Summary – Chapter Four
David makes love to Melanie ‘one more time’ on the bed in his daughter’s room and afterwards she asks about his divorce and he tells her he has been divorced twice. She asks if he has pictures and he says, ‘I don’t collect pictures. I don’t collect women’.
On the same afternoon a young man knocks at the door of his office and enters. David notes that ‘he looks older than most students; he looks like trouble’. He tells David he knows Melanie and that she has told him he ‘fucks’ her. He sweeps right and left and the papers on the desk go flying. When he leaves, he calls David ‘Professor Chips’ and tells him to ‘just wait and see’. Melanie does not come back that night to his house, but his car is vandalized.
She re-appears in class on the Monday and ‘the boy in black, the boyfriend’ is there beside her. Not knowing what else to do, David plunges into his notes about Byron and talks about how his notoriety affected the reception of his work: ‘Scandal. A pity that must be his theme, but he is in no state to improvise’.
He has previously asked them to read ‘Lara’ and there is also no way he can evade this either. The class does not attempt to guess or explain the poem as he asks, and he continues to talk about Lucifer, the dark angel, and how he was cast out into the world. He explains to the boyfriend, and the class, how the readers are ‘invited to understand and sympathize’ with Lucifer, and how Byron also suggests that ‘it will not be possible to love him’.
After the class, David asks Melanie to come to his office alone and she does so. He tells her he cannot have her friend ‘disrupting’ class again and also tells her she will have to attend more regularly. He then says she will have to take the test she missed. She looks at him ‘in puzzlement, even shock’ and says she cannot as she has not done the reading. He continues to push for her to take the test and sets the date for Monday lunch and argues that she will have the weekend to do the required reading.
Analysis – Chapter Four
Irony is used to black comic effect in this chapter as David talks in class about scandal and the impossibility of loving Lucifer. The awkwardness of his situation is heightened by Coetzee drawing on the tradition of campus novels, where the workings of academia are easily ridiculed for the excesses and bad behavior of those who have positions of power.
It is also in keeping with the literary quality of the novel that parallels between Byron, David and Lucifer are drawn to relate the scandal that is about to fall on David in later chapters.