David Lodge, Birmingham’s foremost living novelist and Emeritus Professor of English Literature in the University of Birmingham, was present on 23 November 2016 at the unveiling of his portrait, commissioned by the Vice Chancellor, Sir David Eastwood, which is to stand in the entrance to the new University Library.

Before a large gathering of University staff and students, plus David’s friends and members of his family, David spoke of his collaboration with the artist, James Lloyd, in bringing the portrait to realisation through a number of sittings over a period of six weeks in James’s South London studio.

A large gathering for the unveiling

James, whose work is represented in the National Portrait Gallery and other important collections, also spoke of his aims in producing the portrait and the collaboration of ideas between painter and sitter that went into it. For example, the decision to reproduce in the corner of the portrait an earlier painting of David by the artist Tom Phillips emphasises the incorporation of time and the ageing process into the painting. Not only that, but in the ‘retelling’ of an earlier painting it gestures to David’s own interest, in his novels and his literary criticism, in metafictional strategies, as with Nice Work (1988), not only unmistakably a novel of the modern West Midlands but also a remaking of Mrs Gaskell’s famous industrial novel of the 1840s, North and South. These dimensions of the portrait do not conflict with its emphatic realism, however, memorably apparent whilst David spoke in front of his painted ‘double’.

The unveiling of the portrait

The painting will hang alongside a quotation already in place in the Library from David’s 1984 campus novel, Small World, spoken by its protagonist Morris Zapp: ‘to read is to surrender oneself to an endless displacement of curiosity and desire from one sentence to another’ (a quotation David hastened to remind the audience should be attributed to that character and not to him directly).

Introducing the proceedings, the Vice-Chancellor noted that, over his long academic career in the Department of English, David wrote not only this novel (and other celebrated examples of campus and non-campus fiction) but also some of the best-known critical works of the time, such as Modes of Modern Writing (1977). David’s importance to the University is now suitably memorialised in the new Library.

The portrait

Since leaving teaching, David has continued to write prolifically, including novels, plays, books of literary criticism and a two-part memoir. His latest book, published earlier this year, is The Man Who Wouldn’t Get Up and Other Stories.

Steve Ellis

Steve Ellis is Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham. His latest monograph is British Writers and the Approach of World War II (Cambridge University Press, 2014).