Wednesday, 9 February 2011
David Lodge ~ Author, Critic and Teacher
Latterly, his novels have had a less academic background, although the most recent, Deaf Sentence, did return to the topic if somewhat indirectly. Today, however, he came to talk to the students about his forthcoming book, A Man of Parts, which is published at the beginning of April. Like his novel Author, Author, A Man of Parts is biographical fiction, in this instance concerning the novelist H G Wells, and I want to return in a later post to what he had to say about writing in this particular genre when I've had more time to think about it because, as those of you who are English graduates will appreciate, what he said was theoretically very sound but also very complex.
Because, David Lodge's other writing reflects his career as one of our major literary critics. His work ranges from that very accessible set of essays, The Art of Fiction, to seminal texts such as Modern Criticism and Theory: a Reader and Consciousness and the Novel. When David talks about fiction you are always aware that what he has to to say is underpinned by a depth of knowledge and understanding that leaves most other people gasping. Our creative writing students may have been drinking in every word concerning the shaping of a mass of research into a novel, but those in the audience who study literature from a more theoretical standpoint were also busy taking notes and rapidly making links between what he was saying about the way the novel is now moving and the development of other strands of modern culture.
However, what wasn't mentioned by the person who introduced him, but which must by the end of the session have been apparent to everyone in the room, was the fact that David Lodge is simply the most brilliant teacher I have ever known. As I said earlier, he taught at the University for a very long time and is still Emeritus Professor in the Department of English and even though I was a language student I used to sneak into the postgraduate seminars he held each week in his rather cramped office. (Well, it was actually rather spacious for an office, but definitely cramped when all the students who wanted to attend piled in.) Every week one of the postgrads would introduce a topic focussed on a particular text and then we would have a free-for-all discussion. At the time I was already a teacher of some years standing, but had never worked at that level and I would watch him spellbound. Everything I now know about running seminars be they for undergrads or more experienced students, I learned from observing David. He has the most remarkable gift of making every one who contributes feel as if they have just made the very point that will elucidate the topic under discussion for the entire group. He did exactly the same thing this afternoon in the question and answer session. "What a good question....." "Now that is a really interesting point...." The students came out glowing.
So, perhaps the final thing that should be said about David Lodge is that as well as being an extremely gifted writer, critic and teacher he is also a very kind human being.