In David Lodge’s novel Changing Places (1975), two Jane Austen scholars, the American Morris Zapp and the British Philip Swallow, take part in an exchange scheme in which they swap jobs, lives and (this being a campus novel, and thus an opportunity for vicarious fantasy versions of academics’ actually rather stolid lives) wives. Zapp, who likes to think of himself as ‘the Austen man’, is an academic superstar, ‘the man who had published articles in PMLA while still at graduate school … who had published five fiendishly clever books (four of them on Jane Austen) by the time he was thirty’,2 and provides a fictional vehicle for the dissemination of Lodge’s more daring Austen criticism by another means. To underline, once and for all, his supremacy in the field, Zapp dreams of producing a ‘total reading’ of Austen’s work. His dreams are megalomaniacal and apocalyptic: he wishes both to end and to become Austen studies, ‘saying everything there was to be said about Jane Austen. The idea was to be utterly exhaustive, to examine the novels from every conceivable angle … so that when each commentary was written, there would be simply nothing further to say about the novel in question.’3 Lodge’s novel is set in 1969, across thinly disguised versions of Birmingham and San Francisco, and partakes powerfully of its recreated times in its depictions of political upheaval both globally and, microcosmically, on university campuses. By this contextualising, Zapp’s total reading is rendered neither intrinsically foolish (it is not just the megalomaniac dream of a narcissist, though Zapp is that too), nor, on the terms given, ultimately realisable.
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