Malcolm Bradbury (Malcolm Stanley Bradbury) Biography
(1932–2000), (Malcolm Stanley Bradbury), Eating People Is Wrong, Stepping Westward, Who Do You Think You Are?
British novelist and critic, born in Sheffield, educated at the universities of Leicester, London, Indiana, and Manchester. From 1970 until 1995 he was Professor of American Studies at the University of East Anglia. His first novel, Eating People Is Wrong (1959), with its university setting and cast of eccentric characters, usually academics, established the pattern which his later books were to follow, such as Stepping Westward (1965; stories), set on an American campus, and the novel Who Do You Think You Are? (1976; see Campus novel). Bradbury won wide recognition with The History Man (1975; adapted by Bradbury for television), a hilarious satire, set in 1972, of the fashionable left-wing pretensions of a group of academics at a new ‘plate-glass’ university; among its characters is the memorably repellent figure of Dr Howard Kirk, Marxist historian and champion of the Permissive Society. Rates of Exchange (1983) explores forms of cultural, linguistic, and sexual exchange through the medium of its central character, Dr Angus Petworth, a Professor of Linguistics on a British Council exchange in the imaginary East European city of Slaka. Cuts (1987) deals with the decline of the Welfare State and the cuts in higher education which were felt throughout the 1980s, and beyond, in British universities. Despite its sombre subject, the tone of the work is essentially comic, and incorporates images of cutting and splicing associated with the cinematic industry into which the hero, a failed academic, has been conscripted as a writer of screenplays. Doctor Criminale (1992) deals with themes with which the author has become increasingly concerned in recent years—the nature of modern history, and what it is to be a member of the ever-changing European community. Bradbury's narrator, Francis Jay, is a journalist in pursuit of the eponymous and elusive Criminale—an eminent philosopher with a dubious past—who tracks his quarry across eight different countries and through a number of international conferences, before eventually running him to ground. Like many of his earlier works, the novel is principally a vehicle for ideas, whose humour is derived from its parodies of academic jargon—particularly that of semiotics—rather than from the more conventional novelistic attributes such as plot and character writing. Other works of fiction include Unsent Letters (1988), a collection of humorous letters to imaginary correspondents, and The After Dinner Game (1982), a collection of plays for television.
As a critic, Bradbury's specialization is British and American fiction of the twentieth century, with particular reference to the social and philosophical implications of Modernism. Among his critical works are What Is a Novel? (1969), The Social Contexts of Modern English Literature (1971), Saul Bellow (1982), The Modern World (1989), and The Modern British Novel (1993). Possibilities (1972), No, Not Bloomsbury (1988), and Dangerous Pilgrimages (1994) are collections of essays. In considering the functions and values of literature in an era in which the assumptions of liberal humanism are challenged, he has mediated between the traditions of critical discourse and recent innovations in literary theory; his misgivings regarding the extremes of post-structuralist practices give rise to his humorous account of a self-deconstructing critic in the fictional My Strange Quest for Mensonge (1988). He has also edited Class Work (1995), an anthology of short fiction produced on the creative writing course he ran at East Anglia.
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