Authors: Malcolm Bradbury

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist and critic

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Eating People Is Wrong, 1959

Stepping Westward, 1965

The History Man, 1975

Rates of Exchange, 1983

Cuts: A Very Short Novel, 1987 (novella)

Doctor Criminale, 1992

To the Hermitage, 2000

Short Fiction:

Who Do You Think You Are? Stories and Parodies, 1976

Drama:

Between These Four Walls, pr. 1963 (with David Lodge and Jim Duckett)

Slap in the Face, pr. 1965 (with Lodge, Duckett, and David Turner)

Inside Trading, pr. 1996, pb. 1997

Screenplay:

Cold Comfort Farm, 1995 (adaptation of Stella Gibbons’s novel)

Teleplays:

The After Dinner Game: Three Plays for Television, 1982 (with Christopher Bigsby)

Rates of Exchange, 1984 (adaptation of his novel)

Imaginary Friends, 1987

The Gravy Train, 1990

The Green Man, 1990 (adaptation of Kingsley Amis’s novel)

The Gravy Train Goes East, 1991

Nonfiction:

Phogey! Or, How to Have Class in a Classless Society, 1960

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go: The Poor Man’s Guide to the Affluent Society, 1962 (revised and pb. with Phogey! as All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go, 1982)

What Is a Novel?, 1969

The Social Context of Modern English Literature, 1971

Possibilities: Essays on the State of the Novel, 1973

Saul Bellow, 1982

The Modern American Novel, 1983

Why Come to Slaka?, 1986

No, Not Bloomsbury, 1987

Mensonge: Structuralism’s Hidden Hero, 1987 (also known as My Strange Quest for Mensonge)

The Modern World: Ten Great Writers, 1988

Unsent Letters: Irreverent Notes from a Literary Life, 1988, revised 1995

From Puritanism to Postmodernism: The Story of American Literature, 1991 (with Richard Ruland)

The Modern British Novel, 1993, revised 2001

Dangerous Pilgrimages: Transatlantic Mythologies and the Novel, 1995

Edited Texts:

Modernism: 1890-1930, 1976 (with James McFarlane)

The Novel Today, 1977

An Introduction to American Studies, 1981, 1989, 1998 (with Howard Temperley)

New Writing, 1992 (with Judy Cooke)

New Writing Two, 1993 (with Andrew Motion)

Class Work: The Best of Contemporary Short Fiction, 1995

The Atlas of Literature, 1998

Biography

Malcolm Bradbury was among the handful of contemporary British fiction writers who managed to extend the range of the English novel by simultaneously working within and against the liberal-realist tradition that dominated British writing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Equally important, his career encapsulated the shift that occurred in postwar British fiction from a more or less provincial realism to a decidedly international postmodernism.{$I[AN]9810001354}{$I[A]Bradbury, Malcolm}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Bradbury, Malcolm}{$I[tim]1932;Bradbury, Malcolm}

Bradbury was born on September 7, 1932, in Sheffield, England. Attending college during the 1950’s, he was among the many middle-and lower-middle-class students to benefit from the expansion of England’s university system immediately after World War II. His first novel, Eating People Is Wrong, draws extensively on Bradbury’s student days at three “redbrick” universities (Leicester, London, and Manchester) and evidences an obvious but by no means slavish debt to Kingsley Amis’s first novel, also set in a redbrick university, Lucky Jim (1954), which began the assault on social and academic privilege and pretense. Both novels are satirical. They belong to the English comic novel tradition and, more specifically, to the subgenre of the “campus novel.” What especially distinguishes Bradbury’s novel is a depth of moral concern that derives from the liberal-humanist tradition that Bradbury both endorsed and questioned. This doubleness of vision and intent becomes much more evident in his second novel, Stepping Westward. Here, Bradbury, drawing on his own experiences at American universities in the mid-and late 1950’s, focuses on the plight of a young, iconoclastic English novelist as he acts out his part of visiting writer-in-residence in the American cultural and academic wilderness. Reversing the direction of the Jamesian international novel, Bradbury juxtaposes not only two nations and societies but also, more important, two very different kinds of liberalism and two very different narrative styles. The result is a work in which each is tested but no one emerges entirely victorious or entirely unscathed by Bradbury’s satire and skepticism. He probes a number of cultural, political, moral, and literary issues without attempting to impose any definitive solutions. As novelist and as moralist, he seeks to provoke rather than propound.

Just as his work as a novelist cannot be separated from his belief in liberal humanism, neither can it be separated from his work as literary critic. Even as a critic in the tradition of Matthew Arnold and F. R. Leavis, Bradbury demonstrated a deep and ever-increasing interest in the contemporary literary theories that have largely supplanted the liberal-humanist tradition. Awareness of and attraction to contemporary theory did not, however, prevent Bradbury from stubbornly maintaining his faith in character (the literary representation of the liberal-humanist individual) and his belief that literature in general and the novel in particular exist every bit as much in a social and historical context as they do in a textual space, or event. In the face of the postmodern challenge to individual (bourgeois) authorship and merely “readable” (consumable) texts, Bradbury insisted upon his own authorial existence and authority, but in an increasingly self-conscious way that pays deference to the very forces Bradbury would have liked to defeat.

Thus, Bradbury did not nostalgically and anachronistically indulge himself and his reader by writing conventional novels of social and moral concern, but neither are his novels examples of postmodern play. The History Man is at once a critique of the sociological perspective that has displaced both the individual self and narrative art and a pyrotechnically postmodern text in which Bradbury made use of a variety of innovative techniques in an effort to discover how much, or how little, of the liberal-humanist tradition remains viable following the onslaught of dehumanization in all of its forms: political, social, academic, and aesthetic. The conflicts in Bradbury’s fiction between old England and new England (Eating People Is Wrong) and between England and America (Stepping Westward) have escalated in The History Man to the point that the individual is in danger of disappearing altogether in a world, as in a fiction, in which style has replaced substance and technical mastery has replaced moral concern.

Bradbury’s moral and narrative interests lead as if inevitably to the densely stylized prose of The History Man and to the parodic, Pynchon-like richness of Rates of Exchange. The main character of this latter novel, another of Bradbury’s inept and befuddled academics, finds himself displaced by a multiplicity of political, narrative, and linguistic systems. Yet the fact that he is displaced paradoxically ensures his presence in Bradbury’s novel of comic despair and postmodern permutations. Clownish, inconsequential, and virtually insignificant, Professor Petworth survives not as hero or even as protagonist but as the poststructuralist “trace” of the liberal-humanist self. Bradbury refused to relinquish that self, even as he acknowledged the growing odds against its continued existence in a world in which it and the novel grow ever more marginal.

In Doctor Criminale, a less genial but no less comic version of his friend David Lodge’s Small World (1984), a campus novel in the age of the global campus, Bradbury defined the threat in characteristically plural terms, focusing on the young and hapless liberal-humanist Francis Jay, a former journalist, adrift in the culture of television, poststructualist theory, literary and academic superstardom, Thatcherite economics, and Euro-Union (also the subject of the two satirical series Bradbury wrote for British television, The Gravy Train and The Gravy Train Goes East). To the Hermitage, Bradbury’s last, longest, and most leisurely novel, is also Bradbury’s most Lodge-like, with its twin, alternating-narrative structure. Each story is set in a different time and has its own narrator, style, and cast of characters. “Now” takes place in October, 1993, and starts in Stockholm, where Bo Luneberg, grammarian and member of the Nobel Prize committee, has gathered participants for his Diderot Project. “Then,” which takes place two centuries earlier, follows the novelist and philosopher Denis Diderot in St. Petersburg.

As a writer of short stories, a parodist, a satirist, a writer of radio and television plays, and above all a critic and novelist, Malcolm Bradbury consistently sought to explore both the possibilities as well as the limitations of the liberal-humanist aesthetic. He sought to adopt the techniques and assumptions of postmodernism and poststructuralism to extend the boundaries of that aesthetic. He died in November, 2000, at age sixty-eight.

BibliographyAcheson, James. “The Small Worlds of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge.” In The British and Irish Novel Since 1960, edited by James Acheson. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Critics often couple Bradbury with his friend and sometime-collaborator David Lodge, as their criticism is similar and their fiction is related by their university setting, themes, and tone.Acheson, James. “Thesis and Antithesis in Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man.” Journal of European Studies 33 (March, 2003): 41-52. Thirty years after its publication, The History Man continues to be Bradbury’s best-known and most discussed novel. Acheson examines the novel in detail.Bevan, David, ed. University Fiction. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1990. Several essays situate Bradbury’s work in the campus novel tradition. See Brian A. Connery’s “Inside Jokes: Familiarity and Contempt in Academic Satire” and Keith Wilson’s “Academic Fictions and the Place of Liberal Studies: A Leavis Inheritance.”Bigsby, Christopher, and Heide Zeigler, eds. The Radical Imagination and the Liberal Tradition: Interviews with English and American Novelists. London: Junction Books, 1982. Bradbury discusses his work in an interview with his University of East Anglia colleague, Christopher Bigsby.Burton, Robert S. “A Plurality of Voices: Malcolm Bradbury’s Rates of Exchange.” Critique 28 (1987): 101-106. A linguistic analysis of the semiotics and language use of Rates of Exchange.Connery, Brian A. “Inside Jokes: Familiarity and Contempt in Academic Satire.” In University Fiction, edited by David Bevan. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1990. A pointed discussion of Bradbury’s role in the genre of satirical campus fiction.Haffenden, John. Novelists in Interview. London: Methuen, 1985. In his interview with Haffenden, Bradbury explains the literary theory behind his fiction and discusses the ideas and voice of The History Man.Morace, Robert A. The Dialogical Novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. A comprehensive study. Discusses Bradbury’s work, the novels in particular, from the perspective of Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism.Rose, Margaret A. Parody: Ancient, Modern, and Post-modern. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. A useful discussion of parody, a feature of Bradbury’s fiction.Waugh, Patricia. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1984. Examines the concept of metafiction, an important aspect of Bradbury’s innovative style.Widdowson, Peter. “The Anti-History Men: Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge.” Critical Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1984): 5-32. A critical dissection of the work of Bradbury and Lodge. Asks whether their works are postmodern or reflections of a bourgeois capitalism.Ziegler, Heide, and Christopher Bigsby, eds. The Radical Imagination and the Liberal Tradition: Interviews with English and American Novelists. London: Junction Books, 1982. Includes an important interview with Bradbury.
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