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CHANGING PLACES

David Lodge
Changing Places is David Lodge’s hilarious account of an academic
exchange program which takes Philip Swallow, an obscure professor of
English literature at an obscure red-brick universit in England, to Lodge’s
comic version of the !erkele campus, which he renames Euphoric State" #t
also takes $orris %app, his &merican counterpart, from !erkele to
Swallow’s campus of 'ummidge (read !irmingham) *niversit in the
drear industrial midlands of England" &long the wa we are treated to
Lodge’s wild send-up of academia, sex and marriage, the literar scene and
the differences between &merican and English attitudes and lifestles"
+ardl a single inanit of campus life in the late ,-./s escapes Lodge’s
deftl-wielded scalpel" 0et he handles all of this with an affectionate and
indulgent tone1 although he ma find his characters foolish and misguided,
he nevertheless leaves us with the impression that he genuinel likes them,
despite their faults and all-too-human foibles"
Lodge’s two protagonists are cleverl drawn to personif what we have
come to assume, rightl or wrongl, are national characteristics of the
stereotpical Englishman and &merican" Philip Swallow is a polite, mild-
mannered, diffident fellow, who is introduced to us as a paradigm of the
solid famil man, devoted to his wife +ilar and their two oung children"
&s a professor of literature he is colorless and unexciting2 he has been
marking time at 'ummidge in a dead-end teaching 3ob, with little hope of a
promotion, and is feeling bored and unfulfilled as he leaves for his new
adventures in &merica"
$orris %app, b contrast, is a brash, swaggering, funn, lecherous academic,
who has gained a world-wide reputation for being the premier expert on, of
all things, the genteel writings of 4ane &usten" #n a neat little 3ab at the
hpocris of the literar world, Lodge lets us in on the fact that %app has
written five scholarl books on &usten, despite the fact that he personall
finds her writing something of a bore" $orris reeks of academic hubris and
has been such a relentless womani5er that his tough-talking feminist wife,
Desiree, is about to give him the gate"
Lodge takes great fun in contrasting the direct, in-our-face &merican stle
of the brilliant and abrasive %app with the polite, rather obli6ue English
stle of the timid and self-effacing Swallow" +is message to the reader
seems to be that English academia could use a few more free-wheeling
$orris %app tpes, #ndeed, in commenting on the character of %app in a
,-78 interview, Lodge said that 9there is a little bit of $orris %app in me, #
think, and # respond to that witt, abrasive, thrusting 4ewish tpe of
&merican academic" # alwas feel that life starts to move twice as fast when
ou’re in their compan":
Lodge also draws amusing parallels between his two facult wives1 +ilar
Swallow, as we first meet her, is, like her husband, a model of English
rectitude and probit, if a bit dull and humorless ; along the lines of the
<ueen herself" +ers is a ver !ritish stiff upper lip, and she seems a shade
too practical to be a wholl smpathetic character" &fter she learns of her
husband’s sexual flings in &merica, she vents her ire b letting him know
that she has 3ust spent a bundle on installing central heating in their
perpetuall damp and cold 'ummidge home"
#n contrast to the ver repressed and correct +ilar Swallow, Desiree %app,
like her husband, is a tough, no-nonsense &merican tpe who seems to have
seen it all and done it all" & disillusioned, wise-cracking feminist, she is not
about to be taken in b anbod or anthing, least of all b her cheating
husband" &s we first meet her, she is embarked on a 3ourne of self-
discover and self-awareness through the women’s liberation movement and
her various encounter and consciousness-raising groups on the Euphoric
State campus" =f course, Lodge takes great fun in lampooning all of these
&merican social phenomena of the ,-./s and ,->/s and the absurd 3argon
which the engendered2 et at the same time he hints rather broadl that
stodg old 'ummidge (not to mention mother England) might have
benefited from a little of the same"
#n telling his tale of the two academics, Lodge masterfull invokes all of the
time-honored devices of humor and farce" ?here are wild exaggerations,
cra5 coincidences, absurd 3uxtapositions of person and place, skewed logic,
and puns and wordpla ; to name 3ust a few" Lodge has a marvelous sense
of the comic and the absurd, and he pulls out all of the stops in s6uee5ing the
last laughs and drops of humor from his stor"
?he fun begins with Swallow’s metamorphosis from timid soul to swinging
hedonist" &lmost as soon as he sets foot on the earth6uake-prone soil of
Euphoric State, before he can even catch his breath and gain his bearings, he
finds himself in bed and besotted with a pot-headed oung hippie student ;
who, it later turns out, is none other than $orris %app’s daughter b his first
marriage" &t first Swallow is racked with guilt that he is betraing his
marriage vows, but soon he sheds these 6ualms and forgets all about home,
hearth and +ilar" =vertaken b lust, he pants after this woman like an
adolescent with raging hormones" $orris’s daughter, on the other hand,
can’t figure out what all the fuss is about2 in a clever aside on the sexual
mores of the oung, Lodge lets us know that for her ; as for so man oung
people ; casual sex is about as eventful as a walk around the block"
Soon after his arrival at the Euphoric State campus, Swallow finds himself
homeless" =ne of the recurrent hillside landslides at the Euphoric State
campus has taken Swallow’s rental house down the hill with it" @ho should
come to his rescue but Desiree %app, who invites him to sta with her and
her two oung children at her luxurious hilltop aerie" ?he ever-practical
Desiree sees him as a convenient bab-sitter who can look after her children
while she goes off to her various encounter groups"
@ell, of course, Desiree and Philip are soon bedmates and lovers, and Philip
; the eternal naAf ; begins to talk of marriage and commitment, much to
Desiree’s disma" She is about to rid herself of $orris %app and isn’t
looking for another male albatross to be hung around her newl-liberated
neck" !ut Swallow pleads with her ; he confesses that his marriage to
+ilar has gone stale and that he would rather sta in the *"S", taking a new
3ob at Euphoric State and starting a new domestic life with Desiree" +ere
Lodge, who has often been described as a ver Batholic writer, seems to be
telling us that however much we would like to reinvent ourselves our moral
values continue to cling to us" ?hough Swallow fancies himself a newl-
minted swinger, he remains at the core a thoroughl domesticated creature"
&s Swallow frets about the direction of his life in &merica, $orris %app is
tring to understand the murk academic goings-on at 'ummidge" +e is
finding all of this ver difficult, since for one thing he does not think much
of his teaching colleagues and is put off b their distant and chill !ritish
manner" *sing %app’s ver funn reflections on the sub3ect, Lodge conves
to the reader his own misgivings on the fust was of his fellow Englishmen
and fellow academics"
Cotwithstanding %app’s feelings, his ineffectual colleagues in the
'ummidge English Department fasten on %app, whom the had once
viewed as brash and overbearing, to be their administrative savior2 the have
come to admire his take-charge, no-nonsense approach and want him to take
over as head of the English Department, to replace another colleague who
has gone into a pschotic nosedive after an &merican-stle protest
movement has riled the 'ummidge campus"
$eanwhile, on the romantic front, $orris and +ilar Swallow have,
inevitabl, found their wa into one another’s arms, thereb evening out the
now-established romance between Philip and Desiree" $orris kindles a new
fire in +ilar’s loins, and she goes from prim and decorous housewife to
lust and newl-charged bed partner" &nd in the process she seems to have
tamed the libidinous $orris, who now talks of settling down with +ilar in
England and taking the department head post at 'ummidge" @hereas Philip
has gone from lamb to lion, $orris has gone from lion to lambD
&s the stor closes the two couples arrange for a final summit meeting in
$anhattan to tr to sort out what the should do with their lives" @riting the
final chapter of his book in the form of a screenpla, with carefull scripted
notes to an imaginar director, Lodge has great fun showing the two couples
as the speculate on the various permutations which their relationships
might take in the future1 one possibilit would be mutual divorces and
mutual remarriages2 another possibilit--and here Lodge takes aim at the
barnard 6ualit of sex life in the Swinging Sixties--would be habitation as a
foursome, with an member being free to re6uest sex from an other
member2 still another would be mutual divorces, with all four of them going
their separate was"
@hen 9Bhanging Places: was published in England in ,->8 it became an
immediate popular and critical success, winning for Lodge the prestigious
+awthornden Pri5e as well as the Yorkshire Post Eiction Pri5e" #t also won
for Lodge a place as Eellow of the 'oal Societ of Literature" ?he book
had a similar success in &merica and introduced &merican readers for the
first time to Lodge’s writing" =ne &merican reviewer aptl pointed out that
the book combined 94ohn *pdike’s precise social observation with Philip
'oth’s uproarious humor": ?here was almost universal praise on both sides
of the &tlantic for Lodge’s witt and graceful writing stle and for his
inventive techni6ue in telling the stor of the two academics and their
spouses"
#n m view, the exchanges of letters are especiall effective and amusing,
giving Lodge an opportunit to give an authenticall uni6ue and personal
voice to each of his four principal characters" ?he letters which Desiree
writes to $orris, for example, are priceless accounts of the liberated lifestle
she is now reveling in with $orris finall off her back" Lodge reveals a real
genius for the &merican idiom in these wonderfull funn letters" +e
captures perfectl the cnical and worldl tone of the liberated woman who
has discovered that she can live 6uite happil without benefit of a
philandering spouse"
&ll in all, # regard Changing Places as a resounding comic and literar
success" #t is not surprising to me that it has remained an enduring favorite
on both sides of the &tlantic" &lthough its tone is light and entertaining, its
satire is deft and perceptive" Lodge is a remarkabl acute observer of both
the English and &merican scene"