13 minute read

David (John) Lodge Biography

David Lodge comments:

Nationality: British. Born: London, 1935. Education: St. Joseph's Academy, London; University College, London, 1952-55, 1957-59, B.A. (honors) in English 1955; M.A. 1959; University of Birmingham, Ph.D. 1967. Military Service: served in the Royal Armoured Corps, 1955-57. Career: Assistant, British Council, London, 1959-60. Assistant lecturer, 1960-62, lecturer, 1963-71, senior lecturer, 1971-73, reader, 1973-76, and professor of modern English literature, 1976-87, University of Birmingham; now honorary professor. Since 1987 full-time writer. Visiting associate professor, University of California, Berkeley, 1969; Henfield Writing Fellow, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 1977. Chairman of the Booker prize judges, 1989. Awards: Harkness Commonwealth fellowship, 1964; Yorkshire Post award, 1975; Hawthornden prize, 1976; Whitbread award, for fiction and for book of the year, 1980; Sunday Express Book-of-the-Year award, 1988. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1976, University College, London, 1982, and Goldsmiths' College, London, (honorary), 1992.



The Picturegoers. London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1960.

Ginger, You're Barmy. London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1962; New York, Doubleday, 1965.

The British Museum Is Falling Down. London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1965; New York, Holt Rinehart, 1967.

Out of the Shelter. London, Macmillan, 1970; revised edition, London, Secker and Warburg, 1985; New York, Penguin, 1989.

Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses. London, Secker and Warburg, 1975; New York, Penguin, 1979.

How Far Can You Go? London, Secker and Warburg, 1980; as Souls and Bodies, New York, Morrow, 1982.

Small World: An Academic Romance. London, Secker and Warburg, 1984; New York, Macmillan, 1985.

Nice Work. London, Secker and Warburg, 1988; New York, Viking, 1989.

Paradise News. London, Secker and Warburg, 1991.

Therapy. New York, Viking, and London, Secker, 1995.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Man Who Couldn't Get Up," in Weekend Telegraph (London), 6 May 1966.

"My First Job," London Review of Books, 4 September 1980.

"Hotel des Boobs," in The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories, edited by Malcolm Bradbury. London, Viking, 1987; New York, Viking, 1988.

"Pastoral," in Telling Stories, edited by D. Minshull. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1992.


Between These Four Walls (revue), with Malcolm Bradbury and James Duckett (produced Birmingham, 1963).

Slap in the Middle (revue), with others (produced Birmingham, 1965).

The Writing Game (produced Birmingham, 1990). London, Secker and Warburg, 1991.

Television Writing: Big Words … Small Worlds (also presenter), 1987; Nice Work, from his own novel, 1989; The Way of St. James (also presenter), 1993; and Martin Chuzzlewit (adapted from Charles Dickens), 1994.


About Catholic Authors (for teenagers). London, St. Paul Publications, 1958.

Language of Fiction. London, Routledge, and New York, Columbia University Press, 1966; revised edition, Routledge, 1984.

Graham Greene. New York, Columbia University Press, 1966.

The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism. London, Routledge, and Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1971.

Evelyn Waugh. New York, Columbia University Press, 1971.

The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy, and the Typology of Modern Literature. London, Arnold, and Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1977.

Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth-and Twentieth-Century Literature. London, Routledge, 1981.

Write On: Occasional Essays 1965-1985. London, Secker and Warburg, 1986.

After Bakhtin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism. London and New York, Routledge, 1990.

The Art of Fiction. New York, Viking, and London, Secker and Penguin, 1992.

Editor, Jane Austen: "Emma": A Casebook. London, Macmillan, 1968; Nashville, Aurora, 1970(?).

Editor, with James Kinsley, Emma, by Jane Austen. London, Oxford University Press, 1971.

Editor, Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism: A Reader. London, Longman, 1972.

Editor, Scenes of Clerical Life, by George Eliot. London, Penguin, 1973.

Editor, The Woodlanders, by Thomas Hardy. London, Macmillan, 1974.

Editor, The Best of Ring Lardner. London, Dent, 1984.

Editor, The Spoils of Poynton, by Henry James. London, Penguin, 1987.

Editor, Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. London, Longman, 1988; revised edition, 1999.

Editor, Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis . London, Penguin, 1992.


Manuscript Collections:

University of Birmingham Library.

Critical Studies:

Interview with Bernard Bergonzi, in Month (London), February 1970, "The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Novel," in The Myth of Modernism and Twentieth-Century Literature by Bergonzi, Brighton, England, Harvester Press, 1986, Exploding English: Criticism, Theory, Culture by Bergonzi, Oxford, England, n.p., 1990; "The Novels of David Lodge" by Michael Parnell, in Madog (Barry, Wales), Summer 1979; article by Dennis Jackson, in British Novelists since 1960 edited by Jay L. Halio, Detroit, Gale, 1983; Novelists in Interview by John Haffenden, London and New York, Methuen, 1985; The Dialogic Novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge by Robert A. Morace, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1989; Modern Critics in Practice: Critical Portraits of British Literary Critics by P. Smallwood, London, n.p., 1990; David Lodge: How Far Can You Go? by M. Moseley, San Bernardino, California, n.p., 1991; Faithful Functions: The Catholic Novel in British Literature by T. Woodman, n.p., Milton Keynes, 1991; David Lodge: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography by Norbert Schurer. Frankfurt am Main and New York, P. Lang, 1995; David Lodge by Bergonzi, Plymouth, England, Northcote House, 1995; David Lodge by Bruce K. Martin, New York, Twayne, 1999.

(1972) My novels belong to a tradition of realistic fiction (especially associated with England) that tries to find an appropriate form for, and a public significance in, what the writer has himself experienced and observed. In my case this experience and observation include such things as: lower-middle-class life in the inner suburbs of South East London; a wartime childhood and a postwar "austerity" adolescence; Catholicism; education and the social and physical mobility it brings; military service, marriage, travel, etc. My first, second, and fourth novels are "serious" realistic novels about such themes, the last of them, Out of the Shelter, which is a kind of Bildungsroman, being, as far as I am concerned, the most inclusive and most fully achieved.

My third novel, The British Museum Is Falling Down, was something of a departure in being a comic novel, incorporating elements of farce and a good deal of parody. I plan to write more fiction in the comic mode, as I enjoy the freedom for invention and stylistic effect it affords. On the other hand, I have not (like many contemporary writers) lost faith in traditional realism as a vehicle for serious fiction. The writer I admire above all others, I suppose, is James Joyce, and the combination one finds in his early work of realistic truthtelling and poetic intensity seems to me an aim still worth pursuing.

As an academic critic and teacher of literature with a special interest in prose fiction, I am inevitably self-conscious about matters of narrative technique, and I believe this is a help rather than a hindrance. I certainly think that my criticism of fiction gains from my experience of writing it.

(1981) Since writing the above I have come to have less faith in the viability of the traditional realistic novel of the kind that seeks, by suppressing the signs that it is written and narrated, to give the illusion of being a transparent window upon the real. This shift of attitude does not entail abandoning the novel's traditional function of engaging with, organizing and interpreting social-historical experience—merely being open about the necessarily conventional and artificial ways in which it does so. My last two works of fiction, therefore, have a prominent "metafictional" thread running through them through which the self-consciousness about fictional technique referred to above is allowed some play in the texts themselves—licenced by comedy in Changing Places, but with more serious thematic intent in How Far Can You Go?

(2000) The comic-carnivalseque-metafictional strain in my fiction that started with The British Museum Is Falling Down perhaps reached its fullest development in Small World: An Academic Romance (1974). After that book I began to move back towards a more realistic, and perhaps more "serious," engagement with my material, though still aiming to amuse, and still experimenting with narrative technique. Nice Work (1988), for instance, has a playful intertextual relationship with certain Victorian Industrial Novels, but it also attempts to give a faithful account of what it was like to work in industry and academia in England in the 1980s, the Thatcher years. Nice Work was also the most "researched" of my books to date, since the industrial side of the story was unknown territory to me when I first got the idea. This set the pattern for subsequent work. The basic story of Paradise News (1991)—the hero's visit to his dying aunt in Honolulu—was based on personal experience, but I made two research trips to Hawaii and did a great deal of reading in modern theology and about tourism before beginning the novel. Therapy (1995) drew on personal experience of depression and knee surgery, but involved extensive reading of Kierkegaard. In these two novels I made extensive use of first-person narrative for the first time in my work since Ginger You're Barmy, but with more variation and conscious artifice than in that early novel. This will also be a feature of my next full-length novel, to be published in 2001. I try to write novels that tell more than one story, that have several levels of meaning and many voices, that will entertain but also provoke thought, that reflect contemporary social reality, but at the same time acknowledge their debt to literary tradition.

* * *

David Lodge's novels use and stay close to material that he knows well. Without being overtly autobiographical, they often draw on personal experience: a lower-middle-class South London childhood and adolescence in The Picturegoers and Out of the Shelter, military service in Ginger, You're Barmy, and academic life in his "campus" novels. Lodge was brought up as a Catholic and some of his novels examine the culture and customs of English Catholic life. His emphasis is sociological rather than theological, providing sharp but affectionate observations of the lives of a minority group. In The British Museum Is Falling Down he gives brisk comic treatment to the human problems arising from the Catholic ban on contraception. In How Far Can You Go?, a longer and more serious-minded novel (though none of his fiction is without comic elements), Lodge traces the lives of a group of middle-class English Catholics from the early 1950s when they are students at London University, to the late 1970s when they are approaching middle age and have lived through the transformations of Catholicism which followed the Vatican Council.

Though he is an entertaining and sharp-eyed recorder of personal and social embarrassment, Lodge is a good-humored writer, and rather too genial to be a thoroughgoing satirist. These qualities are apparent in the three novels set wholly or partly in the city of Rummidge and its university, which form a sequence with recurring characters, covering the years from 1969 to 1986. Lodge describes their settings as imaginary places which for the purposes of fiction occupy "the space where Birmingham is to be found on maps of the so-called real world." They draw on Lodge's long career as a university teacher of English between 1960 and 1987, during which time he published several academic critical books in addition to his fiction. Changing Places is subtitled "A Tale of Two Campuses": Rummidge is contrasted with Plotinus, a celebrated Californian university which bears much the same relation to Berkeley as Rummidge does to Birmingham. Philip Swallow, a mild, amiable, unsophisticated lecturer in English at Rummidge, goes to Plotinus as an exchange professor; in return Rummidge gets one of the biggest guns at Plotinus, the high-powered Professor Morris Zapp, who comes to England to escape his marital problems. The story moves, with a wealth of inventiveness, back and forth between Swallow in Plotinus and Zapp in Rummidge, each coping with different kinds of culture shock. They end up having exchanged not only jobs but wives; the reader is left uncertain whether the exchange will be permanent. Changing Places exploits polarities to splendid comic effect: Britain and America, the Midlands and San Francisco Bay, English academic life and American. Zapp and Swallow are representative types, well observed and culturally placed: the ruthless professional Zapp wants to be the greatest expert on Jane Austen in the world, even though he dislikes her novels; the dithering Swallow likes the whole of English literature so much that he can never find a "field" to specialize in, to the amused incredulity of the Americans.

In Small World, set ten years on, Zapp is divorced and even more famous; Swallow and his wife are together again, though he is now more worldly and has achieved some modest academic success. It is a formally elaborate novel, making use of the conventions of the epic romances of the Italian Renaissance, where narratives are interwoven, the characters have frequent and surprising adventures, and a beautiful maiden flits elusively in and out of the narrative. It opens in Rummidge but moves over the globe, as the academic participants fly from one conference or lecturing engagement to another. There is a rich mixture of comedy, sex, and scholarship, sometimes all on the same plate. Small World is learned and allusive—among other things, it offers an ordinary reader's guide to structuralism—but at the same time farcical, fast-moving, and highly entertaining.

Nice Work is set wholly in Rummidge, when the university is suffering from the financial cuts of the 1980s. Zapp and Swallow put in appearances, but the principal characters are new, a man and woman who are completely different types but whose lives become fascinatingly entwined. Vic Wilcox runs a local engineering works; he is tough, energetic, and good at his job but socially and emotionally insecure. Robyn Penrose teaches English and Women's Studies at the university. She is a recognizable figure of the age: attractive, intellectual, and self-assured, an articulate feminist and supporter of left-wing causes, at home in the abstruse reaches of critical theory. But she is also narcissistic and naive, and entirely ignorant of the industrial world (represented by Wilcox, the factory, and its workers) into which she finds herself thrown. She is an expert on the Victorian "Condition of England" novel, and Nice Work is Lodge's own essay in the genre, surveying Margaret Thatcher's England. The unfashion-ably happy ending has what looks like a deliberately Victorian air. In this novel, Lodge, like Robyn, takes a good look at the world outside the academy—Nice Work appeared soon after he had taken early retirement from teaching—with rewarding results.

His next novel, Paradise News, returns to the Catholic topics of How Far Can You Go? and takes them further still. The central character, Bernard Walsh, is an ex-priest in his forties, from the South London Irish milieu of Lodge's first novel. He is a sad, lonely figure who has lost not only faith but hope; he makes a meagre living as a part-time, unbelieving lecturer in theology at a non-denominational college. His life picks up when he and his cantankerous widower father travel to Hawaii, where Bernard's expatriate aunt has lived for many years and where she is now dying of cancer. Hawaii, the self-styled island paradise, is contrasted in Bernard's thoughts with the Christian heaven which he used to preach about and can no longer believe in. But in Hawaii he unexpectedly finds love, and, if not faith, a renewed sense of hope. In this gentle, quietly moving novel Lodge takes another look at the themes and some of the settings of his earlier work; but it is a little lacking in the ingenuity and wit that readers have come to expect in his fiction.

Those qualities, though, are triumphantly present in Therapy, which Lodge published soon after his sixtieth birthday. It is the story, told in the first person, of Tubby Passmore, a successful and prosperous television scriptwriter. He has most things he could want in life, including, he believes, a stable and happy marriage. He wonders, therefore, why he is consumed by anxiety and dread, neuroses which have sent him to a variety of therapists, and which make him an avid reader of Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher who wrote books with titles that Tubby finds irresistible: Fear and Trembling, The Concept of Dread, and Sickness Unto Death. Tubby's world falls apart when his wife suddenly leaves him after thirty years, not for anyone else but because she finds him too moody and boring to live with any longer. Tubby is shattered but he survives and fights back in ways which involve him in farcical humiliations, especially when he tries, in late middle age, to get some sexual variety into his life. He resembles the heroes of many American novels, who undergo all kinds of personal, professional, and sexual disasters, but who remain fiercely articulate and opinionated in the midst of everything—an English cousin of Saul Bellow's Herzog, perhaps. Therapy shows Lodge at the top of his form, comic, thoughtful, and continually surprising.

—Bernard Bergonzi

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: C(hristopher) J(ohn) Koch Biography - C.J. Koch comments: to Sir (Alfred Charles) Bernard Lovell (1913– ) Biography