Sunday, January 15, 2006

David Lodge has an interesting little piece

(dry but interesting) about his friendship with Malcolm Bradbury at the Times online. (These are guys I read in the throes of my teenage fixation on Anthony Burgess, which included taking his extremely eccentric 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939 as a personal reading challenge.) Here's a bit of Lodge's essay, anyway:

Malcolm was a great collaborator. I do not know whether it was literally true that he and his friend Barry Spacks would bash away simultaneously at their typewriters until one called out 'Stuck!' and then change places (see extract) but it is a wonderful image. Malcolm responded to other people's ideas and could often see in them possibilities of which their originators were unaware. Shortly after he came to Birmingham, I had found in a second-hand book shop a copy of a light romantic novel, by a completely forgotten novelist, published in 1915, called 'Nymphet.' That is the name given by the hero to an 11-year-old girl who facilitates his union with his beloved. It is also of course the generic name bestowed by Humbert Humbert on the heroine of Vladimir Nabokov's 'Lolita,' published 40 years later, which was thought to be the only application of this archaic word in modern literature. It was possible to see beneath the innocent sentimental surface of 'Nymphet' the unconscious representation of an adult man's erotic attraction to a pre-pubescent girl, and to regard it as some kind of precursor of Nabokov's masterpiece. It seemed worth writing up, and I sent my essay to a few magazines - without success. Malcolm offered to rewrite it and split the fee if he placed it. Being hard up at the time, I agreed. Malcolm transformed my straightforward essay into a personal anecdotal piece in a humorous self-mocking style which he had honed in many contributions to Punch, and sold it to the American magazine Mademoiselle. I was impressed - and a little piqued.


  1. This chimes in with Moretti (Ch 3), substituting Nabokov for Conan Doyle.

    I also liked this part: Edith Wharton, writing in her memoirs of her friendship with Henry James, says, “the real marriage of true minds is for any two people to possess a sense of humour or irony pitched in exactly the same key, so that their joint glances at any subject cross like interarching searchlights”.

  2. I found the Lodge piece (I read it in the paper Times!) compelling. I have read many of Lodge's books and enjoyed most of them, but only one of Bradbury's, and struggled though it at that. The article by Lodge made me laugh out loud, it seems as if Bradbury had more fun writing than his readers may have done reading him -- but perhaps he did not write his "proper" novels by the same method ;-)

  3. My e-mail is jmd204 at columbia dot edu, and you're very welcome to write to me directly if you prefer! I don't have it up here just b/c of evil spam...