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Writing the Body Politics

Serious Play: The Representation of the Thatcher Years in Malcolm Bradbury’s Cuts, David Lodge’s Nice Work and Alan Hollinghusrt’s The Line of Beauty

Jeu sérieux : la représentation des années Thatcher dans Cuts de Malcolm Bradbury, Nice Work de David Lodge et The Line of Beauty de Alan Hollinghurst
Christian Gutleben


Margaret Thatcher apparaît comme un personnage central dans The Line of Beauty de Hollinghurst, elle fait l’objet de discussions dans Nice Work de Lodge et sa politique de réductions des dépenses publiques constitue l’arrière-plan référentiel de Cuts de Bradbury ; il n’est donc guère étonnant que l’état de la Grande Bretagne dans les années 1980 soit une préoccupation majeure de ces romans. Ce qui paraît stimulant dans ces versions contemporaines du roman social, c’est la cohabitation légèrement paradoxale entre une approche sociale et une approche métatextuelle, entre une analyse politique et un ludisme formel, entre une dimension transitive et une dimension auto-réflexive. C’est cette tension entre la fonction littéraire et la fonction référentielle qui sera examinée dans cette étude qui met en évidence une nouvelle forme de recyclage générique et insistera sur le dessein aléthique de ce type de fiction qui cherche constamment à éclairer à la fois le fonctionnement de la société et le fonctionnement de la textualité, la condition de l’Angleterre et la condition du roman.

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1In his study of the place and treatment of England in the post-war novel, D. J. Taylor criticises the novels of the 1980s for their ‘self-absorption, reflexiveness, terrible uncertainty’ and deems them incapable or unwilling ‘to engage with the rigours of the modern world’ (Taylor 293, 294). Suffice it to add that he considers ‘commitment’ to have been ‘a dirty word in English fiction for upwards of fifty years’ (Taylor 265), and it should be clear that for Taylor the novel of the Thatcher years eschews its social function and self-sabotages its political might. It is this kind of automatic association, too often encountered in the critical assessments of the British post-war novel (Stevenson 220–221, Smyth 25), between self-reflexiveness and absence of commitment, between postmodernism’s alleged superficial playfulness and the demise of its referential finality, which this paper intends to challenge.

2One way of disproving the accusation according to which contemporary fiction has withdrawn from the public sphere might be to show the persistence of the condition-of-England novel with its emphasis on social observations and a political background. Since the name of this type of fiction derives from Carlyle’s phrase the ‘Condition of England Question,’ it is perhaps best to revert to the Victorian chartist who insisted on denouncing the appalling consequences of the Industrial Revolution and declared about the working classes ‘something ought to be said, something ought to be done, in regard to it. . . . The time is verily come for acting in it . . ., for speech and articulate inquiry about it’ (Carlyle 1843). What is fascinating in this solemn and Biblical declaration is the belief in speech as social performativity since saying and doing, acting and writing, are presented as interchangeable, as if the power of the word were a match for the evil of the world. Literature as social action is then one of the features of the condition-of-England novel and Mine Özyurt Kiliç confirms this fundamental ‘premise that literature has a social role, that it could offer a serious commentary on its own society and cultivate values that would improve social conditions’ (Kiliç 9). Considering this faith in the efficiency of literature, the ‘close intertwining of novelistic and humanitarian engagements’ and the ‘reformist drive . . . which is essential to these social-problem novels’ (Kiliç 6), it seems manifest that contemporary fiction has moved away from the original Victorian model. Change and evolution, though, do not mean rejection or obliteration and many critics (Connor, Taylor, Gąsiorek, Kiliç) agree that the post-war campus novel represents a variant of the state-of-the-nation novel. The establishment of this generic affinity originates in fact in Ian Carter’s seminal study of university fiction, he argues that ‘if novels constitute rather than reflect the world, then fiction can have real effects. . . . Their reality warranted, literary accounts then can influence policy discussions’ (Carter 10). His monograph thus traces the mutual influences of fiction and politics striving to show a correspondence between the representation of the university and the representation of Britain and thereby encouraging the commentators to assert that ‘the academic novel can perform [an] historically concrete function, in imagining the more general condition of the nation . . ., which allows the campus novel or academic fiction to present miniaturised versions of the condition of England theme’ (Connor 71).

3However, this association between the campus novel and the condition-of-England novel is not as self-evident as Carter and Connor would like to demonstrate. First of all, the bulk of university fiction is set in the hermetic environments of Oxford or Cambridge, two places that can hardly be declared representative of the country as a whole, and the rites of passage of an Oxbridge freshman or the hardships of a far-from-underprivileged don similarly seem unconvincing as typical examples of national problems. And then, what seems at odds with the social issues of state-of-England fiction is the comic or satiric modality of the campus novel which takes up the age-old tradition of mocking the pedant and lowering the intellectual, the figure of the highbrow being precisely marginal, a sort of social misfit (Gutleben 302). The campus novel as such, then, does not necessarily coincide with the condition-of-England novel, which is why the novels discussed here do not only have an academic protagonist but display, in addition, a markedly political context, namely the era of the Thatcher government. In Harvest of the Sixties, Patricia Waugh furnishes convincing evidence of the ways in which Thatcher’s monetarist faith inevitably provoked artistic indignation. What seemed particularly polemical was the Iron Lady’s perverse and ‘effective appropriation of the rhetoric of libertarianism,’ showing first the social damages of the permissive sixties (‘terrorism, football hooliganism, racial violence, escalating crime, rising divorce rates, homelessness’) and then praising the new opportunities of individualism and total financial freedom (Waugh 17). Of course, ‘[o]nce the libertarian vocabulary has been safely regrafted onto monetarist economic theory, then it could be put on the back shelf in order that the more substantial package of Victorian values might be brought on full display’ (Waugh 17). Naturally, the reality of this financial newfound land and the repercussions of these Victorian values constitute ideal topics for an updated version of the state-of-the-nation novel and, indeed, these aspects are given a central role in Bradbury’s Cuts, Lodge’s Nice Work and Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty.

4One way of launching the analysis of these novels as representations of their Zeitgeist is to try and answer the question contained in the title of Jon Brannigan’s 2000 paper: ‘A Literature of Farewell? The Condition of England in Contemporary Literature’. Stressing the ubiquitous ‘themes of loss, disappearance, remembrance, and nostalgia’, Brannigan observes ‘an apparent concurrence between the nostalgic foundations of the conservative cultural revolutions and the elegiac, “condition of England” focus of much contemporary fiction. In literature as in politics, Englishness seemed to be imagined in the eighties and nineties within a discourse of decline and impending crises’ (Brannigan 87–88). Is this nostalgic bond between politics and literature at work in the novels of the Thatcher years? Perhaps because Nick Guest, its protagonist and permanent focaliser, has a ‘passion for Henry James’ and his ‘great unfolding sentences’ (Hollinghurst 435 and 139), Hollinghurst’s novel seems the most likely to be called elegiac. Taking Nick’s fascination for his hosts’ house ‘with the High Victorian codes’ (64) as a metaphor for his social and aesthetic tastes, one is inevitably tempted to consider that ‘the sheer staring presence of the place’ (48) stands for the awe-inspiring presence of the past. If one adds to his fondness for a literature and an architecture of the past a distaste for the culture of the present (‘the house was vulgar, as almost everything postmodern was’ [200]), it becomes manifest that there are compelling arguments in favour of a nostalgic assessment of the novel’s main witness, which may explain why Andrew Eastham sees the novel as having ‘a deep involvement in nineteenth-century Aestheticism’ and ‘a powerful sense of the residual potential of aesthetic experience’ (Eastham 509, 526). However, the novel’s ideology can in no way be restricted to or equated with the protagonist’s, the best proof being that Nick is part and parcel of the work’s ironic detraction of self-interest and opportunism.

  • 1 This ambiguity may well be the novel’s most blatant instance of ideological uncertainty for, as Mit (...)

5In order to substantiate Nick’s ideological compromises, it is not necessary to agree with Kaye Mitchell who sees in the gay protagonist an image of ‘the collector of sexual experience and, in a more crudely capitalist way, of men’ and who postulates that ‘the sexual pick-up system is deeply set in a series of modern developments, including capitalism’ (Mitchell 45, 46). The diegetic unfolding itself, showing as it does how Nick takes advantage of his conservative host family’s facilities, opportunities and acquaintances, how he gets enmeshed in their lies, deceptions and interests, is enough to suggest to what extent the young scholar’s political and ethical stance becomes progressively compromised. Perhaps the most fertile illustration of the protagonist’s ambiguity can be found in the image of Nick dancing, high on drugs, with Margaret Thatcher herself. Can this be considered as an instance of novelistic mockery of the Prime Minister who is put in a situation where she unwittingly communes with some of the things she hates most, namely homosexuality and drugs? Or can it be taken as a metaphor for the protagonist’s complicity with the New Right? The fact that he ‘gazed delightedly at the Prime Minister’s face’ and that he ‘heard the whole episode already accruing its commentary, its history’ (Hollinghurst 384) explicitly points to his fascination with the chief representative of liberalism and to his taste for self-publicity.1 The Jamesian protagonist is then included in, if not targeted by, the novel’s critical disposition towards conservative liberalism and his aesthetic wistfulness cannot be said to contaminate the whole novel’s axiological dispositions. When, at the end of the narrative, the traditionally extradiegetic narrator mentions that Nick ‘hardened himself against his taste for nostalgia . . ., matters were more urgent and unsure’ (494), this resolve can be read as an embedded instance of the novel’s self-conscious struggle against an elegiac tendency.

  • 2 For another novel illustrating this unresolved civilisational duality, see David Caute’s Veronica o (...)
  • 3 Cora Kaplan considers the structural status quo as not only a mirror image of Victorian duality but (...)

6What also exonerates The Line of Beauty from Brannigan’s elegiac suspicion is its contextual and referential emphasis on the reality of gay life and political intrigues in the 1980s. Admittedly, the novel is written almost two decades after its diegetic time of reference, but its ironic and critical outlook forbids the idea of a celebration of a Golden Age and rather insists on an ideological muddle which the reader is encouraged to see as still relevant. It could be argued then that the condition-of-England novel, because it is bent on revealing and interpreting a contemporary state of affairs, is almost incompatible with the obsession of the past of an elegiac type of fiction. Bradbury’s Cuts and Lodge’s Nice Work, written respectively in 1987 and 1988, fictionalise strictly contemporary events and give prime of place to the concrete consequences of Thatcher’s policy, thus displaying a preoccupation with the present state of England, an anatomy of contemporary society clearly at odds with a nostalgic perspective. True, in both texts there is an important Victorian sub-text (and intertext), but these traces of the past are systematically treated as redundant or inadequate. In Cuts, which narrates the meeting of the university and the world of television, ‘the small and decaying Victorian premises’ of the university are said to be ‘with great appropriateness . . . off the campus altogether’ (Bradbury 46, 51), a topographical severance which is figuratively also axiological. And in the television studio the board chairman fiercely rejects a script about ‘bloody Gladstone,’ arguing: ‘I’m through with history. I never want to see another drama about a prime minister screwing his way to the top’ (Bradbury 25), his rejection tolling the knell of the representation of the past in his universe––and in the novel. In Nice Work the presence of Victorian culture is even more ostentatious, Robyn Penrose, the academic protagonist, teaching, commenting on and quoting from famous nineteenth-century novels. But Victorian literature is certainly not presented as an aesthetic model or an ideological paragon since Robyn’s goal and method is ‘to deconstruct the texts, to probe the gaps and absences in them, to uncover what they are not saying’ and above all to show how they are ‘riddled with contradiction’ (Lodge 60, 77, original emphasis). Still, with its exclusively Victorian epigraphs and its final reconciliations, the novel manifestly appears structured on the model of certain Victorian novels (particularly Gaskell’s North and South), and this structural echo has often been deemed unsatisfactory, for example by Steven Connor who concludes that ‘Nice Work is unable in the end to do more than hover in indecision’ (Connor 82). Might it not be possible to argue, on the contrary, that such a structure of simulation is aptly suitable for a contemporary state-of-the-nation novel? Indeed, the main metatextual observation from a structural point of view occurs when Robyn points out the ‘ideological contradictions’ of the nineteenth-century social novels: ‘all the Victorian novelist could offer as a solution to the problems of industrial capitalism were: a legacy, a marriage, emigration or death’ (Lodge 83). When Nice Work concludes in precisely this manner with a legacy and a marriage proposal and two job offers, the structural similitude is not only signalled but also exaggerated or parodied by the sheer excess of the deus ex machina motif. Through this emphatic duplication of the Victorian condition-of-England novel’s aporia, Lodge might well be pointing to a duplication of a social nature: the problems of industrial capitalism may have become the problems of monetary capitalism, but they remain unresolved just as the duality of the Victorian two nations remains unresolved.2 The playfulness and metatextuality of Lodge’s structural parallel transform imitation into parody and invalidate the suspicion of nostalgia. The reproduction of the Victorian narrative and political status quo is then not of an elegiac nature, it represents a civilisational statement, a lucid assessment of the present, insisting on the persistence of the social problems of the past.3

7The novels of the Thatcher years cannot be equated with a literature of farewell then, even if––inevitably?––they are not very sanguine about the state of yesterday’s and today’s society. Another admonishment voiced against contemporary fiction stems from Lawrence Driscoll’s well-informed and well-argued Evading Class in Contemporary British Literature. Contending that the political ideology from Thatcher to Blair ‘has attempted to erase the category of class from public discourse’ and that postmodern theory has created ‘a space of fluid, flexible decentered subjects,’ Driscoll denounces ‘clear evasions and erasures of class,’ an elimination of working-class identity and experience which ‘can be delineated and traced through the pages of the contemporary British novel’ (1–3). Naturally, if the state-of-the-nation novel is, as James Eli Adams claims, essentially characterised by ‘expressions of deep sympathy for the predicament of the working class’ (63), then the literature guilty of such ‘evasions and erasures of class’ could be altered in its generic nature, and of course its political stance. One of the examples Driscoll uses and develops at great length in order to elucidate how the contemporary novel ‘function[s] as a conduit for middle-class ideology’ (135) is precisely Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty.

  • 4 In addition to this textual annihilation, Moore-Gilbert points out that ‘Robyn’s interventions on b (...)

8It is in the chapter entitled ‘We’re All Bourgeois Now,’ that Hollinghurst’s 2004 man Booker becomes the target for Driscoll’s criticism mainly based on the neglect of Leo, Nick’s first sexual partner, a subsidiary character typical of ‘the black working-class male [who] clearly constitutes a zone of narrative anxiety as they are always conveniently killed off or rapidly removed’ (Driscoll 140). The Line of Beauty is said to ‘open up a space for the postmodern neoliberal self (which has plenty of room for a “classless” gay identity . . .) while denying any kind of parallel space for the black and gay working-class subject’ (Driscoll 141). To buttress his indictment, the critic quotes Hollinghurst’s confession: ‘the truth is that I don’t know a lot about working-class life’ and his candid statement that ‘from the novelist’s point of view, of course, people who have money and connections give scope for fictional freedoms which working-class characters don’t’ (Monteith, Newman and Wheeler 83), a statement which amounts to belying or ignoring whole sections of the works by Zola, Garcia Marquez, Gorki or Steinbeck, to name just a few. In effect, Driscoll’s arguments appear irrefutable so obvious is the protagonist’s, and the novel’s, inclination towards Wani and his upper-class environment rather than towards Leo’s working-class condition. Exactly the same allegations could be made against Nice Work in which the Asian worker Danny Ram seems to embody a crucial aspect of factory life but is soon obliterated in the narrative.4 Lodge’s novel may well favour, as Jean-Michel Ganteau rightly upholds, an aesthetics of affects and emotion (101 and passim), but the affects and emotions are those of an academic and of a factory director, not those of the toiling blue collar. In Cuts, the protagonist is the epitome, or a caricature, of the disconnected scholar for whom ordinary people are ‘remote people whom Henry rarely saw’ (Bradbury 29) and the proletarians, the main victims of Thatcher’s cuts, consequently never find a place in Bradbury’s satirical novella.

  • 5 Here again, Ganteau is right when he argues that Lodge’s work privileges an affective form of commi (...)
  • 6 An outstanding criticism of Thatcher’s monetary revolution and the dehumanising havoc it wreaked ca (...)

9What this strong presence of an absence means is that these contemporary condition-of-England novels are not working-class novels, that these social novels are not socialist novels––nor reformist ones. In that sense, they have moved away from the Victorian models which ‘centred their attention on the poor in conjunction with social problems such as poverty, unemployment, squalid housing, factory conditions, child labour and political unrest’ (Kiliç 6). True then, there might be a generic evolution towards a lesser form of political commitment,5 but the function of the condition-of-England novel is not altered, it is still to furnish a portrait of contemporary English culture and society. Hollinghurst’s novel, for example, ‘keeps up the line of continuity of the “Condition of England” debate in at least two ways, first by reporting on the social stratification and ethnic diversity of the nation in the 1980s and, second by lashing out at the sheer vacuousness of some of its self-serving politicians’ (Letissier 91). Another social aspect appropriately covered by The Line of Beauty is the context of Thatcherism, ‘the era of monetarism’ (Waugh 13), and the consequent drift towards generalised commodification.6 The novel’s treatment of gay sex as a form of consumerism has already been mentioned; suffice it to add that art itself, and particularly architecture, is presented as a byproduct of money––even if this is by far not the novel’s only commentary upon art. These sociological or cultural observations about Thatcher’s England constitute the link with the tradition of the condition-of-England novel; what may be specific about Hollinghurst’s novel is the stylistic property of these observations. Saliently, the predilection for the rare word or the refined phrase is lined up with an in-your-face type of sexual realism so that expressions like ‘an oblong farinaceous compound’ or ‘the chamfered rustication of its walls’ (312, 313) rub shoulders with explicit passages reading: ‘Tristão bent to snort his line, and Wani felt his cock and Nick felt his arse,’ ‘[h]is dark heavy dick hung down,’ ‘[h]e give me coke and I fuck him in the hass’ (387–389). This deliberate juxtaposition of refinement and coarseness is intended to create what the novel calls ‘happy discomfort’ (375), an oxymoronic and ambiguous readerly effect emphatically opposed to the straightforward solace of nostalgic aestheticism. This deliberate juxtaposition of an Henry James and a Will Self type of writing, of the beauty of art (often of the past) and the vulgarity of wealth (often of the present), can even be found in the title since the eponymous line of beauty concerns the line of a poem or a painting but also a line of coke or of a man’s bottom. This deliberate juxtaposition is then a profession of faith in the horrible fascination of the Thatcher years and in the art of conjunction such as practiced by the Thatcher novel, a hybrid and paradoxical synthesis adapted to its environment and turned away from mere wistfulness or sheer defeatism.

  • 7 This paradoxical realism represents one of the illustrations of Gąsiorek’s convincing argument for (...)

10In Cuts, the context of Thatcher’s policy is suggested through a series of contrasts and paradoxes. Ostentatiously, Bradbury’s novella is presented according to a principle of comparison between cuts and wealth, or cuts and waste. On the one hand, the narrative insists on the ubiquitous cuts which affect all aspects of society and which determine the structure of the narrative since each chapter begins with another consequence of Thatcher’s cuts and another meaning of the term ‘cut.’ On the other hand, the story mainly takes place in the lavish studios of Eldorado Television where the dilapidation of money is epitomised in the film they spend months and thousands of pounds to shoot and which is finally simply given up. So Bradbury’s tale of the 1980s is a satire of a system which needs many sacrifices for the persistence of a few privileges. The purposeful paradox of the undertaking resides in the presentation of the condition of England. Whereas the narrative very much insists on the specific context of the Thatcher reign, ‘that summer of 1986 “privatization” [being], along with buzz-word, the great buzz-word’ (48), its main character and main event illustrate a refutation of reality. Henry Babbacombe, the academic protagonist, whose work is described as ‘paradigmatically intertextual and parodically postmodern’ (96), declares: ‘I doubt the existence of an external reality’ (31), ‘I believe the world is a fiction’ (32). And the writing and shooting of a film, the diegetic crux of the narrative, relies on a script which describes the vaguest settings (‘FOREIGN RAILWAY STATION’ or ‘UPSTAIRS STUDY’ [67]) and the vaguest characters (‘A YOUNG AND ATTRACTIVE WOMAN’ or ‘A MAN SMALL RATHER THAN TALL’ [64]), so much so that this archetypal romance could take place anytime and certainly does not care to cope with its contemporary problems. Bradbury thus denounces the terrible reality of his civilisation by showing the obliteration of reality in the arts. His paradoxical realism includes then the denial of reality and his paradoxical condition-of-England novel relies as much on the social consequences of cuts as on the metatextual games around the word ‘cuts’.7

  • 8 The insistence on stench, din and heat in the description of Vic’s factory is so manifestly Dickens (...)

11Lodge’s novel also explicitly deals with Thatcher’s economic policy and endeavours to show that ‘the whole business of the cuts has been such a balls-up’ (344), making a point, in addition, to stress the fact that Thatcher’s endorsement of Victorian values also led to a reproduction of the Victorian social problems. The contents of this contemporary condition-of-England novel comply then with the conventions of the genre including, for example, diegetic defenders and opponents of liberalism, the consequences of unemployment or the description of factory life8; the narrative form and techniques, on the other hand, clearly find their inspiration in their own (post)modern times. Here is a novel which includes lengthy summaries, commentaries and criticism of nineteenth-century social novels and these metafictional fragments, like any mise en abyme, have a transitive and a reflexive scope shedding light on the novels they discuss and on the novel in which they are discussed––and thus, once again, hinting at the symmetry linking the Victorian past and the Thatcherite present. The metatextual analyses encompass the latest theories by Barthes and Derrida and the result is then a sort of deconstructionist Victorian novel superimposing and interconnecting nineteenth-century stories, an original diegesis and a critical discourse bearing upon the common points of the various narratives. It could be argued that the cosmopolitan nature of international capitalism finds thus an apt reflection in this literary hotchpotch mingling Victorianism and poststructuralism, economics and semiotics, social and self referentiality. Like a postmodernist building taking the structure of a Victorian edifice and adding the lines and the materials of contemporary design, Lodge’s novel adds to the foundations of nineteenth-century condition-of-England fiction the techniques and references of a postmodernist condition-of-England novel, and it is this self-conscious task of double-coding which exonerates Nice Work from generic antiquarianism. Brannigan, who wondered whether the British novels of the 1980s and 1990s represented a literature of farewell, comes to the same conclusion: ‘It is their reflexivity which produces the critical turn from lament to re-examination, and which exerts an ironic distance from conservative discourses of decline’ (Brannigan 99).

12In the final analysis, these contemporary condition-of-England novels undeniably display less social zeal and less political commitment than their Victorian predecessors. This political disillusionment is evidently linked to the postmodern collapse of ideologies, that is, to what Patricia Waugh calls ‘Cultures of Disaffection’ (Waugh 24) and what D. J. Taylor identifies as the ‘decline of the conventionally framed political novel’ (Taylor 267). On the other hand, Hollinghurst, Bradbury and Lodge appear more concerned than Dickens, Gaskell or Disraeli with the appraisal of society in conjunction with the appraisal of art in general and fiction and literary studies in particular. Hollinghust’s novel, written almost two decades after Lodge’s and Bradbury’s, may be less fond of metafictional and self-conscious games, thus establishing a distance with the metafictional exhilaration of the 1980s, but the parallel examination of the state of Britain and the state of art certainly remains at play in it. By thinking up structures relying as much on intertextuality as on metatextuality, by constantly striving to represent both the social and the artistic state of affairs, this type of fiction seems designed to illustrate Andrzej Gąsiorek and David James’s main contention that ‘[c]ommitment . . . need not be the adversary of craft’ (Gąsiorek and James 625, original emphases). Beyond these novels’ hydrid referentiality, what might ultimately be at stake in the combination of politics and poetics is the alethic function of this type of fiction which constantly seeks to shed light on both society and textuality, on both the condition of England and the condition of the novel.

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Adams, James Eli. ‘“The Boundaries of Social Intercourse”: Class in the Victorian Novel’, A Concise Companion to the Victorian Novel, ed. Francis O’Gorman, Oxford: Blackwell, 2005, 47–71.

Bradbury, Malcolm, Cuts (1987), London: Arena, 1988.

Brannigan, John, ‘A Literature of Farewell? The Condition of England in Contemporary Literature,’ Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 2.1 (Fall 2000): 87–100.

Carlyle, Thomas, ‘The Condition of England,’ Past and Present: A Web of English History (1843),, last accessed September 18, 2014.

Carter, Ian, Ancient Cultures of Conceit: British University Fiction in the Post-War Years, London & New York: Routledge, 1990.

Connor, Steven, The English Novel in History 1950-1995, London & New York: Routledge, 1996.

Driscoll, Lawrence, Evading Class in Contemporary British Literature, Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Eastham, Andrew, ‘Inoperative Ironies: Jamesian Aestheticism and Post-modern Culture in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty,’ Textual Practice 3 (2006): 509–527.

Ganteau, Jean-Michel, David Lodge: Le choix de l’éloquence, Pessac : P.U. de Bordeaux, 2001.

Gasiorek, Andrzej, Post-War British Fiction: Realism and After, London: Edward Arnold, 1995.

Gaziorek, Andrzej, and David James, ‘Introduction: Fiction since 2000: Postmillenial Commitments,’ Contemporary Literature 53.4 (2012): 609–625.

Gutleben, Christian, ‘L’écriture carnavalesque dans quelques romans universitaires récents,’ Critique 552 (1993): 301–313.

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1 This ambiguity may well be the novel’s most blatant instance of ideological uncertainty for, as Mitchell notes, there is ‘a fundamental uneasiness at the author’s political ambivalence—particularly his relationship to Thatcherism’ (Mitchell 48), and the novel, with its sundry illustrations of ‘the worship of ‘the lady’ (Hollinghurst 222), does indeed arouse an ideological uneasiness. The ‘awful fascination’ exerted by the Iron Lady is also dealt with in Penelope Lively’s City of the Mind (Lively 71).

2 For another novel illustrating this unresolved civilisational duality, see David Caute’s Veronica or the two Nations (1989), a manifest updating of Disraeli’s condition-of-England novel, Sybil, or The Two Nations (1845).

3 Cora Kaplan considers the structural status quo as not only a mirror image of Victorian duality but as ‘a political image of modern Britain as more hopelessly divided than the bleakest visions of nineteenth-century industrial fiction’ (Kaplan 105).

4 In addition to this textual annihilation, Moore-Gilbert points out that ‘Robyn’s interventions on behalf of Danny Ram have inescapable overtones of the often misguided benevolence towards the subaltern displayed by the female missionary in the colonial period’ (142).

5 Here again, Ganteau is right when he argues that Lodge’s work privileges an affective form of commitment over a social or political one (Ganteau 121).

6 An outstanding criticism of Thatcher’s monetary revolution and the dehumanising havoc it wreaked can be found in Caryl Churchill’s 1987 comedy, Serious Money.

7 This paradoxical realism represents one of the illustrations of Gąsiorek’s convincing argument for a shift ‘from realism to realisms,’ realism being ‘flexible, wide-ranging, unstable, historically variable, and radically open-ended’ (Gąsiorek 13–14).

8 The insistence on stench, din and heat in the description of Vic’s factory is so manifestly Dickensian that it inevitable suggests the unchanging nature of industrial working conditions.

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Christian Gutleben, « Serious Play: The Representation of the Thatcher Years in Malcolm Bradbury’s Cuts, David Lodge’s Nice Work and Alan Hollinghusrt’s The Line of Beauty »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 49 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2015, consulté le 21 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Christian Gutleben

Christian Gutleben is Professor at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, France, where he teaches nineteenth- and twentieth-century British literature. His research focuses on the links between these two historical periods and traditions, and he is the author of one of the earliest critical surveys of neo-Victorian literature, Nostalgic Postmodernism: The Victorian Tradition and the Contemporary British Novel (Rodopi, 2001, reedited 2013). He has also published books on the English campus novel and Graham Greene, as well as numerous articles on postmodernism in British literature, and is co-editor (with Marie-Luise Kohlke) of Rodopi’s Neo-Victorian Series, including Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma: The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering (Rodopi, 2010), Neo-Victorian Families: Gender, Sexual and Cultural Politics (Rodopi, 2011) and Neo-Victorian Gothic: Horror, Violence and Degeneration in the Re-Imagined Nineteenth Century (Rodopi, 2012).

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