Campus or Academic Novels

These novels are set in the world of academe. They take place on campuses and institutions of higher learning, or have characters who hold positions in those places.

They frequently satirize the academic environment—it’s rules, pretensions, customs, values, and other components.

Novels set on Campuses or in the Academic World

Foreign Affairs | Alison Lurie

Vinnie, a professor of children’s literature is going to London for six months on a grant to study children’s folk-rhymes. On her flight, she meets Chuck, a sanitation engineer who she finds coarse and uneducated. Meanwhile, Fred, an assistant professor at Vinnie’s university, is also in London researching an eighteenth-century writer. While in London, Vinnie and Fred each begin a separate romantic relationship while working and interacting with their social circles.

Straight Man | Richard Russo

William Devereaux, a creative writing professor, is made the interim chairman of the English department as a steady, safe choice. The narrative covers a week of William’s adventures at the peak of his mid-life-crisis wherein he thinks he might have cancer, thinks his wife might be having an affair, thinks about his complicated relationship with his father, and threatens to kill local ducks to get funding, among other things.

Eating People is Wrong | Malcolm Bradbury

Stuart Treece, a professor and head of the English department, negotiates the social world of his provincial English university including get-togethers for sherry, tea, and romantic efforts with a colleague. He is feeling the generation gap; falling in love with a student adds to his confusion.

The History Man | Malcolm Bradbury

Howard and Barbara Kirk are conservative and religious. Howard gives lectures at a university. When Barbara cheats on him, their lives are turned upside down – they start associating with radical people, completely changing their worldview.

Changing Places | David Lodge

An English and California university participate in an academic exchange program. The English university sends Philip Swallow, a conventional faculty member who is somewhat impressed by the American system. The California university sends Morris Zapp, a professor who feels superior to the British system trying to save his marriage by giving his wife six months away from him.

The second novel in this series, Small World, shows Philip and Morris meeting up ten years after the events of Changing Places.

Nice Work | David Lodge

Robyn Penrose is a feminist university lecturer assigned to observe a manufacturing plant. It is managed by Vic Wilcox, a man who has worked his way up in the world. As they spend time together, they are exposed to each others views.

An Academic Question | Barbara Pym

Dr. Alan Grimstone lectures at an English university. His wife Caro doesn’t do much with her time other than read to a former missionary and anthropologist now in an old age home. Alan realizes he could use some of the elderly man’s research to best a colleague; he wants Caro to help him get it.

Pictures from an Institution | Randall Jarrell

The unnamed narrator is a teacher at a women’s college, Benton. He makes funny observations about the faculty and students of his institution. There isn’t a continuous plot; there are episodes involving many different people. Of particular interest are President Robbins, a single-minded former Olympic diver; Gottfried Rosenbaum, a witty composer; and Gertrude Johnson, a novelist teaching creative writing known for her biting comments.

The War of the Tates | Alison Lurie

Brian Tate holds the Chair of Political Science at a New York University. He and his wife Erica feel their home is being taken over by their teenage children. Brian gets involved with a feminist group who want to protest one of his colleagues. Among them is Wendy, a young woman who pursues him and whose attentions he returns.

Lucky Jim | Kinsgley Amis

Jim Dixon lectures on medieval history at an English university. It is nearing the end of the school year and he is concerned about losing his job. He tries to curry favor with Professor Welch, who will have some influence on the matter; Jim agrees to attend a weekend party at his home.