Malcolm Bradbury: The History Man - The State of Academia as seen through student's eyes

Seminar Paper, 2002

15 Pages, Grade: 3,0 (C)


Table Of Contents

1 The “History Man” and his great influence on other people

2 Students of Watermouth and their relation to the university
2.1 Felicity Phee
2.2 The two girls
2.3 The student George Carmody

3 The tension of The History Man

4 Bibliography

1 The “History Man” and his great influence on other people

The History Man is one of Malcolm Bradbury`s seven novels and it was published in 1975. This satiric novel belongs to the campus fiction of the seventies. A campus novel is determined by the history of an university. It mirrors problems and crises of the institution at that time.[1] The meeting of students and lecturers in this kind of novel is an important feature. Those two groups constitute the social system of the university and build up the story, because every group makes different experiences in this institution. In an interview Malcolm Bradbury explained some of the tensions that lay behind The History Man. Within this novel he wanted to deal with some ironic processes of human behaviour.[2] Therefore the author gives his characters some important trades.

The University of Watermouth is one of the new universities, because it was found after the war. This institution is an invention of the author. The main character is a lecturer of sociology, Doctor Howard Kirk. He does not want to teach history as it was, he just wants to make history after his own radical opinion.[3] His aim is to revolutionize teaching and that is why his seminars are the means to an end for his political self-realization. Referring to the title of the book, Howard Kirk as the “History Man” influences the students not only in their view about the university, but also in their opinion about politics. That is why there are some advocates of his teaching methods, but also some opponents. The man influences some students so enormously that he is responsible for their opinion about the state of academia. This can be proved on the example of Felicity Phee, a student of Howard, two girls, who also study at the University of Watermouth, and George Carmody. Furthermore Doctor Kirk is characterized in the relationships to those people indirectly. He is shown in different parts, but he is always just interested in his own aims and not in the needs of other people.

2 Students of Watermouth and their relation to the University

The author of the book looks back at the students from 1972 of Watermouth and characterizes them in the following way:

How are they this year? Well, no longer do they look like an intellectual elite; indeed, what they resemble this autumn is rather the winter retreat of Napoleon`s army from Moscow. For in the new parade of styles, which undergoes subtle shifts year by year, like the campus itself, bits of military uniform, bedraggled scraps of garments, fur hats and forage caps and kepis, tank tops and denims and coats which have lost their buttons have become the norm; the crowds troop along raggedly, avoiding the paths which have been laid out for them, hairy human bundles fresh from sinister experiences.[4]

The students of the 70`s have lost their intellectual elite position and therefore they have adopted “full proletarian status”.[5] They appear conform and their clothes look like uniforms. The adaptation to the trends that are “up-to-date” becomes obvious through their outward appearance.

2.1 Felicity Phee

Felicity Phee is a student of Doctor Howard Kirk and she is a first example for the adaptation to special trends that took place in this time. “Felicity is well known for keeping advanced company; she appears now cleaner, now dirtier, now saner, now more psychotic, according to the group she happens currently to be running with.”[6] With the help of Felicity Phee, Malcolm Bradbury wants to show that the irony of human behaviour is the way people authenticate through fashion:

They think that because they`re wearing new clothes they`re new people, originals. Every generation thinks it doesn`t conform – and its refusal to conform is usually manifested, among other ways, by people dressing exactly like their peers, and thinking just the same thoughts. The revolt against history just becomes history as a phase or a fashion.[7]

Felicity Phee is introduced to the reader as a girl who has had a lesbian relation and she tries to deal with her present situation. With her openness and her permissiveness, she represents the time of the sexual revolution, but as a result she often has problems in her love life. Therefore the girl asks her tutor, Howard Kirk, for help. However she does not want to have somebody to comfort her, she is just crying out for attention. Felicity Phee is an intelligent student and learns very quickly to adapt the opinion of her tutor about the science as her own. She makes her subjective request to a scientific one and that is why she explains her tutor to her object of her studies.[8] “’I`ve made you my subject of research,’ says Felicity, ‘my special option.’ ‘I see,’ says Howard. ‘You`re my tutor, Howard,’ says Felicity Phee, her face screwed up, ‘I`m in trouble, I`m not right. You have to help me.’”[9] Her words register a private situation. A private and serious language is used to show her intention. The girl wants to overcome her crisis and therefore she tries to get in bed with Howard. First he objects, but after some time Felicity achieves her aim. After this event the circumstances have changed. Now the girl feels as something special. She wins self-confidence and feels closer to Howard. But Howard, as a married man and Doctor at the university, does not share her views referring to their relationship. He is not interested in this young woman. “’Christ, Howard, how do I get through to you ? Hasn`t anything happened, hasn`t our relationship changed ?’ ‘You`ve always been through to me’, says Howard, ‘I have a concern for you. It`s my job !’”[10] Doctor Howard Kirk just wants to enjoy the physical preferences of Felicity and looks for a short change of his family life, but he is not interested in something more. Felicity has no attraction for him and that is why he does not take any responsibility for this love affair and the young woman is disappointed. She has the feeling of being exploited and not of being loved. When Felicity recognizes this state of affairs, she wants to turn around the facts. Now it seems to be that she is the person who wants to support her teacher and does not need to ask for help. “’I told you, Howard,’ says Felicity, ‘I take an interest in you. I think about you all the time. Look at me. I can help you.’”[11] The girl is very interested in the relationship to her tutor. On the one hand she tries to use him for collecting new sexual experiences and on the other hand Howard is used for the sociological studies of his student. So it becomes obvious that Felicity Phee needs the state of academia and its representatives to achieve her private aims.


[1] Wolfgang Weiss, Der anglo-amerikanische Universitätsroman (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1988) 19.

[2] John Haffenden, Malcolm Bradbury. Novelists in Interview (London: Methuen, 1985) 36.

[3] Eberhard Späth, Malcolm Bradbury, The History Man. Recent Novels on Society (Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1983) 66.

[4] Malcolm Bradbury, The History Man ( London: Picador, 2000) 70.

[5] Barbara Himmelsbach, Malcolm Bradbury, The History Man. Der englische Universitätsroman (Frankfurt/ Main, Berlin usw.: Lang, 1992) 239.

[6] Bradbury, 90.

[7] Haffenden, 35.

[8] Späth, 67.

[9] Bradbury, 99.

[10] Bradbury, 131.

[11] Bradbury, 132.

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Malcolm Bradbury: The History Man - The State of Academia as seen through student's eyes
College  (Institute for Anglistics/ American Studies)
British Campus Fiction
3,0 (C)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
440 KB
Malcolm, Bradbury, History, State, Academia, British, Campus, Fiction
Quote paper
Christina Martens (Author), 2002, Malcolm Bradbury: The History Man - The State of Academia as seen through student's eyes, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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