Joseph Williams is a postgraduate researcher at the University of East Anglia, writing a thesis on the creative, critical, and educational work of Malcolm Bradbury, Lorna Sage, David Lodge, and the journal Critical Quarterly, founded by C. B. Cox and A. E. Dyson in 1958.
Malcolm Bradbury’s Modernism: The Writer, The Critic, and The University
Malcolm Bradbury (1932-2000) is perhaps best remembered for establishing in 1970 the University of East Anglia’s MA in Creative Writing, with fellow novelist Angus Wilson. This paper considers Bradbury’s use of the provincial university as a literary tastemaker within the context of local, regional, national and international modernisms. Speaking as Chair of the 1981 Booker Prize, Bradbury described ‘serious’ fiction as writing which is ‘pressing at the edge of the genre, taking it as a form of enquiry’. The parallel to Pound’s ‘make it new’ is clear enough, but this paper asks two further questions: how did Bradbury theorise the relationship between creative and critical practice, both in fiction as well as the university English department? and in what ways did Bradbury consider the university a place for this kind of ‘serious’ fiction? This paper draws particular attention to the canonical modernist writers Bradbury returned to throughout his long teaching career, as well as the kinds of non-mimetic and experimental writing he encouraged among his creative writing students. Those canonical figures of modernism avoided the provincial university in favour of the city’s cafés, salons and ateliers, as well as the little magazine. Bradbury, on the other hand, embraced the university as an institution which could provide patronage to writers working beyond the fetters of the marketplace. In Britain, the relationship between the university creative writing programme, the avant-garde, and the marketplace has shifted significantly since Bradbury’s retirement from teaching in 1995. By looking back to how Bradbury theorised these relations, we can better question our own position in 2023.