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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 488

Eating People Is Wrong follows an academic year in the life of Stuart Treece, professor of English and head of the department at a provincial English university. Proceeding in a chronologically straightforward manner, the novel deals largely and successively with the individual social and personal situations in which Treece ineffectually...

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Eating People Is Wrong follows an academic year in the life of Stuart Treece, professor of English and head of the department at a provincial English university. Proceeding in a chronologically straightforward manner, the novel deals largely and successively with the individual social and personal situations in which Treece ineffectually tries to make his presence felt and his moral imperatives understood. What emerges is a comic yet sad portrait of Treece’s invariable failures: a postgraduate sherry party, an undergraduate tea, a botched driver’s test, and a fumbling attempt at sex with his colleague, Dr. Viola Masefield, among others. The novel deals not only with Treece’s at times nearly slapstick pratfalls and social as well as amorous and moral blunders but also with his thoughts about himself as he ponders his fate and that of his small world-his thoughts proving no more effectual than his actions. To a lesser extent, the novel deals with those characters, most notably Emma Fielding, Louis Bates, and Mr. Eborebelosa, whose circumstances parallel Treece’s in a number of ways. Were this an existential novel, these characters would experience the feeling of being de trop, but since Eating People Is Wrong is a variation on the British subgenre of the academic comedy of manners, of which Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim (1954) is perhaps the best-known example, Bradbury’s characters suffer the more homely plaint of feeling unwanted, displaced, marginal.

Treece, for example, finds himself at age thirty-nine at a professional backwater, a provincial university that looks like a railroad station and that originally served as an asylum for the insane. Treece is not only academically decentered, however, apart from the intellectual activity of Oxford and Cambridge and London’s cultural life, but apart in another and larger sense as well: He discovers that his 1930’s style socialism is no longer viable, his moral scruples are no longer appropriate, and his high-minded liberal humanism is at best a mere curiosity, for the university no longer serves as a haven in a heartless world but is instead its training ground. Blundering from one scene to the next, Treece provides all too ample evidence of the inadequacy of good intentions in an England that has become characterized by the phrase “you never had it so good.” Unable to save Mr. Eborebelosa from either his own cultural myopia or the racist gang that attacks him, unable to decide whether Bates is a fool or a genius, unable to appeal to Emma as a lover but only as a child in need of her care, and unable to challenge successfully a modern age typified by the slovenly, rancorous young novelist Carey Willoughby, on the one hand, and the university’s business-minded vice chancellor, on the other, Treece makes his inevitable way from failure to failure and finally to the hospital ward where, suffering from a hemorrhage of moral strength as well as blood, he is last seen.

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