Campus Novel | Definition, Characteristics, Examples in Literature

Campus Novel | Definition, Characteristics, Examples in Literature

Campus Novel Definition

A campus novel is also called an academic novel. This is a novel whose main action is set in and around the campus of a university. The writers of Campus novels had first-hand experience of teaching at various universities and colleges. The novelists have recorded their experiences in their works. They have woven the stories of their novels in or around the campus of the institutions.

The genre in its current form dates back to the early 1950s. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms defines,

“Campus novel is a novel, usually comic or satirical, in which the action is set within enclosed world of university (or similar set of learning) and highlights the follies of academic life.”

Many novels have presented nostalgic evocations of college days, but the campus novel in the usual modern sense dated from the 1950’s: Mary McCarthy’s The Groves of Academe (1952) and Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (1952) began significant tradition in modern fiction including John Barth’s Giles Goat Boy (1966), David Lodge’s Changing Places (1975) and Robert Davis’s The Rebel Angels (1982)”

Another scholar Martin Hilský gives us different definition of campus novel: it is a satirical comedy with strong elements of parody. In the same book, he argues that the genre of campus novel is influenced by the fact that universities gain importance in the Anglo-American world and that more and more authors of the campus novels are university teachers of English literature or creative writing.

Campus Novel History and Development

Campus Novel dates back to the early 1950s. The Groves of Academe (1952) by Mary McCarthy is considered the earliest example of such kind of fiction. However, Elaine Showalter discusses C.P. Snow’s The Masters of the previous year, and several earlier novels have an academic setting and the same characteristics, such as Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House of 1925, Régis Messac’s Smith Conundrum first published between 1928 and 1931 and Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night of 1935.

Campus Novel Characteristics

  • The Campus novel generally deals with the internal affairs of a university or a college. It deals with the complex relationships among the faculty and the staff.
  • It presents a picture of the past memories of the members of the university, their experiences, power politics, conflicts and struggles of the characters. The Campus novel presents the sociocultural point of view of one of the members of the staff.
  • The Campus novel abounds with scenes of drinking, partying, love-scenes, seduction, molestation, envy, exploitation and manipulation in the university or college campus. They are the inseparable part of Campus novel.
  • Extra-marital relationships, adultery of the authorities have been focussed through the Campus novels. The Campus novel also unveils the snobbery and hypocrisy of people.
  • There are also scenes of disparity and discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, culture, language and gender in the Campus novel.
  • The Campus novel presents the dirty picture of power politics within the academics. It also highlights class struggle and gender struggle. It also throws light on a clash between members of the staff on the basis of their position in the hierarchical order.
  • Though some of the Campus novels have been written in comical vein, they have serious undercurrents. The views of the characters are presented by using satiric and sarcastic language.
  • Many Campus novels have anti-heroes who are incompetent, unlucky, tactless and stupid. Kingsley Amis’s ‘Lucky Jim’ is a fine example of an anti-hero.
  • The campus novel deals with the hopes and aspirations of characters, their failures, disillusionment, and discontentment. They were several novels with academic background and setting produced before the Second World War.

Campus Novel Examples

Many well-known campus novels, such as Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim and others by David Lodge, are comic or satirical. Such novels are often counterpointing intellectual pretensions and human weaknesses. Some, however, attempt a serious treatment of university life; examples include C. P. Snow’s The Masters, J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Novels such as Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited that focus on students rather than faculty are often considered to belong to a distinct genre, sometimes termed varsity novels.

Willa Sibert Cather’s novel, The Professors House appeared in 1925. It deals with the story of a disillusioned and dejected middle-aged professor St Peter. The novel describes St Peter’s memories of his favourite student, Outland who discovers an abandoned stone city created by Pueblo-Indians in the past.

Randall Jarrell’s novel, Pictures from an Institution appeared in 1954. The novel has a nameless narrator. “Pictures from an Institution” presents keen and minute observation of students and the staff of the Benton Women’s College.

In this novel, Randall Jarrell has satirized life in progressive women’s college. The novel comments upon the oddities of academic life. It is said that the character of Gertrude is modelled on Mary McCarthy.

Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Prin was published in 1957. It deals with a story of Timothy Prin, a professor of Russian at fictional Waindell College.

Malcolm Bradbury’s campus novel, Eating People is Wrong was published in 1959.

The novel deals with the story of the relationship between Stuart Treece, a professor of English and his students. The novel is set in a provincial English university.

The novel presents Stuart Treece’s failures as a professor and a lover. Stuart Treece realizes that his moral scruples and socialism are no longer appropriate and viable. He feels alienated and frustrated in the company of his young students. He also finds his professional career on the wane.

Another novel of Malcolm Bradbury, namely Stepping Westward appeared in 1965. The novel has setting of Midwest of America. It is an entertaining campus novel written in the style of David Lodge’s “Changing Places”.

Malcolm Bradbury’s Stepping Westward was followed by his third novel, namely The History Man”. It was published in 1975.

The novel is set in the University of Watermouth. Howard Kirk is the protagonist of the novel who is a lecturer in sociology. Howard Kirk and his wife, Barbara Kirk, detest exploitation, manipulation, disparity and discrimination.

The novel presents many scenes of adultery, flirting, and seduction. For example, Barbara Kirk flirts with an Egyptian student behind her husband’s back. Similarly, Howard also has illicit relationships with his student and faculty members.

John Barth’s allegorical novel, Giles Goat-Boy abounds with allusions from mythology. John Barth has delineated the universe as a university campus. The novel is an allegory of Cold War. George Giles is the protagonist of the novel. The novel is a fine example of metafiction and it is written in comical vein with serious purpose.

John Barth’s Giles Goat-Boy describes the spiritual development of the hero, George. “Giles Goat-Boy” was published in 1966.

Alison Lurie produced The War between the Tates in 1974. The novel deals with student politics, infidelity, marital anguish and teenage revolt.

The War between the Tates presents the turmoil and conflicts of the late 1960s. It describes upheavals in political and social spheres. Erica and Brian are the chief characters of the novel. They are successful academic couple.

A twist comes in the marital life when Jenny, a young student comes to their life. Jenny opposes sexist view of professor Dibble. Brian is allured by Jenny’s beauty. The novel highlights the start of the feminist movement.

Also Read:

David Lodge’s novel Changing Places has been considered as the first Campus novel a British novelist. The novel is subtitled as A Tale of Two Campuses. It recalls Charles Dickens’s novel The Tale of Two Cities.

The novel Changing Places was published in 1975. Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp are academic members of two different fictional universities. Philip Swallow has been portrayed as a British professor whereas Morris Zapp is an American professor.

The novel describes the story of the six-month academic exchange programme between the two universities. At the end of the novel, the readers come to know that both Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp have an affair with the other’s wife. The exchange of the campuses of the two universities and exchange of wives shocks the readers.

David Lodge’s Changing Places was followed by another novel Small World: An Academic Romance. It was published in 1984. The Novel alludes to Holy Grail and Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. The characters of Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp one again appear in the novel.

The last novel of David Lodge’s ‘Campus Trilogy’ is, “Nice Work” which appeared in 1988.

The novel “Thinks…” by David Lodge has also got the setting of a Campus novel. It was in 2001.

Robertson Davies’s novel, The Rebel Angels appeared in 1981. The novel deals with the story of several faculty members and the staff of the fictional College of St John and Holy Ghost.

Robertson Davies has recorded his experiences as a professor in the novel. The characters of Parlabane and Movarish have been modelled on college staff of Robertson Davies.

Another novel of Robertson Davies namely, What Bred in the Bone was published in 1985. It deals with the story of Francis Cornish. It is the second novel of Cornish Trilogy.

The novel What Bred in the Bone was followed by the last novel of the ‘Cornish Trilogy’, namely The Lyre of Orpheus which appeared in 1988. The novel presents scenes of exploitation, seduction and love affairs.

Howard Jacobson’s Campus novel, Coming from Behind was published in 1983. The novel is set in a midlands polytechnic; it is written in satiric vein. Sefton Goldberg is the protagonist of the novel. He abhors his weaknesses.

The novel Coming from Behind presents realistic picture of depressed and demoralized lecturers in comic manner. It deals with humiliation, envy and helplessness of Sefton Goldberg.

John Maxwell Coetzee’s famous novel Disgrace was published in 1999. The novel deals with a story of David Lurie, a professor of English who is charged with sexual harassment of Melanie Isaac, a student.

It is important to note that John Maxwell Coetzee is the first writer to win the Booker Prize twice. Disgrace won the Booker Prize in 1999.

The Human Stain of Philip Roth also holds some features of the Campus novel. It was published in 2000. The novel deals with a story of Coleman Silk, who is a retired professor of classics. The narrator of the novel is Nathan Zuckerman.

Tom Wolfe’s novel, I am Charlotte Simmons appeared in 2004. It deals with a story of a college student Charlotte Simmons who is studying at fictional university. Charlotte is seduced by Hoyt and Adam.

Truth and Consequences of Alison Lurie appeared in 2005. It deals with the effects of pain on creative process and relationships. The protagonist of the novel is Alan Mackenzie who suffers from back-pain. Alan Mackenzie gets some relief when Delia, a visiting author, comes to his life.

Campus Novels by Indian Authors

R.K. Narayan’s The Bachelor of Arts is considered to be the very first Indian campus novel in Indian English Writing. In India, people claim that six out of every 10 Indian campus novels now sell an average of 4,000 copies, making each a bestseller. The trend kicked in when Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone sold more than 50,000 copies.

Best Campus Novels

Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell (1954)

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes by Angus Wilson (1956)

Prin by Vladimir Nabokov (1957)

Eating People is Wrong by Malcolm Bradbury (1959)

On Beauty by Zadie Smith (2005)

Blue Angel by Francine Prose (2006)

Beet: A Novel (P.S.) by Roger Rosenblatt (2008)

Indignation by Philip Roth (2008)

Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat

[web_stories_embed url=”” title=”10 Best Campus Novel of All Time” poster=”×853.jpg” width=”360″ height=”600″ align=”none”]

2 thoughts on “Campus Novel | Definition, Characteristics, Examples in Literature”

  1. Thank yo sir for your tremendous job and service. As a research scholar , I am being benefited by reading this article by leaps and bounds. Thanks again ….


Leave a Comment