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campus novel

Lucky Jim, Eating People Is Wrong, The History Man, Rates of Exchange, Changing Places, Small World

a term describing a particular genre of novels, usually comic or satirical, which have a university setting and academics as principal characters. An early example was Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim (1954), which is set at a Midlands red-brick university and features the comic escapades of a junior lecturer; other notable examples include Malcolm Bradbury's Eating People Is Wrong (1959), about life at a provincial university, and The History Man (1975), a satirical novel set at a new ‘plate-glass’ university, which concerns the rise of an unscrupulous Professor of History. Bradbury's subsequent works, such as Rates of Exchange (1983), also feature academics as heroes but depart from the narrow university setting. David Lodge—also, like Bradbury, a Professor of English—has written several novels which fall into the category: Changing Places (1975), subtitled ‘A Tale of Two Campuses’, wittily contrasts the straitened circumstances of British academics at a provincial university with the more glamorous and affluent lifestyle of their American counterparts. A sequel, Small World (1984), considers the peripatetic existence of academics on the literary conference circuit. Other recent additions to the genre include Howard Jacobson's Coming from Behind (1983), a scabrously funny account of the tribulations of a young Jewish academic at a Northern polytechnic, which pays ironic homage to both Bradbury and Lodge. American campus novels include Mary McCarthy's The Groves of Academe (1952); John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy (1966), a surreal work (subtitled ‘The Revised New Syllabus’) in which one of the main characters is a super-intelligent computer; and Alison Lurie's The War Between the Tates (1974), which concerns the adulterous liaisons and political intrigues of a group of academics on a New England campus. A Canadian variation on the genre is offered by Robertson Davies's The Rebel Angels (1982).

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Burghers of Calais to Peter Carey Biography