The History Man
Malcolm Bradbury was Professor of American Studies at the University of East Anglia when he wrote the book in 1975. He was born in 1932, so he is considerably older and apparently more sophisticated than his protagonist Howard Kirk, Professor of Sociology at Watermouth University in 1972.
And this, in a nutshell, is the plot of the novel. The Kirks, for Howard is married to the formidable Barbara, rule the academic society of Watermouth with their nonconformistic lifestyle and trendy left-wing actionism. The book starts with one of their smashing parties in their unconventional house, where likeminded guests indulge in alcolhol, sex and the correct sociological lingo. Henry Beamish, a colleague and old friend of Malcolm, gets seriously injured because his marriage is in shambles. But the only thing Malcolm can think of, is how to seduce one of his students.
Bradbury has written a sometimes hilarious, mostly really grim satire of the then academic world in Britain. When one of his male students accuses Malcolm of unfair marking and biased teaching, the reader fervently hopes, this nasty, callous, complacent caricature of a professor will finally get his just desserts, but again he succeeds in wriggling out of everything and totally destroys the academic career of that student.
The story ends with another of the Kirks´notorious parties, this time it´s Barbara, who almost kills herself while Miss Callendar, a young colleague, is getting laid by Howard.
Bradbury succeeds in writing the ultimate campus novel, and I seriously doubt, that things have changed much in the sociology departments of present day universities. In his foreword, Bradbury dedicates his “fiction” to Henry Beamish, at the same time affirming that everything is total invention “just as history itself”. Now I know, where Dietrich Schwanitz, Professor of English at Hamburg University, got the ideas for his campus novel “Der Campus”, published in 1995.