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Literature / Changing Places

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Changing Places is the fifth novel by the British author David Lodge, and the first of his so-called "Campus Trilogy". It was published in 1975.

The University of Rummidge, a middling redbrick establishment in the English Midlands, and Euphoria State University, a leading institution at Plotinus on the west coast of America, have long had an exchange programme based on nothing more than a coincidence of architecture. Because of the asymmetric relationship, Rummidge was usually represented by a senior member of staff while Euphoria State struggled to find anybody to spend a year in a place they probably hadn't heard of. But in 1969, the roles are reversed. Rummidge sent Philip Swallow, a talented teacher but an undistinguished scholar with no publications to his name, to Euphoric State where published papers are everything, and Euphoric State sent Morris Zapp, a high-flying and much-published full professor to Rummidge. The novel follows each man's progress as their lives begin to intertwine in unexpected ways against a background of student unrest and authoritarian reaction to it.

The novel is in six sections, using a variety of styles.

Part 1, flying uses a detached, omniscient narrator to introduce the two protagonists as their respective paths cross over the North Pole.

Part 2, settling adopts a more conventional third-person narrative.

Part 3, corresponding is written in epistolary form.

Part 4, reading is a series of news items and other third-party documents.

Part 5, changing reverts to the conventional narrative of Part 2.

Part 6, ending is in the form of a screenplay.

Changing Places contains examples of:

  • Author Avatar: Philip Swallow is a professor at the University of Rummidge, based on the University of Birmingham where the author was a professor.
  • Elevator Snare: A variant. The elevator is a Paternoster in the Hexagon building at Rummidge. Gordon Masters chases Morris in and out of the paternoster cars and up and down the surrounding stairs.
  • Jerkass: Quite a few but most notably Howard Ringbaum.
  • Mysterious Note: Somebody in Plotinus, assumed to have been Howard Ringbaum, sends an anonymous letter to Hilary Swallow accusing Philip of sleeping with Morris Zapp's daughter. Philip is genuinely outraged when she tells him but it turns to be true.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Ronald Duck, Governor of Euphoria, who sent state troopers against Plotinus student demonstrators. Not to be confused with Ronald Reagan, Governor of California in 1969, who sent state troopers against Berkeley student demonstrators. Oh no.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Rummidge represents Birmingham (sounds like Bromwich[ham], a old name for Birmingham from which "Brummagem" and "Brummie" are derived, in the local). Plotinus (a Greek philosopher whose ideas were picked up by George Berkeley) is Berkeley. The city of Esseph, across the bay from Plotinus, is self-evidently San Francisco. Euphoria is not California, at least not most of it:

    "Euphoria, that small but populous state on the Western seaboard of America, situated between Northern and Southern California..."

  • Perilous Old Fool: Gordon Masters, head of the English department. He compares the student occupation with Europe in 1940, and suggests to the local newspaper the university authorities should mount a military resistance operation from a bunker in the central heating system.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The confrontation in Plotinus between students and State authorities is almost indistinguishable from the real-life events around the People's Park in Berkeley in the spring of 1969. The student sit-in at Rummidge corresponds to a sit-in at at Birmingham University, although this took place at the end of 1968 and not simultaneously with the People's Park.
  • Sanity Slippage: Gordon Masters. He's eccentric enough already but the sit-in at Rummidge, and Morris Zapp's successful resolution of it, pushes him over the edge. He believes Zapp has conspired with the students to undermine his authority as head of department.
  • Sore Loser: In the game of Humiliation, to win which players have to admit in front of others that they haven't read some classic book, Howard Ringbaum can't reconcile his pathological need to succeed with his equally pathological need to show how clever and well-read he is. When he gets no points after naming some obscure eighteenth-century work he loses his temper. Then when he gets the point he scores a knockout victory with Hamlet. Several days later he fails his review and it's assumed that the faculty is unwilling to give tenure to somebody who had never read Hamlet. He blames Philip Swallow for this.