Comic Novel‚ City Novel: David Lodge and Jonathan Coe Reinterpreted by Birmingham
Birmingham is a large industrial city with a mixed reputation and little renown. Changing Places by David Lodge and The Rotters’ Club by Jonathan Coe have been read as comic novels, even as portraits of Britain at a particular moment, but are also city novels and Birmingham novels. Viewed as a workaday and even laughable place, Birmingham performs otherness in opposition to powerful and varied major cities. Coe and Lodge explore via techniques such as the panorama and a celebratory local antiquarianism the richness of Birmingham’s cultural resonances, and its change in a phase of late-industrial modernity. The second city can underpin canonically urban sites such as metropolises and national capitals by supplying their economic basis. Literary texts typically elide this underpinning but cannot erase it, pointing to the broader nature of second cities. The two novels tolerate multiple meanings of Birmingham but are also partial, concentrating on wealthier areas of the city. Yet both give Birmingham new symbolic weight, comparable to Joyce’s imaginative work with Dublin. The city thus reinterprets fiction, as fictions modify perceptions of the city.
KeywordsBirmingham Coe, Jonathan Comic novel Imaginative place Industrial novel Lodge, David
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