and in this genre, beginning with The British Museum Is Falling Down (1965), Lodge found his true voice. Lodge has received numerous honors for his fiction, including the Hawthornden Prize and Yorkshire Post Fiction Prize for Changing Places, the Whitbread Book of the Year award for How Far Can You Go? (1980), and the Sunday Express Book of the Year award for Nice Work. Both Small World and Nice Work were short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize. Lodge was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1976. He retired from the University of Birmingham in 1987 to concentrate on writing. He has since continued to produce notable works of criticism and several works for television, including an adaptation of Nice Work that aired in 1989 and won the Royal Television Society's award for best drama serial and a Silver Nymph at the 1990 International Television Festival in Monte Carlo.
Lodge's first two novels, The Picturegoers and Ginger, You're Barmy (1962)—the latter of which emerged from Lodge's extreme disaffection with military life—reveal the influence of Catholic novelist Graham Greene on Lodge's work. Out of the Shelter (1970), a semi-autobiographic novel, grew out of Lodge's childhood experiences during World War II and the austerity of England's postwar years. While Lodge's first three novels are works of serious, realistic fiction, his next novel, The British Museum Is Falling Down, is a madcap comedy that established the direction of his subsequent fiction. Strongly influenced by James Joyce, British Museum describes a day in the life of a young Catholic husband struggling to meet expenses while still in graduate school. His protagonist's daydreams parody the style and diction of the novelists he has read during his years of English literature study. This novel was written partly in response to Vatican II, at a time when many young Catholics hoped that the Church's ban on contraception would be rescinded.
In all of Lodge's “campus novels,” he gently mocks his own world of academia, poking fun at professors who cloak themselves in theories of the outside world while never actually experiencing it. Changing Places, the first of these campus novels, pits a charismatic, much-published American academic Morris Zapp against his decidedly timid English counterpart, Philip Swallow. Zapp is a faculty member at Euphoric State University, a thinly disguised Berkeley, while Swallow is on the faculty at the University of Rummidge, Lodge's imaginary Birmingham. Zapp and Swallow briefly exchange academic appointments, cars, homes, and even wives in a switch that results in renewal for both of them. The changes in their lives are mirrored by the text itself; each chapter is written from a different point of view and style, from omniscient narrator to epistolary form to screenplay. How Far Can You Go? follows ten young Catholic characters through twenty-five years of their lives, beginning with their university years. The dramatic changes in the church, from worship and pastoral practice to relations with other faiths, are examined through the lives and experiences of these characters as they attempt to reconcile their sexual needs with their religious beliefs. Small World, a comedy of manners, is concerned with a different kind of desire—that of academic ambition. The novel is structured as a chivalric romance, complete with a quest—an appointment to the Unesco Chair of Literary Criticism, a post that includes a large stipend but no academic responsibilities. The work, in which the Zapp and Swallow characters of Changing Places reappear, abounds with irony, especially in the decidedly unheroic, unchivalric behavior among the herd of academics who traverse the globe attending various literary conferences on topics so arcane that they are the only people in the world who understand them. Nice Work, a combination of campus novel and modern version of the mid-nineteenth-century industrial novel, comments on the condition of both academic and industrial England during the Thatcher years. The work is Lodge's comic interpretation of “town and gown” conflicts, positing a gradual mutual understanding of the two worlds on the part of their respective representatives—a left-wing, feminist junior academic from Rummidge and a local, poorly educated captain of industry.
Paradise News (1991) treads familiar Lodge territory, focusing on themes of religious questioning and sexual dysfunction, this time among a group of British tourists in Hawaii. All the characters, including Bernard Walsh, a laicized priest through whom twenty years of Catholic history is personified, are looking for a paradise they cannot quite define but search for in various, gently comic ways. The title is also a play on the New Testament concept of the good news of the Christian gospel. Therapy (1995) is a droll look at Laurence (Tubby) Passmore, a successful television situation comedy scriptwriter with a pain in his knee that an army of therapists—physical therapist, aromatherapist, cognitive behavior therapist, acupuncturist, platonic mistress—cannot seem to assuage. A self-educated and self-absorbed man, Passmore discovers the works of nineteenth-century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and makes a pilgrimage to his home. Passmore's search for a loving relationship makes for high comedy as well as a comment on the struggle to discover meaning and identity in modern life, a search undertaken in one way or another by nearly all of Lodge's fictional creations. After retiring from his academic post, Lodge continued to produce notable works of criticism, including After Bakhtin (1990), The Art of Fiction (1992), and The Practice of Writing (1996). He has also written several television screenplays and stage dramas, including The Writing Game (1990) and Home Truths (1998).
Lodge is highly regarded for his several campus novels, particularly Changing Places, which first established his popularity. These novels are praised for their wit and intelligence, as well as for the skill with which Lodge presents difficult contemporary literary theory to readers—viewed as a testament to Lodge's impressive erudition. As critics observe, Lodge's ability to deftly contrast opposing personalities, ideologies, and social classes permits him to explore and parody each in turn. Reviewers note that Lodge's humor is never savage; his characters, while bumbling, are portrayed so warmly that even while laughing at them, the reader still likes them. Though primarily recognized for his satirical depictions of the insular academic world, Lodge has been described by some as a “Catholic” novelist—with The British Museum Is Falling Down regarded as his most successful take on this theme. Among his later novels, Paradise News did not fare as well among critics. However, Therapy garnered mixed reviews, with most critics finding moments of brilliance in the work despite elements of contrivance and superficiality. As a literary scholar who has resisted the theoretical claims of post-structuralism, Lodge has won admiration for the clarity and insight of his criticism. Language of Fiction and Working with Structuralism are among Lodge's most significant works in this genre. Lodge has also received praise for his more recent After Bakhtin and The Practice of Writing.