"A world without real deliverances" : liberal humanism in the novels of Malcolm Bradbury
Known in the United States for his critical studies of twentieth-century fiction, Malcolm Bradbury is himself a creator of fiction, the author of four novels. All four are satires. All confront well-meaning but feckless English liberal humanists with the doctrinaire. All reveal that meaning well and doing justly are not the same, and that private values--a belief in the dignity of the individual and in his right to work out his own destiny--are insufficient, even, sometimes, harmful. Yet Bradbury consistently reveals the doctrinaire as far more harmful, concerned not at all about individual men. The doctrinaire is ruthless and inhumane, whether presented as a formulaic version of liberal humanism itself, in Eating People is Wrong (1959); as the politicized liberalism of post-McCarthy America, in Stepping Westward (1965); as the radicalism of the early nineteen seventies, in The History Man (1975); or as the Marxism of a Soviet satellite, in Rates of Exchange (1983). His novels all depict something that Bradbury himself named in a commentary upon his first: "an ironic world, a world without real deliverances." Several critics maintain that Bradbury's novels are profoundly, deceitfully, conservative beneath a surface liberalism. However, as this first long study of the novels attempts to demonstrate, their conservatism is not so much political as cultural. The great Western systems, capitalism and communism, no longer offer much that is conducive to man's well-being; only liberal humanism, in its respect for the individual, holds forth some faint hope for humanity. So implies Malcolm Bradbury, whose stance in the novels is largely apolitical and who exposes the folly of his liberal humanists and the wickedness of their more doctrinaire antagonists with equally devastating wit.