Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

From Frederic Raphael’s famous contemporary work Glittering Prizes (1976), about the lives of Cambridge-Oxford dons, to plays about seedier institutions such as the second-language school in Simon Gray’s Quartermaine’s Terms (1918) or the University of London in Gray’s Butley (1971), academia, still the major definer of class in England, has been the subject of many dramas and novels since World War II. Having written his first novel, Eating People Is Wrong (1959), about the Redbrick university of the 1950’s, Bradbury continues the tradition in The History Man.

Reviewers have mentioned the strong physicality of Bradbury’s style, particularly the endless lists of objects. George Steiner mentions the Homeric quality—lists and catalogs—and concludes with a comparison of Bradbury with Henry James, referring to the “density of convention, the same alertness to the flick of intonation.” The long lists of the furniture of the Kirks’ home, of the food served at the parties, of the separate routines of the Kirks as they prepare for a party, of the viciously detailed dress and general behavior of the guests, of the fashionable language— all these serve to create a thick textural tone of objects and language, at times providing subtle insights and at other times overwhelming with their sense of mass.

Hilary Spurling writes that she “cannot help feeling that inside this fat catalogue...

(The entire section is 457 words.)