Desmond Bates is deaf – not congenitally deaf or stone deaf but, rather, suffering from high-frequency deafness caused by accelerated loss of the hair cells in the inner ear. He first became aware of the problem in his mid-forties when, as Professor of Linguistics at an unnamed Northern university, he found it increasingly hard to make out what his students were saying. Twenty years later, having taken early retirement, he finds it the bane of his life.
David Lodge does not mine Desmond’s disability for its symbolism. There is no indication that it is either a punishment for egotism or the embodiment of a desire to keep the world at bay. On the contrary, Desmond appears to be a thoroughly decent