Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Scholar-Fictionist-Memoirist: David Lodge's Documentary (Self-) Biography in Quite a Good Time to Be Born: 1935-1975

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Scholar-Fictionist-Memoirist: David Lodge's Documentary (Self-) Biography in Quite a Good Time to Be Born: 1935-1975

Article excerpt

"We live in the age of mass loquacity. We are all writing it or at any rate talking it: the memoir, the apologia, the c.v., the cri de Coeur."

(Amis 2001: 6)

1. A life in writing

In the prologue to his 2014 collection of essays tellingly titled Lives in Writing, David Lodge writes about his recent fascination with the realm of non-fiction (2) in the following fashion: "[A]s I get older I find myself becoming more and more interested in, and attracted to, fact-based writing. This is I believe a common tendency in readers as they age, but it also seems to be a trend in contemporary literary culture generally" (Lodge 2015b: ix). Though Lodge never explicates his use and understanding of the highly problematic category of "fact", (3) he, nevertheless, lists a number of genres that he unequivocally classifies as "fact-based writing" par excellence, namely "biography, the biographical novel, biographical criticism, autobiography, diary, memoir, confession," as well as "various combinations of these modes" (Lodge 2015b: ix). In short, specimens which allow "the lives of real people [being] represented in the written word" (Lodge 2015b: ix).

However, to anyone who is familiar with the rich oeuvre of David Lodge, both a novelist and a literary critic, his turn to life narratives (4)--since, in fact, all the specimens of "fact-based writing" that he enumerates are instances of life narrative--is, by no means, a novelty and cannot be seen as a recent development only. (5) On the contrary, interest in life (be it one's own or the lives of others), as well as intersection of Wahrheit and Dichtung appears to go to the very heart of Lodge's writing. The Picturegoers, Lodge's debut novel of 1960, is the first to contain a number of ostensibly auto/biographical elements: not only an accurate portrayal of the writer himself (in the guise of fictional Mark Underwood), or Mary (Lodge's real wife portrayed in the novel as Clare) and her deeply religious Catholic family, but also such minor episodes as a pilgrimage of Catholic students to the Marian shrine of Walsingham in Norfolk (which Lodge, just like his protagonist, did take in the Holly Week of 1955). (6) How Far Can You Go of 1980 offers a largely true account of Lodge's schooldays in St. Joseph's Catholic school, while Therapy of 1995 recreates his time in the parish youth club (7) (where the future novelist, similarly to his fictional alter ego Tubby Passmore, learned to dance and thus "got to know girls, to touch them, and to feel reasonably at ease with them" (Lodge 2015a: 102). In Ginger, You're Barmy of 1962 Lodge conjures up and imaginatively re-lives the period of his military service, and in one of his best-known novels, Changing Places of 1975, he summons up his experience of teaching at Berkeley (and also famously portrays Stanley Fish as one Morris Zapp). In the short stories "My First Job" and "Why the Climate's Sultry," Lodge veraciously recalls his own first job as a bookseller on Waterloo station and vacation in Ibiza where he travelled in 1957 having been discharged from a conscript's service, respectively. Desmond Bates, the major character of Deaf Sentence of 2008, is, analogously to his creator, an ageing academic who suffers from deafness and whose father was a freelance musician. (8) Finally, in Out of the Shelter of 1970, acknowledged by Lodge as "probably the most autobiographical of [his] novels"(Lodge 2015a: 110), (9) the writer provides his readers with a thinly disguised story of his own childhood and adolescence: experiencing the Blitz, moving to the country to escape air raids, his father William Lodge being conscripted and posted to the Air Force group, or paying a visit to Heidelberg where his maternal aunt Eileen did live after the end of World War II. This amalgamation of (personal) fact and fiction identifiable in most of Lodge's novels remains--one should duly note--consistent with Lodge's theoretical musings on the nature of postmodern fiction, whose practitioner the writer considers himself to be. …

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