The success of the ‘campus’ novel in England is not hard to account for. Ever since Burke and Coleridge’s testy polemics against the Jacobins, the English attitude to the intelligentsia has been one of profound ambivalence. Intellectuals are seen as faintly sinister figures, bohemian and nonconformist, treasonable clerks whose heartless celebrations pose a threat to the unreflective pieties of ordinary life. But they are also pathetically ineffectual characters—crumpled figures of fun pursuing their ludicrous abstractions at a remote distance from the bustle of daily life. The anxiety and resentment they inspire can thus be conveniently defused by a sense of their farcical irrelevance; and Napoleon’s dismissal of the Enlightenment ideologues as at once subversive and superfluous captures this ambivalence exactly. The intellectual combines the fascination of the offbeat with the comic relief of the harmless eccentric, and is thus fit meat for a kind of fiction which equivocates between a satiric criticism of everyday middle-class life and an unshaken commitment to its fundamental values. Something of the same ambiguity can be traced in the relation of the university to society as a whole. As a place set somewhat apart, the university has the glamour of the deviant and untypical, providing the novelist with a conveniently closed worlds marked by intellectual wrangling, political infighting and sexual intrigue. Yet in its bureaucratic routines and down-at-heel dreariness it is also sufficiently continuous with the wider society to act as a microcosm of middle-class mores. It is neither too hermetically sealed from the social order to be of merely specialist interest, nor too commonplace to be merely tedious. The ‘campus’ novel thus provides one kind of solution to a problem which has never ceased to dog the modern English novel, and which is nothing less than how ordinary social experience is to offer a fertile soil for fictional creation. (93-4)


Terry Eagleton, “The Silences of David Lodge,” New Left Review I/172, Nov-Dec 1988: 93-102