The Dialogic Novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge Analysis

Robert A. Morace

The Dialogic Novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 34)

Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge are two of the best English novelists at work in the later decades of the twentieth century and, as Robert Morace demonstrates in this critical study, the two have been unfairly neglected by critics and literary historians.

Both Bradbury and Lodge are direct descendants of a long and fruitful seno-comic tradition in the English novel, going back through Evelyn Waugh and Kingsley Amis to Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne in the eighteenth century. The two novelists also have a number of other connections. Lodge and Bradbury have had a symbiotic relationship since they taught together at the University of Birmingham in England in the early 1960’s, and they have since carried on a long-range debate on the nature and function of literary criticism. Both have consistently balanced their creative work with serious and valuable contributions to literary criticism: Among Bradbury’s critical works are books on Saul Bellow and The Modern American Novel (1983); Bradbury has also edited several anthologies of criticism. Lodge, in addition to a study of Waugh, has produced both practical criticism and literary theory as well as editing several volumes of the latter. (Morace includes a comprehensive bibliography of this criticism in his “Works Cited” at the end of the book.)

Further, the novels of Bradbury and Lodge dovetail in a number of significant ways. Both are known mainly for their academic satires. Bradbury’s best novels, The History Man (1975) and Rates of Exchange (1983), are parodies set in the academic world. Ledge’s best-known works are likewise campus novels: Changing Places (1975), a comic narrative of an academic exchange between England and the United States; Small World: An Academic Romance (1984), a spoof of the international circuit of literary conferences; and Nice Work (1989; reviewed in this volume), which pairs a young female literary theorist with a middle-aged factory manager.

Most important, Morace finds that Bradbury and Lodge are alike in their attempts to salvage the realist novel in a postrealist age. At a time when many serious writers appear to have fallen off the edge of the postmodern literary abyss into meaninglessness (one thinks of William Burroughs and William Gass, perhaps, or John Barth and Donald Barthelme), Lodge and Bradbury have continued to work the liberal-realist literary vein. In their novels, Morace observes, Bradbury and Ledge “continue to search out ways to satisfy their own and their readers’ hunger for the meaningful ordering of experience, without denying their own and their readers’ empirical observation of its randomness and particularity.” They have accomplished this not by denying the lessons of postmodernism but by adopting the very postmodern techniques and styles about which both have written so convincingly in their literary criticism. In short, Bradbury and Lodge have attempted to make the realist novel a viable form in an apparently postrealist period, but by using some essentially antirealistic techniques:Theirs is a fiction of structural, thematic, semantic, and intertextual doublings, echoes, and mirror reflections: a fiction which simultaneously undermines and endorses; a fiction at once academic and accessible, referential and self-reflexive, British and American, Anglo-liberal and postrealist; a fiction tentative about its commitments yet increasingly committed to its own tentativeness.

Morace has borrowed his notion of the dialogic novel from the Soviet literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, who wrote about the theory of narrative dialogism in his study of the roots of the novel in folklore and carnival. The novel, for...

(The entire section is 1521 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 34)

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVI, August 18, 1989, p.41.