"The History Man" and "The Affair"

Examples of how singular people are expelled from colleges on the basis of divided political opinions

Seminar Paper, 2007

14 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. The British University
2.1 A Microcosm
2.2 Cambridge University
2.3 Watermouth

3. The Expulsion
3.1 The Affair and Howard’s Dismissal
3.2 The History Man and Carmody’s Desertion

4. Similarities and Differences

5. Conclusion

6. References

1. Introduction

This paper deals with the dismissal of a college-member in C.P. Snow’s The Affair and the desertion of a college-student in M. Bradbury’s The History Man, and with the reasons which led the characters that are involved, to that decisions. What makes these two events so interesting that they become the topic of a term paper? What functions do they fulfill in these two university novels? Are there any similarities and/or differences between the colleges, the staff or the two cases? Which conclusions could be drawn? These kinds of scandals illustrated are triggering off whole strings of events in communities of colleges. They are indicators of political participation as well as the reason for a division or separation of the members of a college. Are the political participations of the victims the main reason for their dismissal or desertion, as it seems at first sight, or rather a superficial reason, more than that, the camouflage for personal ambitions of some characters in the two university novels discussed in this paper?

2. The British University:

2.1 A Microcosm

Both narrators, Lewis Eliot and Howard Kirk, present their colleges as societies in society, almost hermetically sealed. Many authors, e.g. C.P. Snow, use the term microcosm for this phenomenon, that means, while the college gives outstanding people the impression of being a comprehensive and cohesive system, seen from the inside it shows a variety of social structures and interrelations. It does not only split into institutional coexistence of departments and courses, even in between these unities there are differences like social background and social status, ethnic-religious affiliation, age and gender. As we will see these characteristic features lead to a formation of a social hierarchy and sometimes even to the discrimination or exclusion of the bearer.[1] In this connection college presents itself as a faithful reflection of the English society. Within the faculty, there is a distinct gradation, too, expressing itself in the rate of title and the authority connected with it. This feature triggers off a competition, even a rivalry within the faculty for benefits and power. College is, like the state it belongs to, “[a] world of professional success, power, ambition, influence among men”.[2] -As The History Man shows us, not only among men. But the ways of life in colleges are not identical. Eliot presents us a Cambridge University with its manners, which have developed over centuries and have been institutionalized, whereas Bradbury’s College of Watermouth is a reflection of modern life. There are several reasons for this distinction that will become clearer in the course of this paper.

2.2 Cambridge University

Cambridge University demonstrates the intimacy of its community that is architecturally reflected in the isolation, the courts and quadrangles, and bureaucratically by the self-government.[3] The fundamentals of college-life have been relatively unchanged over centuries because they are kept by a canon of official rules, unwritten laws, traditions and rituals, and were passed on from generation to generation.[4] Statutes either stipulate the corporate procedure at official occasions with law-like commitments exactly, e.g. the procedure at elections, employments, dismissals, deaths and funerals, or give detailed instructions for the administration of college-owned property. Its isolation and the old buildings evoke an atmosphere of warmth and security, although the rooms are drafty and warmed up by fireplaces. An immense importance has the rule of discretion and politeness, even for unpopular colleagues.[5] Therefore the community can be seen as a league of gentlemen. The stress is set on the word men because the only women at Snow’s Cambridge are (just) wives. They have no direct clout in college-politics, but they are consultants of their husbands. There is a hierarchical order in the faculty of the college. The “master” is the man with the highest rank in traditional colleges like Oxford and Cambridge. He is followed by “senior tutors”, the “bursar” and the “dean”, the “fellows” and “readers” working for a professor with an own chair. The students build up the ground of the social strata. Differences of opinion can occur between the members of the faculty because of politically opposed convictions, disagreements or personal instinctive dislike, but politeness never keeps away when they meet.

2.3 Watermouth

Watermouth is a fictitious college that Malcolm Bradbury has invented to show his pessimism as a human-liberalist in a politically left-oriented society. The college is a hostile to man environment, where it is incessant gloomy and rainy, evoking aggression and depression in the community of the college. In contrast to traditional colleges, e.g. Cambridge, where the number of conservatives predominates, the modern University of Watermouth is a college, where the Department of Sociology has a high prioritization. Students have lost their elitist position and taken over “full proletarian status” instead.[6] The conformist behavior of the young people, referred to clothes, lifestyle and attitude, ends up in depersonalization, and presents the college as a microcosm.[7] The reason for this behavior is the for Watermouth typical teaching methods that have a striking resemblance with attrition methods of obscure sects.[8] Therefore Watermouth is the perfect place The History Man, Howard Kirk, can work with. Another advantage Kirk has by working in this college is the clarity of the building, so he has a constantly good overview of his victims and the characters he uses as instruments, to realize his plans. Politeness is a quality that only a few “gentlemen” like Marvin have.[9] He, the “Head of Department”, is a character, eager to fairness and living like an Oxbridge lecturer, and therefore a model for the paradox lifestyle in Watermouth, where conflicts are inevitable. Although many colleges of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s neglect a distinction of status between students and tutors, there is a distinct gap between them.[10] The History Man also deals with the role of and the equal rights for women. In contrast to traditional colleges, women seem to be equal to men. There are female tutors, e.g. Annie Callendar, emancipated housewives like Barbara, and unscrupulous psychologists, as Flora Beniform appears to be. Here is a stress on the word seem because a hypocritical climate prevails in Watermouth, starting from the Department of Sociology, infecting the students and the faculty as well. In the center of all evil is Howard Kirk.


[1] Dubber, p.142

[2] Dubber, p.182

[3] Dubber, p.129

[4] Dubber, p.131

[5] Dubber, p.132

[6] Himmelsbach, p.267

[7] Himmelsbach, p.267; Goch, p.278

[8] Goch, p.266

[9] Bradbury, pp.144-145

[10] Dubber, pp.167-168

Excerpt out of 14 pages


"The History Man" and "The Affair"
Examples of how singular people are expelled from colleges on the basis of divided political opinions
University of Duisburg-Essen
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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History, Affair, Bradbury, Snow, Man, Malcolm, C.P., University novel, university, expulsion, Universitätsroman
Quote paper
Ismail Durgut (Author), 2007, "The History Man" and "The Affair", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/90950


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