Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2222
SOURCE: “Shakers,” in London Review of Books, November 6, 1986, p. 22.
[In the following review, Donoghue finds Lodge's collection of writings in Write On uneven. Donoghue also discusses the role of metaphor in literature and criticism.]
This is a gathering of David Lodge’s easy pieces: they are footnotes, shouldernotes and headnotes to the formal work in fiction and literary criticism he has published in the past twenty years. The book is in two parts. The first, ‘Personal and Descriptive’, includes a memoir of his first year in America, mostly a travel-year, 1964–65; his report on the turbulence at Berkeley in 1969; a trip to Poland in 1981; memories of a Catholic childhood; how he came to read Joyce; an introduction to his novel Small World; and his account of going to a Shakin’ Stevens concert in Birmingham. The second part is mostly reviews: of Norman Mailer’s The Prisoner of Sex,The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J. D. Salinger, a book about the ‘Catholic sensibility’ of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Blake Morrison’s The Movement, Martin Amis’s Success, Tony Tanner’s Adultery in the Novel, Graham Greene’s Ways of Escape, Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons, the Oxford American Dictionary, two books—by Dan Jacobson and Robert Alter—on Biblical narrative, Robertson Davies’s The Rebel Angels, William Golding’s The Paper Men, Peter Brooks’s Reading for the Plot, and John Updike’s Hugging the Shore. There are also essays on Ring Lardner, on D. H. Lawrence, and on Structuralism, which Lodge as late as 1980 regarded as ‘the most significant intellectual movement of our time’.
Such a collection is bound to be of uneven quality. Lodge is capable of writing a routine sentence—‘In the meantime, the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover gave a great impetus to the onset of the Permissive Society’—and of dropping a critical issue just when it gets difficult. He says, for instance, that it’s ‘very important to decide whether Capote’s “Handcarved Coffins” is, as it claims to be, a work of non-fiction, because as a work of fiction it would not rate very high.’ The subtitle of ‘Handcarved Coffins’ is ‘A Non-Fiction Account of an American Crime’. Lodge argues that ‘it is not a true story of actual crime, but a work of literary fiction.’ Dismissing the work, he says that ‘we may be interested by the spectacle of life imitating bad art, but not by bad art (i.e. over-familiar, exhausted conventions) proposing to imitate life.’ But his review of the matter confounds virtually every critical issue raised by ‘fiction’, ‘non-fiction’, ‘actual’, ‘true’, ‘story’, ‘literature’, ‘imitation’, ‘art’, ‘bad’ and ‘life’. Lodge could deal with these issues, given enough time and space, but there is no merit in a quick shot at them.
Some of the best things in Write On arise from the conjunction of a book-to-be-reviewed and a reviewing style deliberately alien to it. It was a brilliant editorial decision—Ian Hamilton’s, I assume—to have Success reviewed not by the novelist David Lodge but by Professor D. Lodge of the University of Birmingham. The novelist might have spotted that Amis’s Gregory Riding, to describe his sensations on being fellated—‘for a few seconds every cell in my body shakes with ravenous applause’—fell back exhausted upon the prose style of Kurt Vonnegut, who describes his starving POW licking a spoonful of malt syrup: ‘A moment went by, and then every cell in Billy’s body shook him with ravenous gratitude and applause.’ But only a professor could end his lecture on Success with a tone of discourse which subdues to an academic norm the loud-mouthed thing he has just been...
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reading: ‘The novel’s technical accomplishment does not, however, entirely disguise the fact that the chief characters, and their doomed, incestuous relationships, offer little variation on familiar stereotypes, and it is difficult, therefore, to care about them quite as much as one seems to be expected to. Engrossing to read,Success does not resonate in the mind once one has put it down. It leaves open the question of which direction its author’s considerable talent will take in the future: spleen or sensibility?’ Very good. I wish I could write like that about Amis. I should report that Lodge has added a postscript to those sentences: ‘I suppose that, eight years later, one would have to answer, “spleen”; but really the question seems inadequate to define the imaginative energies of Amis’s latest, and most impressive novel, Money (1984).’
In some essays and reviews, Lodge’s tone wavers and goes slumming. Someone he alludes to keeps a low profile, someone does his thing, other people are upwardly mobile, a strategy is counter-productive, and something I’ve now forgotten is upmarket. But generally he keeps his distance. A little vanity shows from time to time: ‘Writing is the only thing I am really good at, and it is too late now to become really good at anything else.’ Really, I think he should wait for his readers and critics to say how good he is. But his general discursive writing is excellent, highly intelligent, and as vigorous as the subject deserves.
One short piece puzzled me, and I want to explain why. The report of the Shakin’ Stevens concert is so conceited, the jokes so much a matter of Senior Common Room wit—‘They are a kind of parody of Bill Haley and the Comets (so were Bill Haley and the Comets, as Oscar Wilde might have said)’—that I looked for a more respectable cause. I think it’s in his formal criticism.
In Working with Structuralism (1981) and The Modes of Modern Writing (1977) Lodge worked mainly with the version of Structuralism which he derived from Roman Jakobson’s distinction between metaphor and metonymy. The distinction was already fairly clear in Vico’s The New Science (1725), but Jakobson developed it much further in considering the symptoms of aphasia, a brain disorder that affects the patient’s speech. Normal power of speech includes the capacity of selecting and relating things on the basis of a perceived likeness or difference (metaphor) and on the basis of perceived association or continuity (metonymy). Roland Barthes, in ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives’, thought it necessary to add a third type of discourse, which he called enthymematic, to account for intellectual discourse, but few critics have followed him in this, Jakobson’s distinction has pleased Lodge so much that he adds a subtitle to The Modes of Modern Writing: ‘Metaphor, Metonymy and the Typology of Modern Literature’. In the original work on aphasia, Jakobson merely said that metaphorical power is fundamental to lyric poetry, and is typically found in Romanticism and Symbolism, while metonymy is fundamental in prose, especially in the consecutive prose of the realistic novel.
The distinction is useful, but not as endlessly fruitful as Lodge and other critics have tried to demonstrate. I’ve been looking at A Passage to India, a realistic novel if a category is required for it, but some of the most memorable episodes are metaphorical—the business with the wasp, for instance, which links Mrs Moore and Professor Godbole across most of the novel. In the finest novels, a distinction between metonymy and metaphor arises only if you want to name transitions which are clear anyway. However, Lodge’s own novels are realistic, linear, metonymic, on the whole. But his literary criticism is strikingly metaphoric. The most telling moments in his essays and reviews are productions of likeness and difference. Perhaps the best of these is his comparison of The Executioner’s Song with Boswell’s account of his dealings with his client John Reid, sentenced to death in 1774 for stealing sheep. The evidence of Boswell’s relation to Reid is in the volume of the Yale edition called Boswell for the Defence. Lodge’s metaphoric sense of likeness between Mailer and Boswell is unerring, and brilliantly managed.
But the metaphoric mode in criticism is risky. Lodge and ‘a party of young teenagers’ went to the Shakin’ Stevens concert. He was struck by ‘the Christian symbolism permeating the entire event’. The concert started, as usual, with a support group—‘its function is that of John the Baptist: to herald the star.’ The support group for Stevens was the Stargazers, ‘which perhaps suggests the Magi’. After a long interval, Stevens appears: ‘The star’s first appearance has Old Testament overtones: a shadowy figure stalks down the central ramp, to the accompaniment of portentous chords and drumbeats, and amid flashes and explosions and clouds of smoke. But then the lights come on, flickering in rainbow colours to the beat of the music, and Shakin’ Stevens—“Shaky”, as he is affectionately known—comes down to the front of the stage, smiling, youthful, friendly, to receive a delirious welcome. The Father transformed into the Son.’ The performance itself ‘combines features of both Ministry and Passion’. Girls throw bouquets, teddy bears, knickers and paper hearts onto the stage—‘these votive offerings’. ‘Some girls proffer handkerchiefs and scarves with which the star dabs the sweat from his brow before handing them back to these diminutive Veronicas.’ A more mature young woman ‘in a red dress manages to get up onto the stage and throws herself enthusiastically upon Shaky, but this Mary Magdalen is quickly collared by the uniformed disciples and hustled away.’ ‘Two tiny tots are allowed up onto the stage and Shaky crouches to let them sing with him into the mike.’ (‘Suffer little children …’). The star is gyrating and sometimes ‘throws himself tragically to the ground’. (‘And he fell for the first time …’) For an encore, the stage is darkened, and ‘out of the darkness and the dazzle comes … Shaky! He is risen!’ After the Resurrection ‘comes the Ascension’.
The ramp is lowered again and Shaky slowly climbs it to a platform at the back of the stage, where the backdrop suddenly acquires a mirrored surface, reflecting back to the audience their own image, but at a higher level, so that it seems as if Shaky is returning to a heavenly host, their arms raised in hallelujahs.
At last he is really, finally gone. But in the foyer on the way out you can buy a long white scarf with his image imprinted on it.
The essay, too, is over, thank God.
The piece is nonsense. Every variety concert keeps the star to the end. Sinatra doesn’t play to a cold audience in Radio City, he has them warmed up by minor performers. Employees and bouncers are not disciples. Mary Magdalen didn’t throw herself upon Jesus; nor did Jesus gyrate. He fell, he didn’t throw himself down. And so on. The easiest remark to make is that Lodge’s report is in extraordinarily bad taste. Much metaphor is in bad taste, too—think of Donne and Crashaw. But in the poets bad taste works mostly to let the speaker’s devotional passion ride over it. In Lodge’s piece there is no passion, which explains why I have far more time for the teenagers who went to the concert to have a good time than for Lodge, his hands already feeling for the typewriter. But this, too, isn’t decisive. The trouble with metaphoric writing, in criticism, is that there is no producible criterion which corresponds to that of plausibility or probability in metonymic writing. If a realistic novel fails the probability test, it fails. But I’ve never seen an account of metaphor which explains why one metaphor works and another doesn’t: nobody knows, in metaphoric writing, how far you can go.
I haven’t a theory, but I have a preference. The best review essay in Write On seems to me the one on Tanner’s Adultery in the Novel. Of the three novels examined in that book—Rousseau’s Julie, Goethe’s Elective Affinities and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary—Lodge had read only the last when he took on the assignment, so he had to do his homework. The three novels were fresh in his mind, then, when he read Tanner’s book and found his own sense of the fiction sharpened at every point. His review is splendid, independently suggestive as well as dependently informative. Near the end, Lodge makes a point of saying that ‘the richness of the commentary gradually overwhelms the original thesis, and cannot in the end be contained within it.’ I would take this as a good sign, not as a defect. Tanner’s book, Lodge says, ‘does not in the end convince one that there is some kind of homology between the system of bourgeois marriage and the system of the bourgeois novel.’ ‘Homology’ is a structuralist word, introduced by Lucien Goldmann in The Hidden God and Sociology of the Novel to mean a structural similarity between apparently different social and cultural forms. The word has been responsible for many loose comparisons and much invidious sociology, but Fredric Jameson’s pages on it in The Political Unconscious should help to make critics stricter in their use of it. Lodge isn’t strict enough with it in his review of Tanner; or rather, he leaves it unquestioned. But it marks a minor blemish in an otherwise first-rate piece of Lodge’s work.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1595
David Lodge 1935-
(Full name David John Lodge) English novelist, critic, editor, and playwright.
The following entry presents an overview of Lodge's career through 1999.
A highly respected author and critic, Lodge is best known for his intelligent, comic novels, including Changing Places (1975), Small World (1984), and Nice Work (1988). Lodge's fiction typically features beleaguered academics and conflicted Roman Catholics—often a combination of the two. His inventive texts abound with allusions, puns, structural innovations, amusing metaphors, and clever incarnations of literary theory in the lives of his characters. A distinguished scholar of the English novel, Lodge has also produced several major works of literary theory and criticism, including Language of Fiction (1966) and Working with Structuralism (1981).
Born in South London, Lodge was the only child of William Frederick Lodge, a dance band musician, and Rosalie Marie Murphy Lodge, an Irish-Belgian Roman Catholic. Lodge was in London with his parents during the Nazi blitz of 1940, but for most of World War II he and his mother lived in the countryside. At age ten he was enrolled in St. Joseph's Academy, a Catholic grammar school in Blackheath. There Lodge cultivated an intense interest in the Catholic faith, which would later become a cornerstone of his fiction. As part of the first generation of English children to receive free secondary schooling in England, Lodge graduated from St. Joseph's in 1952 and matriculated at University College, London, where he earned a B.A. in English with honors in 1955. After completing two years of national service, he returned to University College to finish his graduate work in English literature, concentrating on Catholic fiction in the years since the Oxford movement. In 1959 Lodge completed his degree and married Mary Frances Jacob, a fellow English student. The next year he published his first work, The Picturegoers. In 1960, Lodge accepted a one-year post teaching literature at the University of Birmingham, and the next year he was appointed to a tenure-track position as assistant lecturer. He rose through the academic ranks becoming Professor of Modern English Literature in 1976. His years at Birmingham were interrupted by a 1969-70 visiting professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. Besides writing satiric reviews for a local repertory company during his early years in Birmingham, Lodge also turned to critical work, publishing Language of Fiction, which became one of the most widely read of all contemporary books about the novel. Lodge followed this success with a series of journal articles and books of criticism that established him as one of the most respected literary theorists in England. His books Graham Greene (1966) and Evelyn Waugh (1971) were written for the Columbia Essays on Modern Writers series. At the suggestion of his friend and fellow academic Malcolm Bradbury, Lodge decided in the early 1960s to write a comic novel, and in this genre, beginning with The British Museum Is Falling Down (1965), Lodge found his true voice. Lodge has received numerous honors for his fiction, including the Hawthornden Prize and Yorkshire Post Fiction Prize for Changing Places, the Whitbread Book of the Year award for How Far Can You Go? (1980), and the Sunday Express Book of the Year award for Nice Work. Both Small World and Nice Work were short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize. Lodge was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1976. He retired from the University of Birmingham in 1987 to concentrate on writing. He has since continued to produce notable works of criticism and several works for television, including an adaptation of Nice Work that aired in 1989 and won the Royal Television Society's award for best drama serial and a Silver Nymph at the 1990 International Television Festival in Monte Carlo.
Lodge's first two novels, The Picturegoers and Ginger, You're Barmy (1962)—the latter of which emerged from Lodge's extreme disaffection with military life—reveal the influence of Catholic novelist Graham Greene on Lodge's work. Out of the Shelter (1970), a semi-autobiographic novel, grew out of Lodge's childhood experiences during World War II and the austerity of England's postwar years. While Lodge's first three novels are works of serious, realistic fiction, his next novel, The British Museum Is Falling Down, is a madcap comedy that established the direction of his subsequent fiction. Strongly influenced by James Joyce, British Museum describes a day in the life of a young Catholic husband struggling to meet expenses while still in graduate school. His protagonist's daydreams parody the style and diction of the novelists he has read during his years of English literature study. This novel was written partly in response to Vatican II, at a time when many young Catholics hoped that the Church's ban on contraception would be rescinded.
In all of Lodge's “campus novels,” he gently mocks his own world of academia, poking fun at professors who cloak themselves in theories of the outside world while never actually experiencing it. Changing Places, the first of these campus novels, pits a charismatic, much-published American academic Morris Zapp against his decidedly timid English counterpart, Philip Swallow. Zapp is a faculty member at Euphoric State University, a thinly disguised Berkeley, while Swallow is on the faculty at the University of Rummidge, Lodge's imaginary Birmingham. Zapp and Swallow briefly exchange academic appointments, cars, homes, and even wives in a switch that results in renewal for both of them. The changes in their lives are mirrored by the text itself; each chapter is written from a different point of view and style, from omniscient narrator to epistolary form to screenplay. How Far Can You Go? follows ten young Catholic characters through twenty-five years of their lives, beginning with their university years. The dramatic changes in the church, from worship and pastoral practice to relations with other faiths, are examined through the lives and experiences of these characters as they attempt to reconcile their sexual needs with their religious beliefs. Small World, a comedy of manners, is concerned with a different kind of desire—that of academic ambition. The novel is structured as a chivalric romance, complete with a quest—an appointment to the Unesco Chair of Literary Criticism, a post that includes a large stipend but no academic responsibilities. The work, in which the Zapp and Swallow characters of Changing Places reappear, abounds with irony, especially in the decidedly unheroic, unchivalric behavior among the herd of academics who traverse the globe attending various literary conferences on topics so arcane that they are the only people in the world who understand them. Nice Work, a combination of campus novel and modern version of the mid-nineteenth-century industrial novel, comments on the condition of both academic and industrial England during the Thatcher years. The work is Lodge's comic interpretation of “town and gown” conflicts, positing a gradual mutual understanding of the two worlds on the part of their respective representatives—a left-wing, feminist junior academic from Rummidge and a local, poorly educated captain of industry.
Paradise News (1991) treads familiar Lodge territory, focusing on themes of religious questioning and sexual dysfunction, this time among a group of British tourists in Hawaii. All the characters, including Bernard Walsh, a laicized priest through whom twenty years of Catholic history is personified, are looking for a paradise they cannot quite define but search for in various, gently comic ways. The title is also a play on the New Testament concept of the good news of the Christian gospel. Therapy (1995) is a droll look at Laurence (Tubby) Passmore, a successful television situation comedy scriptwriter with a pain in his knee that an army of therapists—physical therapist, aromatherapist, cognitive behavior therapist, acupuncturist, platonic mistress—cannot seem to assuage. A self-educated and self-absorbed man, Passmore discovers the works of nineteenth-century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and makes a pilgrimage to his home. Passmore's search for a loving relationship makes for high comedy as well as a comment on the struggle to discover meaning and identity in modern life, a search undertaken in one way or another by nearly all of Lodge's fictional creations. After retiring from his academic post, Lodge continued to produce notable works of criticism, including After Bakhtin (1990), The Art of Fiction (1992), and The Practice of Writing (1996). He has also written several television screenplays and stage dramas, including The Writing Game (1990) and Home Truths (1998).
Lodge is highly regarded for his several campus novels, particularly Changing Places, which first established his popularity. These novels are praised for their wit and intelligence, as well as for the skill with which Lodge presents difficult contemporary literary theory to readers—viewed as a testament to Lodge's impressive erudition. As critics observe, Lodge's ability to deftly contrast opposing personalities, ideologies, and social classes permits him to explore and parody each in turn. Reviewers note that Lodge's humor is never savage; his characters, while bumbling, are portrayed so warmly that even while laughing at them, the reader still likes them. Though primarily recognized for his satirical depictions of the insular academic world, Lodge has been described by some as a “Catholic” novelist—with The British Museum Is Falling Down regarded as his most successful take on this theme. Among his later novels, Paradise News did not fare as well among critics. However, Therapy garnered mixed reviews, with most critics finding moments of brilliance in the work despite elements of contrivance and superficiality. As a literary scholar who has resisted the theoretical claims of post-structuralism, Lodge has won admiration for the clarity and insight of his criticism. Language of Fiction and Working with Structuralism are among Lodge's most significant works in this genre. Lodge has also received praise for his more recent After Bakhtin and The Practice of Writing.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3250
SOURCE: “The British Museum Is Falling Down: Or Up From Realism,” in The Dialogic Novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge, Southern Illinois University, 1989, pp. 132-41.
[In the following essay, Morace discusses Lodge's parody of Catholic sexuality and his sophisticated use of literary allusions in The British Museum Is Falling Down. Morace notes that in this postmodern novel Lodge debunks the authority of the Catholic Church and literary convention, particularly that of realism, to great comic effect.]
The British Museum Is Falling Down is another of Lodge’s double novels—double not in its structure (as in the case of Ginger, You’re Barmy) but in its very texture. On the one hand the novel tells the comic story of a day in the life of twenty-five-year-old Adam Appleby, a post-graduate student who knows he will not finish his thesis—on the long sentence in three modern English novels—before his scholarship runs out. Worse, and funnier, as his academic prospects dwindle, his alphabetical family (Adam, Barbara, Clare, Dominic, and Edward) continues to increase, the children being the fruits, or rather by-products, of the rhythm method that he and Barbara, as believing Catholics, continue to practice. On the other hand, The British Museum is a post-Sot-Weed Factor but pre-Lost in the Funhouse instance of the literature of exhaustion, English style: a parodic collage in the guise of a seamless comic realistic novel. While early reviewers tended to overlook the novel’s parodic side, later readers run the risk of making the opposite mistake and of thus failing to realize that in Lodge’s third novel, realism and parody, life and literature, feed on and reflect each other, creating a comical but nonetheless disturbing confusion of realms. Adam Appleby is certainly confused even though he is able to theorize about the very condition that besets him throughout the novel: “Novelists,’” he says, “‘are using up experience at a dangerous rate.’” In prenovelistic times, literature was chiefly allegorical and fantastical; thus there was little danger of confusing literature with life. But novels deal with ordinary people in ordinary ways and have, Adam contends, “‘just about exhausted the possibilities of life. So all of us, you see, are really enacting events that have already been written about in some novel or other. Of course, most people don’t realise this—they fondly imagine that their little lives are unique. … Just as well, too, because once you do tumble to it, the effect is very disturbing’” (129–130). Although Barbara calls his idea “cracked,” the novel explores—and exploits—the narrative possibilities of this and other “jokey relations” (“David Lodge Interviewed” 110), including the one between the novel’s two epigraphs, Oscar Wilde’s deadpan claim that “life imitates art” and Samuel Johnson’s contention that although he has “fear enough” to be a Catholic, “an obstinate rationality prevents me.”
One way to approach the relationship between the epigraphs (and what they suggest about the rest of the novel) is to consider briefly the general context in which the work was conceived and composed. Part of this context is religious: the convening of Vatican II and, a few years later, a Pontifical Commission whose task it was to investigate the Church’s teaching on birth control. Taken together, they held out to many Catholics—Lodge among them—the promise that a liberalizing of the Church’s ban on all forms of artificial birth control was imminent. Of equal importance is the novel’s literary context. Begun in England, the novel was chiefly written in the United States during the 1964–65 academic year that Lodge spent there with his family, studying, touring, and in general enjoying the “stimulating and liberating effect of the American experience” (“Introduction” 1). His liberation as a writer had in a sense already begun some three years earlier when Malcolm Bradbury joined the University of Birmingham English Department and began to convince Lodge of the liberating possibilities of literary comedy. Together with Jim Duckett, they wrote a satirical revue, Between the Four Walls, and Lodge began The British Museum, which he would later dedicate to Bradbury, “whose fault it mostly is that I have tried to write a comic novel.” The British Museum is, however, not simply a comic novel but a comically parodic novel which evidences Lodge the novelist’s indebtedness to Lodge the critic. Just prior to beginning his third novel, Lodge had completed his first critical study, Language of Fiction; the close analysis of language in the one facilitated the writing of the parodic passages in the other, as Lodge has himself explained (“David Lodge Interviewed” 110). There is, however, another “jokey relation” worth mentioning: the one that pits the high seriousness of the critical enterprise against the decrowning vitality of Lodge’s comic fiction.
“Comedy is based on contrast, on incongruity” (Lodge, Language 250), and The British Museum Is Falling Down involves exposing and exploiting this incongruity, both overtly and covertly. Looking back at the earliest period of the Applebys’ marriage, the narrator claims: “For three anxious months they had survived. Unfortunately, Barbara’s ovulation seemed to occur late in her monthly cycle, and their sexual relations were forced into a curious pattern: three weeks of patient graph-plotting, followed by a few nights of frantic love-making, which rapidly petered out in exhaustion and renewed suspense. This behaviour was known as Rhythm and was in accordance with the Natural Law” (14). By exploiting the discrepancy between the mechanical methods and the Church’s designation of it as the Natural Law, Lodge explodes the baselessness of that “rage for consistency” (“Introduction” 2) that he feels then characterized British (and American) Catholicism, producing in the process his own artfully inconsistent, early postmodernist text. Adam Appleby “revolts” against “still repose,” “physical restraint,” and “the sedation of routine,” including that of the rhythm method (40, 55). Lodge achieves a similar if more effective and more self-conscious narrative revolution by carnivalizing his text in an effort to undermine the monological seriousness of various forms of authority. “On all sides a babble of academic conversation dinned in his [Adam’s] ears,” Lodge writes in a chapter that is itself a parody of the “sherry party” scene found in many campus novels, including Eating People Is Wrong (136). Rather than merely noting the “babble,” Lodge records it—records that is, the brief and entirely unrelated snippets from the conversations of various unidentified speakers. This “babble” reflects on the micro-level the general structure of the entire novel: a concatenation of voices transformed into a seemingly sequential and apparently seamless narrative. Lodge is able to carnivalize so adroitly because he cannibalizes so well. The novel comprises a multitude of literary allusions and lengthy parodies of individual authors—Conrad, Greene, Hemingway, James, Joyce, Kafka, Lawrence, Woolf, C. P. Snow, and Baron Corvo—as well as of literary schools. The novel devours and adapts not only literary authors, styles, and works at a bewildering rate, but literary and subliterary forms as well, including newspaper reports, advertising jingles, encyclopedia entries, unpublished manuscripts, plot summaries, letters to the editor, and slapstick comedy. To compound matters, Lodge’s novel has as its main character not only a postgraduate English student who feels—or finds—that most of his life has been “annexed” by literature (82), but one who is himself given to parody.
As even this brief summary makes clear, the resemblances between Lodge’s slim, seemingly conventional realistic novel and Joyce’s mammoth literary museum of densely textured modernist prose, Ulysses, are considerable even if on a first reading they are not entirely obvious. As Dennis Jackson has usefully explained, “like Leopold Bloom, Adam … becomes increasingly disoriented as his day progresses, and his perceptions of life around him become increasingly phantasmagoric. Like Bloom also, Lodge’s hero keeps his mind constantly fixed … on his home and his wife; he suffers because of his religion: and he has fantasies of grandeur (which, like Bloom’s, are always followed by some sort of comic diminution” (473–474). Jackson’s summary of the “explicit parallels” between these two works—including the parodies and the concluding soliloquies of Molly Bloom and Barbara Appleby—attest to the extent of Joyce’s influence on Lodge. I suspect, however, that behind these “explicit parallels” lies a deeper and perhaps darker reason for Lodge’s intense interest in Joyce’s iconoclastic art. The novel’s incessant and shifting parodic play delights Lodge’s knowing reader who (unlike Joyce’s) has little difficulty in subordinating the parodically disruptive surface to the forward movement of conventional narrative. Yet the parodic, disruptive play does disturb insofar as it intrudes, however subtly and smilingly, a note of uncertainty into a text that is otherwise easily read and readily consumed. If the Catholic novelist whose spirit broods over Ginger, You’re Barmy is Graham Greene, then in The British Museum it is Joyce, and therein lies the important difference between these two works. The novel’s parodic, Joycean style (and structure) serves multiple purposes. Since “Adam works not only literally but figuratively in Bloomsbury’s shadow,” Lodge’s parodies are, as Robert Burden has pointed out, entirely “consistent with the novel’s fundamental realism” (141). The novel’s parodic style may thus be read as “a mimetically justified device” which, Bradbury has claimed, Lodge uses “to expose and explore the literariness of the main character and his problems of self-definition” (179). (Whether the novel is as fundamentally realistic as Burden and Bradbury claim is, however, open to question.) The parodies also enabled Lodge to transform critical theory into narrative art. He could draw on his study of the language of fiction and yet at the same time distance himself from a character made in the author’s own image, or, rather, in caricature of that image. (Adam’s thesis on “The Long Sentence in Three Modern English Novels,” for example, may be read as a reductio ad absurdum of Language of Fiction.) As Lodge explains in Language of Fiction, “it is characteristic of such novels [as Tristram Shandy and Pale Fire] that the central figure is himself a writer [Adam, too, plans to write a novel], often with autobiographical reference, that there is a lot of parody, many literary jokes, and much discussion of literary questions, and that in this way the author is able to gain a surprising distance on his own literary identity” (261). Further, like Adam Appleby, Lodge felt the weight of the literary past and as a result chose to turn the novel into “a kind of joke on myself” (“David Lodge Interviewed” 110), an act of comic revenge. It was “a way of coping with what … Harold Bloom has called ‘Anxiety of Influence’—in the sense that every young writer must have of the daunting weight of the literary tradition he has inherited, the necessity and yet seeming impossibility of doing something in writing that has not been done before” (“Introduction” 4–5). Just as Adam feels at the end of his road, his options all used up, so Lodge apparently felt. The British Museum is, therefore, his literature of exhaustion, his way of moving ahead by moving back, of demystifying the literary past by parodying it.
The British Museum Is Falling Down undermines authority at virtually every level. This is especially obvious in Lodge’s wickedly funny parodies of Lawrence (pp. 50–51), Hemingway (pp. 108–112), and James (pp. 115–118), in which he effectively underscores the least attractive features of their writing. Even the epigraphs which precede each of the novel’s ten chapters contribute to the general sense of comic leveling and carnivalistic play. Lodge places various figures and even objects of authority—Carlyle and Ruskin, for example, as well as government statutes and the British Museum Catalogue—in a decidedly humorous light by excerpting their words in such a way as to deprive them of their serious context (and content). Carlyle, for example, is made to do a comic turn: “I believe there are several persons in a state of imbecility who come to read in the British Museum. I have been informed that there are several in that state who are sent there by their friends to pass away their time” (61). And Yeats metamorphoses into a clownish wimp, a literary Mr. Peepers: “I spent my days at the British Museum, and must, I think, have been very delicate, for I remember often putting off hour after hour consulting some necessary book because I shrank from lifting the heavy volumes of the catalogue” (78). Arundell Esdaile, identified as a “former secretary to the British Museum,” contributes an item which, given Adam’s preoccupation with sex and birth control, takes on intertextual meanings that the former secretary must never have intended: “Free or open access can hardly be practised in so large a library as this” (96). The general breakdown of authority extends further, for Lodge depicts all of the novel’s fathers, husbands, priests, department heads, literary executors, landladies, firemen, even telephone operators—anyone, in short, in any position of authority whatsoever—as incompetent bumblers.
The anxiety of influence that Lodge felt so acutely and managed to turn to comic advantage is, however, itself double: literary and religious. The two merge to a considerable extent in the tradition of the Catholic novel in which Lodge necessarily works and to which he has devoted a good deal of his time as a critic: a doctoral dissertation on the subject as well as pamphlet-length studies of Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Since the Catholic novel, as Lodge defines it, is “concerned with the operation of God’s grace in the world, with a conflict between secular and divine values in which the latter are usually allowed an ironic and unexpected triumph” (Evelyn Waugh 30), it is clear that The British Museum represents how far Lodge has departed from the very tradition which Waugh, Greene, and others found congenial but which Lodge considers outmoded. Lodge undermines the authority of his sources, including the Catholic novelist (here represented by the prissy hypocrite, Egbert Merrymarsh, a Chesterbelloc clone), by carnivalizing them; in this way he establishes his own authority by evidencing his technical mastery of their styles, forms, subjects, and voices. The British Museum can be described, therefore, as a Barth-like virtuoso performance that serves to establish Lodge’s credibility as a writer and, equally important, at a time when the debate “about authority and conscience” provoked by the birth control issue was just getting under way, his credibility as an individual Catholic able to make his own moral (as well as aesthetic) decisions.
In “The Novel Interrogates Itself: Parody as Self-Consciousness in Contemporary English Fiction,” Robert Burden points out that while Lodge and Angus Wilson use parody and pastiche “for comic purposes … their burlesque and mimicry include serious concerns about the form of the novel” (154)—and, I would add, about contemporary moral matters as well. Writing specifically of Wilson’s novel, No Laughing Matter, however, Bradbury makes a point that also seems to apply equally well to The British Museum: “These modes of ambiguity and distortion, parody and pastiche, make it hard [for the reader] to discover the authentic register of the novel; there is a decided stabilization of the text in the latter half, but it is an evolution itself somewhat disturbing, since it involves a reduction of rhetorical energy” (Possibilities 228). Despite the verbal energy of the Molly Bloom-like soliloquy with which Lodge’s novel concludes, something similar can be said about The British Museum, not because the novel is flawed in its form (the charge Bradbury levels against No Laughing Matter) but because Lodge’s aesthetic (as well as the aesthetic integrity of his novel) requires such restraint. This restraint is, in fact, built into his aesthetic and extends to his parodic technique, which not only undermines the authority of his sources but paradoxically validates and even pays homage to them as well. Lodge’s dialogically divided attitude towards parody accounts for why on the one hand he worried that the parodies in The British Museum would alienate some readers and on the other he wanted a blurb to appear on the dust jacket alerting readers to their presence. (It was a suggestion his publisher rejected, leaving readers and, especially, reviewers free to overlook the parodies, as they indeed did, much to Lodge’s dismay.) Lodge understood what his parodic method implied and so attempted to steer a middle course, both aesthetically and religiously. He wanted to write a parodic novel, but not one that would go quite so far as those written by the more gleefully apocalyptic—especially American—writers of the sixties and early seventies with which Lodge was then becoming acquainted. Similarly, he wanted to write a comic novel about the Catholic Church’s teaching on birth control that would not go so far as to actually challenge the Church’s authority. At that time it would have been impossible to challenge the Church in one area without challenging the Church’s authority altogether. Yet, Lodge’s later disclaimers notwithstanding, such a challenge to the Church’s monologic authority is precisely what his parodic technique implies.
For all its parodic humor and energy, The British Museum is a serious fiction about a latter-day poor forked creature, a young Old Adam who finds that his life has been usurped, or “annexed,” by fiction, including the fiction of the Natural Method, which as both Adam and Barbara realize, is quite unnatural. The Church reduces sex to simple monologue, but as Barbara points out in her soliloquy, sex is in fact a complicated matter. What the Church preaches abstractly is not what individual Catholics are able to actually practice. Finding a workable sexual policy may be considerably more difficult than trying to find a workable definition of the “the long sentence.” As Barbara says at one point in her long sentence, the one with which the novel concludes, “there’s always a snag perhaps that’s the root of the matter there’s something about sex perhaps it’s original sin I don’t know but we’ll never get it neatly tied up you think you’ve got it under control in one place it pops up in another either it’s comic or tragic nobody’s immune” (174). Appearing twenty times in the final two pages, Barbara’s cautionary “perhaps” echoes her husband’s similar uncertainty. Asked by some liberal Catholics what it is he wants, Adam says that he doesn’t know, though he does “suppose” that no one “really wants to use contraceptives. … They’re not things you can work up much affection for” (70). And one hundred pages later Barbara makes precisely the same point: “there’s something a bit offputting about contraceptives” (174). Each understands that while contraception may be necessary, it cannot solve a problem that is essentially religious rather than biological. There can be no adequate monological solutions to concrete dialogical problems. Similarly, The British Museum has no uniform monological style, but is instead a dialogue of styles, a mulligan stew. Taken together or individually, they stand in opposition to what Adam at one point disparagingly refers to as the “style of high-minded generality” (68). Thus it is fitting that this novel which seems to be “about” Adam Appleby should end with his wife’s soliloquy. It ends, that is, with a voice which echoes Molly Bloom’s (as well at times as Adam’s) but that is nonetheless her own, syntactically and sexually different from all the voices that have preceded it, closing and so completing The British Museum, yet at the same time disrupting it, opening it up and, “perhaps,” out.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 195
The Picturegoers (novel) 1960
Ginger, You're Barmy (novel) 1962
Between These Four Walls [with Malcolm Bradbury and James Duckett] (drama) 1963
The British Museum Is Falling Down (novel) 1965
Slap in the Middle [with James Duckett and David Turner] (drama) 1965
Graham Greene (criticism) 1966
Language of Fiction: Essays in Criticism and Verbal Analysis of the English Novel (criticism) 1966
Out of the Shelter (novel) 1970
Evelyn Waugh (criticism) 1971
The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism (criticism) 1971
Twentieth Century Literary Criticism: A Reader [editor] (criticism) 1972
Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses (novel) 1975
The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy, and the Typology of Modern Literature (criticism) 1977
How Far Can You Go? (novel) 1980
Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Literature (criticism) 1981
Small World: An Academic Romance (novel) 1984
Write On: Occasional Essays (criticism) 1986
Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader [editor] (criticism) 1988
Nice Work (novel) 1988
After Bakhtin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism (criticism) 1990
The Writing Game: A Comedy (drama) 1990
Paradise News: A Novel (novel) 1991
The Art of Fiction: Illustrated from Classic and Modern Texts (criticism) 1992
Therapy: A Novel (novel) 1995
The Practice of Writing: Essays, Lectures, Reviews, and a Diary (criticism) 1996
Home Truths (drama) 1998
Home Truths (novella) 2000
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 552
SOURCE: “Mocking Absurdities in British Industry,” in Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 1989, p. 11.
[In the following review, Tirrell offers a positive assessment of Nice Work.]
When Vic Wilcox, managing director of J. Pringle & Sons, awakens on Monday, Jan. 13, 1986, he is unaware that his world is about to be turned, slowly but irrevocably, upside down.
Under the auspices of a government-concocted program for “Industry Year,” he will acquire a “shadow”—an academic from the local university whose job it will be to follow him about once a week, thus fostering understanding between industry and academia. So begins Nice Work, David Lodge’s witty novel of British industry today, and winner of the £20,000 (＄34,800) Sunday Express Book of the Year Award.
Naturally, since this is a David Lodge book, the “shadow” is the very antithesis of the rough and ready Vic. An ardent feminist, Robyn Penrose—the shadow—is a theory-spouting leftist lecturer of English literature, who views the Victorian novelist as “a capitalist of the imagination.” It’s a simple case of loathing at first sight for each of them.
Lodge uses this forced relationship to illustrate the canyon of ignorance that divides the industrial world from the ivory tower and to expose the prejudices that buttress this separateness.
Robyn is an expert on the Victorian industrial novel. But she has insulated herself from the harsh realities of the industrial world, substituting Freudian and deconstructionist analyses for a true or even superficial understanding of life in a factory. Her venture into Pringle’s machine shop and foundry is for her comparable to Dante’s descent into the inferno.
“This space rang with the most barbaric noise Robyn had ever experienced,” Lodge writes. “Her first instinct was to cover her ears, but she soon realized that it was not going to get any quieter, and let her hands fall to her sides. … Here and there the open doors of furnaces glowed a dangerous red, and in the far corner of the building what looked like a stream of molten lava trickled down a curved channel from roof to floor. … To Robyn’s eye it resembled nothing so much as a medieval painting of hell—though it was hard to say whether the workers looked more like devils or the damned.”
While Nice Work offers a pithy assessment of the manifold challenges facing British industry today, the author never loses his sense of fun or his sense of the ridiculous. Whether he is speaking of the city types pushing paper for fun, the academics indulging in psychobabble, or the measurements of corporate success, he mocks these absurdities without resorting to cynicism. Though Lodge often writes in the present tense, his use of it never becomes an irritant. Nor does he shy away from vulgar working-class reality.
Like Thomas Hardy, who created the mythical kingdom of Wessex in which to set his novels, David Lodge has invented the mythical city of Rummidge, which is modeled on Manchester. And there the similarity between them ends.
Or does it? Like Hardy, Lodge addresses himself to the particular issues of his age. But unlike Hardy, Lodge writes books that will delight even as they inform. When the Sunday Express panel of judges called Nice Work stylishly written and eminently readable, they weren’t wrong. That’s exactly what it is.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5396
SOURCE: “The Professor's Novel: David Lodge's Small World,” in MLN, Vol. 104, No. 3, April, 1989, pp. 713-26.
[In the following essay, Mews discusses Lodge's development of the “campus novel” genre in Small World, noting parallels to his earlier work, Changing Places. According to Mews, Lodge's version of the campus novel is international rather than local in scope, and its satire belies serious questions concerning the significance of literary criticism among its academic practitioners.]
Although often proclaimed dead, the British “University Novel” and the American “Campus Novel” or “College Novel”—these terms are used synonymously by critics—seem to be in vigorous health. The somewhat recent and diverse additions to the hundreds of extant titles such as Amanda Cross’s (i.e., Carolyn Heilbrun) detective cum feminist novel, Death in a Tenured Position (1981), Robertson Davies’s intriguing tale of murder and a missing manuscript by the seventeenth-century poet Andreas Gryphius, The Rebel Angels (1982), and last but not least, David Lodge’s Small World (1984) attest to the continuing popularity of campus fiction.
In contrast to Great Britain, the United States, and Canada, there is no indigenous campus novel in the German-speaking countries—owing primarily to the absence until very recently in the German university system of a campus. In fact, what might be called the German equivalent of the campus novel, the Professorenroman, a minor genre that enjoyed a brief flourishing during the second half of the nineteenth century, is defined in terms of the authors’ profession rather than the subject matter and setting of the novels. Thus we are faced with the curious paradox that one of the very few examples of a genuine German campus novel, Martin Walser’s Brandung (1985; translated as Breakers, 1987), takes place on an American campus on the West Coast.1
The most common denominator of campus fiction is then that it “incorporates an institution of higher learning as a crucial part of its total setting and … includes, among its principal characters, graduate or undergraduate students, faculty members, administrators, and/or other academic personnel.”2 Despite the obvious limitations of such a definition that proceeds from a strictly sociological approach and ignores, for example, narrative aspects altogether, there is a pronounced dearth of definitions elucidating the generic features of campus fiction. Admittedly, such definition would constitute a daunting task in view of the overabundance and dazzling variety of campus novels that range from those of predominantly local interest—e.g., Garret Weyr’s Pretty Girls (1988), a novel that takes place in the undergraduate milieu at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—to fictional distillations of the philosophical, religious, and political debates at the beginning of “modernism”—e.g., Terry Eagleton’s Saints and Scholars (1987).
Although, strictly speaking, the latter novel is not a representative sample of campus fiction, it does pertain to the category of “Critifiction”3 that is penned by critics and professors of literature who consciously endeavor to combine (critical) theory and (fictional) practice by engaging in the production of both sorts of texts. One of the chief—and popular—practitioners of the novel that is both inspired and informed by critical theory is David Lodge, Professor of Modern English Literature at the University of Birmingham. Notably his campus novel Small World (1984)4 felicitously combines the divergent demands of prodesse et delectare; it offers both easy readability and the discussion of serious issues in contemporary criticism in highly entertaining fashion.
Lodge’s metafictional stance is evident in a playful passage that indicates his departure from the conventional campus novel with its geographically limited setting and, at the same time, defines his own contribution, that is, the internationalization of the genre. In a conversation with the wife of a colleague Lodge’s protagonist, the irrepressible American English professor Morris Zapp elucidates the new state of affairs:
“That’s how it is in the academic world these days. … The day of the single, static campus is over.”
“And the single, static campus novel with it … ?”
“Exactly! Even two campuses wouldn’t be enough. …”
Technical innovations such as Xerox machines, direct long-distance dialing—the electronic campus does not yet appear in the novel—and jet travel as well as the funding of research projects through foundations have resulted in fundamental changes in the system of scholarly communication and in the way research is conducted, Zapp claims. Hence the international conference rather than the individual campus and its library are the proper habitat for the scholar of the eighties. Needless to say, Lodge has his figure Zapp indulge in a considerable degree of wishful thinking—particularly with regard to the financing of research and travel in the humanities.
According to Zapp the small world of the global campus has then replaced not only the “single, static campus” and given rise to a new type of campus novel; “even two campuses” and their “tale” “wouldn’t be enough” to adequately render the current situation in academic—an oblique reference to Lodge’s novel Changing Places (1975), subtitled A Tale of Two Campuses.5Changing Places offers a more precise point of departure for a reading of Lodge’s multi-campus novel Small World within the context of the author’s theory and practice than the unspecific allusion to the single-campus novel.
Changing Places employs a contrastive perspective by depicting the triumphs and tribulations of two professors of English Literature. The aforementioned Morris Zapp and Philip Swallow—who also reappears in Small World—serve brief stints as guest professors at each other’s home institutions in the course of a faculty exchange program. The Englishman Swallow is transferred from the drab red-brick university with the fictive name of Rummidge, patterned after Birmingham, to glittery Euphoria, state university of a state that has a conservative governor, the former actor Ronald Duck. Other clues allow us to identify Euphoric State University with Berkeley—as the ironic name suggests, an institution that, in contrast to stagnating Rummidge, exudes a spirit of progressive, future-oriented confidence.
The polarity that is evident in the contrastive pattern of the two institutions and the value system they both represent and try to instill in their students forms the underlying structure of the novel. The polarity can be extended to include the respective societies as a whole: “Alles was englisch ist, erscheint in gewisser Weise zweitklassig, abgenutzt, stagnierend und altmodisch, wo[bei] alles Amerikanische als erstklassig, funktionell, vorwärtsstrebend und modern dargestellt wird.”6 Conversely, the seemingly antiquated British system is distinguished by its tolerance of sometimes eccentric individualism and the relatively independent functioning of its parts; America is negatively depicted as a ruthless society governed by the law of the survival of the fittest and given to uncritical adoration of efficiency and technical progress at the cost of humanitarian considerations.7
Yet the novel suggests that the reconciliation of the two systems is within the realm of possibilities—at least on an individual basis—via the gradual and difficult process of assimilation that both Swallow and Zapp undergo in their respective new environments and that culminates in their seriously entertaining the notion of permanently remaining at their respective host institutions. As typical representatives of their institutions and educational systems Swallow and Zapp also espouse widely divergent notions concerning literature and literary theory; Swallow appears as a quaint dilettante in comparison to the hard-nosed professional star and Jane Austen specialist Zapp. “Swallow was a man with a genuine love of literature in all its diverse forms. He was as happy with Beowulf as with Virginia Woolf, with Waiting for Godot as with Gammer Gurton’s Needle”; his “undiscriminating enthusiasm” extends even to the reading of “the backs of cornflakes packets” (17) but has resulted in the almost total lack of publications. On the other hand, Zapp, a kind of academic Wunderkind, “had published articles in PMLA while still in graduate school” and “had published five fiendishly clever books” (15). And it is ultimately Zapp who expounds the author’s concept of literature when, in “a little high-powered exposition” (214), he elaborates on the difference between Eros and Agape as the constitutive semantic structural elements in the later novels of Jane Austen, a difference that is expressed on the surface level of the text in social events on the one hand and private encounters on the other. Zapp’s exposition points towards the essentially structuralist orientation of Lodge who holds
that literature is an open category in the sense that you can, in theory, put any kind of discourse into it—but only on condition that such discourse has something in common with the discourse you cannot take out of it: the something being a structure which either indicates the fictionality of a text or enables a text to be read as if it were fictional.8
Lodge’s emphasis on the interdependence of authorial intentionality and established conventions of reading/interpretation that must take into account narrative structure—“The paradigms of fiction are essentially the same whatever the medium. Words or images, it makes no difference at the structural level,” Zapp echoes Lodge (pp. 250–51)9—implies that the overall “meaning” of a text can be ascertained (even though it is not necessarily self-evident) and need not be endlessly deferred. Hence Lodge, who sees “the practice of writing” as “an oscillation … between polarized clusters of attitudes and techniques: modernist, symbolist or mythopoeic, writerly [Barthes’s scriptible] and metaphoric on the one hand; antimodernist, realistic, readerly [Barthes’s lisible] and metonymic on the other,”10 clearly pertains to the broadly defined mimetic realistic tradition whose practitioners share the “assumption that there is a common phenomenal world that may be reliably described by the methods of empirical history.”11
Thus Changing Places features an omniscient narrator who from his “privileged narrative altitude (higher than that of any jet) [in which Swallow and Zapp reach their destinations]” (8) appraises the reader with Fieldinguesque irony of the fortunes and misfortunes of the two protagonists in this “duplex chronicle” (7) that, as Lodge put it in a different context, adheres to “the traditional narrative structures of chronological succession and logical cause-and-effect.”12 Yet, confronted with the breakdown of the barriers between the private and the public spheres effected by the student movement of the late sixties, at the end of the novel Swallow bids farewell to realistic fiction:
Our generation—we subscribe to the old liberal doctrine of the inviolate self. It’s the great tradition of realistic fiction, it’s what novels are all about. The private life in the foreground, history a distant rumble of gunfire, somewhere offstage. In Jane Austen not even a rumble. Well, the novel is dying, and us with it.
Swallow’s assessment of the prospects of the realistic novel in the wake of the student movement that he has witnessed at Euphoric State University—whose model Berkeley did, indeed, provide ample opportunity for observing students in action—and in which he has participated to some extent expresses Lodge’s view that the greatest “achievement of the nineteenth-century realistic novel” is the maintenance of a delicate balance between the private and the public, the novelists’ “rendering of an individual’s experience … while at the same time [the reader is] aware of a reality, a history, that is larger and more complex than [that] individual … can comprehend.”13 The students endeavor to change reality and to make history, Lodge suggests via his figure Swallow; hence “larger” reality and history are now in the foreground—they occupy center stage and have relegated private, individual affairs and concerns, the stuff of which realistic novels are made, to the wings.
As we know, the student movement did not do irreparable harm to the novel. In fact, even those who militantly proclaimed the “death of literature” and regarded literature as socio-politically irrelevant, surreptitiously continued their literary pursuits—for example, Hans Magnus Enzensberger—or used the medium of the realistic novel to retrospectively reflect upon their experiences in the movement—for example, Peter Schneider in Lenz (1973).14
A more significant challenge to realistic fiction and its appreciation is posed by recent, poststructuralist developments in literary theory and criticism inasmuch as such critics tend to exclude the realistic novel “from the palace of art because of its naive pretensions to represent reality in its content.”15 While there is no direct cause-and-effect relationship between the preferences of literary critics on the one hand and the mode of literary production on the other, the institutionalization of poststructuralism in departments of literature particularly in this country and the propensity of modern and postmodern writers to engage in metafictional writing—a propensity that is especially pronounced in writers who also happen to be academics—does not provide an intellectual climate favorable to the reception of realistic fiction in the literary and academic market place. Conversely, as Gerald Graff expects, poststructuralist literary theory may lose its impact by the very process of institutionalization that is likely to result in assimilation via marginalization. That is, in literature departments organized along the lines of field coverage or areas of specialization there is a good chance that literary theory will become “yet another special field—a status that encourages it to be just the sort of self-promoting and exclusionary activity its enemies denounce it for being.”16
At any rate, it is precisely the controversy generated by recent literary theory that Lodge, the writer and critic, addresses in Small World. To put this controversy in perspective, it may be useful to be reminded that “only very recently … the term ‘literary theory’ has come to be associated with an assault on tradition” and, furthermore, that its “potential cultural relevance has remained invisible to outsiders.”17 Although it would seem from the latter observation that the relevance of Small World is restricted to academic insiders, such initial impression may have to be revised in the course of the following reading.
The presumable death of the realistic novel that is proclaimed in Changing Places may be the reason for the exploration of a different mode of writing in Lodge’s second campus novel. The subtitle of Small World, “An Academic Romance,” indicates that he resorted to an older narrative form that is not bound by “the very minute fidelity” (Hawthorne) demanded of realistic fiction; actually, Lodge quotes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s preface to The House of Seven Gables to justify his creation of a plot abounding with strange coincidences and quasi-miraculous happenings that severely test the reader’s suspension of disbelief: “When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume had he professed to be writing a Novel” (epigraph).
Lodge provides further broad hints as to the literary patterns he follows. In the dialogue referred to above, Zapp remarks:
“… Scholars these days are like the errant knights of old, wandering the ways of the world in search of adventure and glory.”
“Leaving their wives locked up at home?”
“Well, a lot of the wives are women, these days. There’s positive discrimination at the Round Table.”
The scholars’ worldly quest is overshadowed by that of the young, innocent Irish Catholic Persse McGarrigle, whose first name does, of course, suggest Percival or Parzival. The grail is largely devoid of Christian connotations, however, owing to Lodge’s appropriation of the main argument in Jessie L. Weston’s study From Ritual to Romance: “… the quest for the Holy Grail, associated with the Arthurian knights, was only superficially a Christian legend, and … its true meaning was to be sought in pagan fertility ritual. … It all comes down to sex, in the end. … The life force endlessly renewing itself” (12).
The devoutly religious McGarrigle, author of an M.A. thesis on T. S. Eliot and familiar with Weston’s work as a source for The Waste Land, elaborates on the various meanings the grail has assumed: “I suppose everyone is looking for his own Grail. For Eliot it was religious faith, but for another it might be fame, or the love of a good woman” (12). Persse’s grail is “the love of a good woman”; at a conference at the University of Rummidge—familiar from Changing Places—he has fallen in love, head over heels, with beautiful and intelligent but elusive Angelica. As a modern knight errant he follows her from conference to conference all over the global campus without being able to catch up with her—until he believes to have found both her and happiness at the conference of conferences, the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association in New York City.
Before enjoying sexual pleasure truly innocent Persse has to accomplish another task that is prefigured in the Arthurian romances. The grail that the international academic stars who assemble at the MLA conference covet is the UNESCO Chair of Literary Criticism. Endowed with a tax-free annual salary of ＄100,000—perhaps no longer an awesome sum in view of the recent decline of the once almighty dollar—it imposes virtually no obligations on the holder: “no students to teach, no papers to grade, no committees to chair” (121)—in short, an academic’s dream. The committee that is to select the appointee is chaired by Arthur Kingfisher as the name suggests, “king among literary theorists” (119). Kingfisher, however, has been suffering from both sexual and intellectual impotence for a number of years, has avoided taking a stand in the debate of deconstruction versus “traditional humanist scholarship,” and has been repeating things he said “‘twenty, thirty years ago, and said better’” (119). Like Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, Persse, sexually pure and unencumbered by knowledge of the latest developments in critical theory, ends the suffering of the king, that is, Kingfisher the Fisher King, according to Weston, “the very heart and centre of the whole mystery [of the Divine principle of Life and Fertility].”18 Listening to the sterile debate of the chief contenders for the UNESCO Chair at the MLA conference—an enthusiastic book lover of the old school, a structuralist, a practitioner of reception theory, a feminist Marxist, and a deconstructionist—Kingfisher suffers from boredom and fatigue. But he visibly recovers from his suffering when Persse asks the decisive question that suggests “that what matters in the field of critical practice is not truth but difference” (319). Although Persse seems to unwittingly embrace a Derridaian deconstructionist position by emphasizing both spatial difference and temporal postponement of presence, the novel itself does not necessarily lend itself to such a reading.
For the MLA conference essentially signifies closure in that an almost general happy end ensues. The novel, which began in the month of April in Rummidge whose inclement weather recalls the first line of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land—“April is the cruellest month” (3)—rather than the sweet April showers and zephyr from the Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that compels modern scholars to embark on their pleasurable pilgrimages to conferences, comes full cycle in December. Yet in conformity with the pattern outlined in Weston’s study, suddenly spring breaks out in wintry New York. As an unmistakable sign of the renewal of the life force Kingfisher regains his sexual potency; moreover, he reestablishes his rule over the realm of literary criticism when he is appointed to the much-coveted UNESCO Chair. His domestic bliss is complete when he is reunited with his long-lost twin daughters, voluptuous but virtuous Angelica and Lily, a sexually promiscuous Lilith rather than an innocent lily. The miraculous weather change has beneficial effects for others as well; for example, it stimulates the creative forces of two writers who had long been suffering from writer’s block.
It appears then that Lodge, despite the disavowal of the realistic novel in Changing Places, has retained its closed form. But the originator of all this happiness, Persse, participates in it only to a limited degree. To be sure, he finds sexual fulfillment: “He parted her thighs like the leaves of a book, and stared into the crack, the crevice, the deep romantic chasm that was the ultimate goal of his quest” (325)—albeit with the wrong woman, his beloved Angelica’s look-alike twin sister. As a result of his disappointment, Persse sets out on another quest for a new sweetheart who appears in an “aura of infinite desirability” before his mind’s eye (332).
After all, as the hero of a romance that is filled to the brim with literary allusions and disquisitions on literary theory, Persse acts in accordance with the definition of romance provided by learned Angelica. This definition proceeds from the Derridean coinage “invagination” and the Barthesian “close connection between narrative and sexuality, between the pleasure of the body and the ‘pleasure of the text’” and describes the narrative structure of romance in explicit sexual imagery:
Romance … has not one climax but many, the pleasure of this text comes and comes and comes again. No sooner is one crisis in the fortunes of the hero averted than a new one presents itself; no sooner has one mystery been solved than another is raised; no sooner has one adventure been concluded than another begins. The narrative questions open and close, … like the contractions of the vaginal muscles in intercourse, and this process is in principle endless. The greatest and most characteristic romances are often unfinished—they end only with the author’s exhaustion, as a woman’s capacity for orgasm is limited only by her physical stamina. Romance is multiple orgasm.”
The “in principle endless” continuation of romance—exemplified by the illusory goal that Persse hopes to find in the “deep romantic chasm”—is based on, as Patricia Parker formulates, the contradictory impulses of romance, “its quest for, and simultaneous distancing of, an end or presence.”19 To the reader romance may appear, as Angelica—both heroine in and reader/critic of romance—remarks in a different context, as “narrative striptease, the endless leading on of the reader, a repeated postponement of an ultimate revelation which never comes—or, when it does, terminates the pleasure of the text” (29). Well-read but wily Angelica practices what she preaches; she teaches ardent Persse, intent on giving meaning to his existence, a lesson in deconstructive reading by both enticing and misleading him with the help of Keats’s The Eve of St. Agnes—a lesson he is reluctant to accept: “It was all very well … to insist upon the indeterminacy of literary texts: Persse McGarrigle needed to know whether or not sexual intercourse was taking place here” (46).20
Despite the claims about the deferral of meaning and the distancing of an end in romance that are being advanced in the novel, the underlying cyclical structure of Small World that is tentatively related to the cycle of seasons prominent in myth criticism prevents the narrative from being entirely open-ended. In view of the fact that practically all complications are resolved in the end, Persse’s resumption of his quest appears to be an authorial ploy designed to lay the foundation for a potential sequel—Changing Places similarly ends with some unresolved questions that enabled Lodge to more plausibly reintroduce Zapp and Swallow in Small World—rather than a compelling attempt to conform to the stipulated generic requirements of romance. Small World is, in a sense, a romance about romance, a mock metaromance—but not necessarily a convincing example of the genre.
The theoretical discourse that is vigorously being carried on in Small World is, by no means, confined to the discussion of romance. In his endeavor to go beyond both the “single, static campus novel” and the “duplex chronicle” of two campuses in Changing Places, Lodge populates his novel with writers, publishers, literary agents, translators, and critics—in fact, all those having a stake in the literary enterprise—but above all with literary scholars of various persuasions from Western Europe, the United States, and Australia. Morris Zapp and Philip Swallow continue to play important roles; actually, they do represent the extremes in the critical spectrum. However, the binary opposition structuralist-traditionalist in Changing Places has yielded to a more complex pattern in Small World. Zapp is the bearer of the poststructuralist message about the impossibility of establishing the meaning of texts when he expounds on “Textuality as Striptease” at a 1979 conference at Rummidge:
The attempt to peer into the very core of a text, to possess once and for all its meaning, is vain—it is ourselves that we find there, not the work itself. … To read is to surrender oneself to an endless displacement of curiosity and desire from one sentence to another, from one action to another, from one level of the text to another. The text unveils itself before us, but never allows itself to be possessed; and instead of striving to possess it we should take pleasure in its teasing.
The shocked reaction of Zapp’s English audience, including Swallow who continues to define the critic in terms of “enthusiasm, the love of books” (317), may be compared to that which Roland Barthes himself encountered when he had held forth at an international conference ten years earlier.21
It appears to be a foregone conclusion that the less than brilliant Swallow is hardly in a position to vigorously defend the humanist position against the deconstructionist assault by the resourceful, ebullient Zapp; yet in an ironic twist that results from an academic intrigue Swallow is elevated in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement to the head of the English school of criticism that believes in “literature as the expression of universal and timeless human values” in defiance of the “perverse paradoxes” propagated by “fashionable Continental savants” (164), and he is even considered to be a serious contender for the UNESCO Chair. Moreover, Lodge buttresses Swallow’s critical stance by presenting him as a basically sympathetic fellow.
Whereas Swallow’s unfashionable approach to literature is made more palatable by his fundamental decency, other scholars, notably “Continental savants,” do not fare as well and suffer from a corresponding diminution of the brands of criticism they specialize in. In what amounts to an expression of Anglo-American prejudice Lodge reduces particularly two of the figures to mere types whose unsavory characteristics are heightened by allusions to mythical or literary prefigurations. Siegfried von Turpitz is a German practitioner of reception theory whose name is presumably intended to suggest turpitude, and the Italian feminist Marxist Fulvia Morgana indulges in an opulent life style and kinky sexual practices that are hard to reconcile with her political convictions. Von Turpitz is exposed as a plagiarizer and attains an almost diabolical stature in the end; Morgana, as her name—derived from Malory’s Morgan Le Fay in Le Morte d’Arthur—suggests, assumes the features of sorceress and evil enchantress.
Conversely, Zapp’s critical awareness and self-reflexive stance extend to the questioning and modification of his own position—a procedure that entails a revision of deconstruction. When asked about the “point” of discussing literature in terms of a theoretical approach that denies the possibility of “arriving at a certain truth,” Zapp responds by referring to the ideological and ultimately self-serving function of literary criticism: “The point is … to uphold the institution of academic studies. We maintain our position in society by publicly performing a certain ritual, just like any other group of workers in the realm of discourse—lawyers, politicians, journalists” (28). Even though divorced from the legitimating pursuit of truth, literary theory may well serve as a stimulus to literary studies if it is conceived of and received “not as a set of systematic principles, necessarily, or a founding philosophy, but simply as an inquiry into assumptions, premises, and legitimating principles and concepts.”22 If, on the other hand, as Zapp remarks somewhat cynically, the vogue of Derrida and deconstruction in America rests merely on their exciting appeal as “the last intellectual thrill left. Like sawing through the branch you’re sitting on,” then deconstruction tends to meet the censorious expectations of (fictional) Marxists—“[h]opeless” and “narcissistic” (118)—and (real) conservative culture critics—“the suppression of reason and the denial of the possibility of truth. … [appeal] to our worst instincts”23—alike, and it is likely destined for the institutional marginalization cited above.24
Zapp’s (partial) conversion and renunciation of deconstruction under the impact of an existential crisis, a death threat by Italian terrorists, is indicative of Lodge’s concern about the proper place and role of deconstruction:
“I’ve rather lost faith in deconstruction. …”
“You mean every decoding is not another encoding after all?”
“Oh it is, it is. But the deferral of meaning isn’t infinite as far as the individual is concerned.”
“I thought deconstructionists didn’t believe in the individual.”
“They don’t. But death is the one idea you can’t deconstruct. Work back from there and you end up with the old idea of the autonomous self. …”
Zapp thus approaches the position of Swallow who had not participated in the deconstruction of the autonomous self and who, consequently, conceived of himself very much as a “man at the centre of his own story” (217). Such rapprochement of two seemingly irreconcilable critical positions is entirely in keeping with the thrust of Lodge’s novel. Despite the brilliant—and, in part, satirical—display of poststructuralist theory on the level of theoretical discourse, Lodge reveals his basically traditional orientation in an insistently reiterated question that assumes the significance of a leitmotif: “. … how can literary criticism maintain its Arnoldian function of identifying the best which has been thought and said, when literary discourse itself has been decentred by deconstructing the traditional concept of the author, of ‘authority’[?]” (84, 140, 299).
This question has utterly baffled an Australian scholar who for months has been trying in vain to find an answer. But whereas the scholar is spared an answer and thereby saved from professional disgrace at an international conference by one of those miraculous occurrences in which the novel abounds, it is incumbent upon the reader to ponder the disquieting implications of that question for his or her critical practice as well as for departmental and institutional policy.
Although some readers and critics may find the sexual exploits of Lodge’s figures too vigorous, some of his jokes too banal—for example the confusion of “girl” and “grail”—and the quick pace of changing sites tiresome, there is behind the satire and hilarity of Lodge’s global campus novel in the guise of romance a serious questioning of the purpose of literary studies and of the institution of academic criticism itself.
See Siegfried Mews, “Martin Walsers Brandung: Ein deutscher Campus-Roman?” German Quarterly 60 (1987): 220–36.
John E. Kramer, The American College Novel: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1981) ix.
See Leo Truchlar, “‘Critifiction’ and ‘Pla(y)giarism.” Zum Literaturentwurf Raymond Federmans,” Poetica 15 (1983): 330.
David Lodge, Small World: An Academic Romance (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1985). Subsequent references in the text are to this edition.
David Lodge, Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses (New York: Penguin, 1979). Subsequent references in the text are to this edition.
Erhard Reckwitz, “Literaturprofessoren als Romançiers—die Romane von David Lodge und Malcolm Bradbury,” Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift N.F. 37 (1987): 204.
See Reckwitz, “Literaturprofessoren,” 204.
David Lodge, The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy, and the Typology of Modern Literature (New York: Cornell UP, 1977) 9. See also Reckwitz, “Literatur-professoren,” 205.
See Lodge, Modes, 71: “… structurally, the forms of literature are finite in number.”
Lodge, Modes, 220.
Lodge, Modes, 40.
David Lodge, Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literature (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1981) 6.
Lodge, Mode, 38.
See Paul Michael Lützeler, “Von der Intelligenz zur Arbeiterschaft: Zur Darstellung sozialer Wandlungsversuche in den Romanen und Reportagen der Studentenbewegung,” Deutsche Literatur in der Bundesrepublik seit 1965, ed. Paul Michael Lützeler and Egon Schwarz (Königstein/Ts.: Athenäum, 1980) 115–34.
Lodge, Modes, 66.
Gerald Graff, Professing Literature: An Institutional History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) 250.
Graff, Professing Literature, 247, 251.
Jessie Weston, From Ritual to Romance (New York: Doubleday, 1957) 136, 140.
Patricia Parker, Inescapable Romance: Studies in the Poetics of a Mode (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1979) 226. In the “Author’s Note” of Small World Lodge acknowledges having used the study.
The reference is to stanza XXXI (lines 320–22) of The Eve of St. Agnes: “Into her dream [i.e., Madeline’s] he [Porphyro] melted, as the rose / Blendeth its odour with the violet,— / Solution sweet:. …”
See Roland Barthes, “Style and its Image,” Literary Style, ed. Seymour Chatman (London: Oxford UP, 1971) 10, as quoted by Lodge, Modes, 63. Barthes’s formulation of the text as a layered “onion” without a core may have inspired the striptease metaphor.
Graff, Professing Literature, 252.
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988) 379.
See n. 16 above.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486
Acheson, James. “The Small Worlds of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge.” The British and Irish Novel Since 1960, edited by James Acheson, pp. 78-92. New York: St. Martins Press, 1991.
Discusses Lodge's preoccupations in his novels with Catholicism and the academic world, drawing comparisons between the “campus novels” of Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury and the parodic modes of both.
Banville, John. “Nice Work.” New York Review of Books (10 August 1995): 24-6.
Praises Small World as Lodge's “finest novel,” but finds Therapy unsuccessful.
Bayley, John. “Innocents at Home.” New York Review of Books (9 April 1992): 13-4.
Offers a positive assessment of Paradise News.
Burton, Robert S. “Standoff at the Crossroads: When Town Meets Gown in David Lodge's Nice Work.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 35, No. 4 (Summer 1994): 237-43.
Examines the intersection of the “campus novel” and “industrial novel” genres in Nice Work, as well as Lodge's critique of knowledge, labor, and British society.
Crowe, Marian E. “Intimations of Immortality: Catholicism in David Lodge's Paradise News.” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 52, No. 2 (Winter 2000): 143.
Examines Lodge's commentary on the dilemma of modern Catholic faith and the concept of an afterlife in Paradise News.
Duffy, Martha. Review of Therapy, by David Lodge. Time (7 August 1995): 71.
Offers a positive assessment of Therapy.
Gussow, Mel. “On Therapy and a Novel Called ‘Therapy.’” New York Times (19 July 1995): C9.
Provides discussion of Therapy and an overview of Lodge's literary career.
Haffenden, John. “David Lodge.” In his Novelists in Interview, pp. 145-67. London: Methuen, 1985.
Interview in which Lodge discusses his early life, recurring themes of religion, sexuality, and literary theory in his novels, and his approach to fiction.
Kakutani, Michiko. “How a Writer Tinkers, Imitates, Tailors, Shines.” New York Times (31 December 1996): C20.
A review of The Practice of Writing.
———. “Identifying with Kierkegaard's Unhappiest Man.” New York Times (7 July 1995): C26.
A review of Therapy.
Koenig, Rhoda. “No Cure for a Slight Case of Kierkegaard.” Wall Street Journal (14 July 1995): A10.
A review of Therapy.
Marin, Rick. “Theory Meets Practice.” Reason 21, No. 8 (January 1990): 52-3.
Offers praise for Nice Work.
Morace, Robert A. “Changing Places: Narrative Doublings Redux.” In his The Dialogic Novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge, pp. 156-71. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989.
Examines postmodern elements of structural, thematic, and linguistic doubling in Changing Places, drawing attention to Lodge's adaptation and exploitation of various literary modes and traditions in the work and the novel's ironic juxtaposition of life and art.
Plunket, Robert. “Kierkegaard and Spandex.” New York Times Book Review (16 July 1995): 9.
A review of Therapy.
Smiley, Jane.“Fiction in Review.” Yale Review 81, No. 1 (January 1993): 148-62.
Comments on the risks and rewards of the “comic novel” and offers a positive assessment of Paradise News.
Additional coverage of Lodge's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Bestsellers, 90:1; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 19, 53, and 92; DISCovering Authors Modules: Popular Fiction; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 14, and 194; and Major Twentieth-Century Writers.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3621
SOURCE: “Only Connect,” in New Republic, September 18, 1989, pp. 46-8, 52.
[In the following review, Salter offers a positive evaluation of Nice Work and comments favorably on Lodge's metafictional style in this and previous novels.]
What is nice work? According to Robyn Penrose, young, leftist, feminist, deconstructionist critic and badly paid lecturer at the University of Rummidge, nice work is “meaningful. It’s rewarding. I don’t mean in money terms. It would be worth doing even if one wasn’t paid anything at all.” Nice work if you can keep it: Margaret Thatcher’s budget cuts in education may soon put Robyn and a lot of people like Robyn out of a job. In 1986, the penultimate year of her contract at Rummidge (fertile imaginary ground for David Lodge’s other comic “campus novels,” Changing Places and Small World), Robyn’s full schedule of lecturing on the industrial novel and writing the book she hopes to publish and keep from perishing by, Domestic Angels and Unfortunate Females, is disrupted. It seems that 1986 has also been designated Industry Year, and Robyn finds herself assigned to participate in a “shadow Scheme” (as only the British would think to call it) aimed at helping those in academia and in industry to understand each other. She’ll be spending ten precious Wednesdays dogging the heels of the equally unwilling Vic Wilcox, managing director of J. Pringle and Sons Casting and General Engineering, and observing him at his well-paid but (in her eyes) not very nice work at the factory.
A contrived setup, of course. But to ask Lodge not to set contrivances and one impossible coincidence after another into motion would be to put him, too, out of a job. And we wouldn’t want that: here is one of the funniest, cleverest novelists around, who within his deftly plotted satire/fantasy/romances manages to get real life down with an admirable niceness. The Lodge novel this new one most closely shadows is Changing Places, in which Philip Swallow, timid, low-level Rummidge lecturer and heretofore faithful husband, briefly exchanges jobs—and then wives—with Morris Zapp, philanderous, famous, outrageous professor at Euphoric State University. (Euphoria is, on Lodge’s map, a state of the union squeezed between Northern and Southern California, but it is also a recurrent image for life in the United States—land of central heating, freshly squeezed orange juice, and large salaries.)
In Nice Work we have, again, two characters who could not be more unlike: decent, uneducated Vic Wilcox, who has striven all his life to earn the appurtenances of success (including a Jaguar, a four-bathroom house, an ever-shopping, Valium-popping wife he can’t rouse himself to touch anymore, and three idle children), and tough, intellectual, and deliberately unmarried Robyn Penrose. And once again the antagonists arrive, ruefully but amusingly, at an understanding of sorts. Unlike Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp, they can’t swap wives, but I leave it to you to discover how and to what degree they connect. Be forewarned: Robyn doesn’t believe in love. To her, it’s “a rhetorical device. A bourgeois fallacy.” As for passion—well, she and her live-in, live-out academic boyfriend, Charles, are more moved by the pleasures of the text than of the sexed. When they do go to bed, it’s for an ideologically correct, “non-phallic” massage session. Vic, on the other hand, is in his own quite unforgettable words “a phallic sort of bloke.”
Perhaps the best way of explaining how Robyn and Vic unite in this novel is to say that it’s the sort of book that each of them would like to read. That’s no small thing, when you consider that Vic hasn’t read much of anything in years (when Robyn suggests Daniel Deronda, Vic asks, “What did he write?”). If a good teacher like Robyn could lead him to Nice Work, though, Vic would be entertained by its page-turning pace and unpretentious delivery. And he would be impressed by the respect that Lodge shows for the real world by recording the details of business transactions as if they matter, say, or by taking us on a loud, gritty tour of the J. Pringle factory. (Robyn’s response to her tour—“But the noise … the dirt!”—reveals an ignorance of industry as comprehensive as Vic’s of literature. Her cozy image of factories derives from TV documentaries in which “brisk operators in clean overalls” turn out goods “to the accompaniment of Mozart on the sound track.”) Vic would appreciate, too, that although romance doesn’t exactly bloom in this novel, Lodge never rules out “the power of love”—a phrase from one of the mushy pop songs Vic secretly adores.
For her part, Robyn probably wouldn’t have the sense of humor to laugh at her parodic namesake, but she’d have to admit that since, as she’s said herself, the very idea of “character” in a novel is “a bourgeois myth, an illusion created to reinforce the ideology of capitalism,” Lodge has been clever in fleshing out the tacky capitalist Vic as a sympathetic and idiosyncratic man, while leaving Robyn Penrose mostly as a type—risen, as her surname suggests, from the pen. Having herself penned The Industrious Muse: Narrativity and Contradiction in the Industrial Novel, Robyn would have to concede, too, that the industrial novel Nice Work is full of meaty contradictions in its narrativity. For Robyn has learned by now not just to read books but to “deconstruct the texts, to probe the gaps and absences in them, to uncover what they are not saying, to expose their ideological bad faith, to cut a cross-section through the twisted strands of their semiotic codes and literary conventions.”
To do that is, for all his dead-on satire at Robyn’s expense, exactly what Lodge mischievously asks of the readers of Nice Work. (The sneakiness actually begins with the title, in which Lodge not-so-subliminally invites his reviewers to throw the phrase back at him as praise.) The author of four books of literary criticism, including one called Working with Structuralism, Lodge seems to believe just as deeply as Robyn that “every text is a product of intertextuality, a tissue of allusions to and citations of other texts.” He makes his own novels as densely, intentionally intertextual as any I know, by a myriad of techniques—not just allusions and citations, but also pastiches and parodies and puns.
The names of characters may be wholly invented, to suggest personality (Morris Zapp has more zip), but they’re never pulled from a hat. More often they’re pulled from the file cards of English literature. Lodge relishes alluding to his own texts, too. In summoning up for appearances in Nice Work our cross-cultural friends Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp, Lodge can indirectly remind us that Vic and Robyn hail from such different worlds within Thatcher’s England that they hardly even seem compatriots. Driving to Vic’s factory in West Wallsbury, which is “on the dark side of Rummidge, unknown to those who basked in the light of culture and learning at the University,” Robyn the shadow feels that she may as well be on another planet; the town is “scored with … obsolete canals like the lines on Mars.”
In one of his epigraphs (Nice Work’s chapters are littered with epigraphs, each a clue in a scavenger hunt for meaning) Lodge locates in Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil: or, The Two Nations a country whose division seems familiar: “Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.” Written against the background of the Chartist Movement of the 1830s and demands for workers’ rights, Sybil is one of the novels Robyn lectures on with something of a tunnel vision, not seeing its contemporary applications. We overhear her as the lecture moves from Sybil to Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley, published in 1849, which also concerns the rights of workers in an increasingly mechanized age: “Though set at the time of the Napoleonic wars,” Robyn tells her students, “its treatment of the Luddite riots is clearly an oblique comment on more topical events.” “Clearly an oblique”—delicious academic oxymoron; and Robyn’s lecture is just as clearly Lodge’s oblique comment on the human implications of shaking up inefficient universities and industries in the Britain of 1986.
Readers of Nice Work who haven’t read Shirley will nonetheless find plenty of other layers of allusion to peel back from its deceptively thin surface. There are so many of these, in fact, that each of us is bound to miss a few (or a lot). But as an example of how Lodge operates, one might pause over Shirley to note how fruitfully he borrows from it. Both Brontës and Lodge’s books are concerned not only with workers’ but with women’s rights, and both offer heroines masculine names. (Shirley was a man’s name in 19th-century England.) When not blessed with the son they wanted, Shirley’s parents, as she explains, “gave me a man’s name: I hold a man’s position; it is enough to inspire me with a touch of manhood.” That feisty voice could belong to Robyn, whose name—when spelled Robin—is nearly always reserved for men in 20th-century England.
Robyn’s impressive title, and a misspelling in correspondence, delude Vic, into expecting a male Dr. Robin Penrose to shadow him. When a highly attractive, if unprovocatively dressed, young woman shows up at the office instead, both Robyn and Vic have to endure nudges and lewd innuendos from his co-workers. (“Why should a woman’s friendliness be suspect?” Brontë’s heroine had demanded. “Is civilized association between men and women never possible?”) Society at J. Pringle seems, indeed, not much advanced beyond the 19th century. Most of the workers and all of the executives are men, girlie calendars line the walls, Vic’s bosomy secretary feels proud to be promoting her 17-year-old daughter as a photographic (read pornographic) model, and … Wait a minute, Vic’s secretary’s name is Shirley!
Robyn doesn’t make the connection, but we do. Typically, Lodge twists parallels into contradictions. Hold up his Shirley, who is taken regularly in adulterous passion on the reception room sofa, against Brontë’s Shirley, who turns down a suitor because “Before I marry, I am resolved to esteem—to admire—to love.” Or compare that heroine’s philosophy (“Before I marry” reassures us that she will do so eventually, as characters in novels are supposed to do) with Robyn’s which rejects the very ideas of character, of marriage, and of love.
ONLY CONNECT, as a T-shirt worn by Robyn’s student Marion reads. And Marion makes some connections, too. Much like the daughter of Vic’s secretary, she models underwear and delivers “kissograms.” It’s a sideline that makes her, by a strange turn of events, the only person to have observed both Robyn and Vic in their otherwise wholly unconnected places of work. Only connect—yes, that was E. M. Forster’s repeated injunction in Howards End, that great novel in which the articulate intellectuals, who inherit money, and the inarticulate capitalists, who make it, form two separate nations. Helen was the first of the two clever Schlegel sisters to attempt a rapprochement between the nations by falling in love with both house and inhabitants at Howards End: “She liked being told that her notions of life were sheltered or academic; New Equality was nonsense, Votes for Women nonsense, Socialism nonsense, Art and Literature, except when conducive to strengthening the character, nonsense.” But it is Margaret Schlegel, who, through her eventual, unlikely inheritance of Howards End, begins to connect money, “the warp of civilization,” to “whatever the woof may be.”
The harmony Margaret effects takes a form conventional to novels: marriage. We know what Robyn would say about that. She gives her own relationship to Vic Wilcox a fancy academic name: “An aporia. A pathless path. It led nowhere.” But does it? Only connect … Whom did Margaret Schlegel marry? Yes, Henry Wilcox, and maybe, rather than marrying Robyn off to Vic Wilcox, we should be connecting the two Wilcoxes, Henry and Vic, who deserve most of the credit for keeping England on any sort of path at all. And may be we should be tracing, too, what Lodge seems to think has happened between the sexes since Howards End: if in the 1920s women had the greater talent for “personal relations,” as Forster called it, in the 1980s it’s the men who are more likely to declare their love. But there is an ultimate connection between Robyn and Vic, a happy one, and in it money flows in unpredicted, inspiring directions.
If the way Shirley feeds into Howards End seems hopelessly (or gleefully) convoluted, it’s no more so than the artful knotting of allusions and conventions Lodge achieves in Small World. That book was a marvel not least because it found, within its extraordinary playfulness, ways to break our hearts. I was enthralled by the story of Philip Swallow’s one great love affair: after nearly dying in an airplane crash, in the same evening he wordlessly beds a married woman he has just met (impossibly, perfectly, named Joy), who then herself dies in an airplane crash, only to be resurrected later from that mistaken newspaper report, to be won once more and then lost. It couldn’t be less believable, and yet we are moved by it, even feel wiser for it as we do after hearing fairy tales.
Nothing as touching as that happens in Nice Work, which is—thanks to the deliberately less than lovable figure of Robyn—shorter on human feeling, darker and colder, than the novels Lodge is best known for. Both Robyn and Vic, to be sure, are provided with plenty of amusing apercus. “Life was short, criticism long,” Robyn reflects; or, reading a too-optimistic article on Britain’s economy in the Daily Mail, Vic admits that “you only have to drive through the West Midlands to see that if we are in the Super-League of top industrial nations, somebody must be moving the goal-posts.” Given Lodge’s flair for invention, though, one is surprised occasionally to encounter flat phrasing or imagery, as when “young girls in their bright summer dresses” are “sprouting like crocuses in the warm sunshine.”
If no one would call Lodge a great stylist of the sentence, he is pure dazzling style, book after book, in his fusion of form and content. The final chapter of Changing Places changes genres: just as Philip Swallow is observing that life for the young in 1969 is not a novel but a film, Lodge’s novel turns into a screenplay. Small World winds up with an MLA conference, at a lecture on romance and epic by the beautiful Angelica, object of this novel’s romance. When Persse McGarrigle, the hero who has been seeking her at literary conferences all over the world, gets her into bed at the end, he parts her thighs “like the leaves of a book.” Only, oh no, it isn’t the end after all, because she isn’t Angelica, because this is a case of mistaken identity, because this is a romance, and romance, as Angelica has just explained in her lecture, has multiple climaxes.
Naturally, when characters get moved around as pieces in such literary games, they can’t often achieve much flesh and blood solidity. But Lodge can also play his characters straight when he chooses—as is especially clear in his 1970 novel Out of the Shelter, which has just been published here as part of Viking/Penguin’s plan to issue the whole list of Lodge’s books, some of them for the first time in America. Out of the Shelter is, by Lodge’s own admission in an afterword, the most autobiographical of his novels, and probably also the most conventional and earnest—a bildungsroman of the aptly named Timothy Young. We meet him in lower-middle-class London at age five, as he watches a friend die in the Blitz and tries to make sense of the war. Here Lodge makes an uncharacteristic stylistic error, recording Timothy’s thoughts with a too-faithful, plodding simplicity, so that we feel we’re not so much under a child’s skin as within the pages of a children’s book: “Everybody liked Mr. Churchill, and they called him Winnie, which was usually a girl’s name, but was short for Winston. Churchill was head of the British and Roosevelt was head of the Americans and Stalin was head of the Russians …” After 50 or so pages of this, Timothy mercifully arrives at his teens, and thereafter subtlety deepens.
The novel focuses on 16-year-old Timothy’s three-week visit to Germany where his sister Kath works for the American occupying forces. There’s a callousness about the American heroes, who have money to burn on food and drink and dancing (all of which the fun-starved English boy, living on rations at home, laps up) but no time to notice the devastation and the poverty of the country they have helped to conquer, Ambivalent feelings toward the Americans lead Timothy to jettison some tenets of his moral universe, without knowing what to replace them with.
How is he to weigh, for instance, his sympathy for individual Germans he meets against the enormity of the Nazis’ crimes, and the sacrifices his own countrymen have made? Maybe, as Timothy’s one sensitive American friend, a grad student named Don, says, “History is the verdict of the lucky on the unlucky.” Strangely enough, it’s a line that might be spoken by Nice Work’s Vic Wilcox. Robyn complains, “That’s the trouble with capitalism, isn’t it? It’s the trouble with life.” Then he adds, “We’d better get some lunch.” That’s no idle remark; Vic is much taken with the American saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” and eventually teaches even Robyn Penrose to look more critically at the universities she takes for granted, and to ask “Who pays?”
For my money, the best of Lodge’s early books is The British Museum Is Falling Down, which concerns a Lodge theme only slightly less obsessive than finance: the frustrations of Catholic married couples in the days when most of them took the Church’s prohibition of birth control seriously. Not an ideal subject for a comic novel, one would think; but the anxiety of cash-strapped academic Adam Appleby and his wife, Barbara when the Rhythm (or, laughably, “Safe”) Method seems to have failed, and they face the horrific prospect of a fourth child, is giddily entertaining.
Somehow, somewhere, in this slim and apparently seamless volume, Lodge also manages to insert no fewer than ten parodies of major 20th-century novelists. For The British Museum Is Falling Down is also, in the best Lodge vein, literature about literature and about life and literature imitating each other. (“Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way round,” Adam observes.) Of all the brilliant parodies in this book, the sharpest is the revision of Molly Bloom’s long, final, libidinous sentence in Utysses, now spoken by sensible Barbara. I won’t spoil it for you by quoting it, only hint that Molly’s concluding “yes” has become Barbara’s “perhaps.”
A later novel on the subject of Catholic sexual guilt and forbidden birth control, How Far Can You Go?, is also funny, if bleaker, as we trace the decline of a group of friends from lusty but high-principled youth to a compromising, thick-waisted middle age. Alas, the novel suffers somewhat from its own failure to control the population; it has ten main characters. Always exquisitely self-conscious, Lodge early disarms the skeptical reader: “Ten characters is a lot to take in at once, and soon there will be more, because we are going to follow their fortunes … and obviously they are not going to pair off with each other, that would be too neat, too implausible, so there will be other characters not yet invented, husbands and wives and lovers, not to mention children, so it is important to get these ten straight right now.”
As usual, we have to laugh, but eventually we have to admire, too; for Lodge is pushing the device of the novelist as stage manager to its breaking point in order to comment on the dampening effect on either sex or authorship when it’s too worried about limits. As he reasons many pages later, “The permutations of sex are as finite as those of narrative. You can (a) do one thing with one partner or (b) do n things with one partner or (c) do one thing with n partners. For practicing Catholics faithful to the marriage bond, there was only the possibility of progressing from (a) to (b) in search of a richer sex life.”
Robyn Penrose has another angle on the limitations of fiction. “All the Victorian novelist could offer as a solution to the problems of industrial capitalism,” she lectures, “were: a legacy, a marriage, emigration, or death.” But what if a novelist decided to offer all these solutions, in a series of potential endings? The problems of industrial capitalism, if never solved, would at least be fun to address. If the permutations of narrative by the highly amusing, highbrow but earthy author David Lodge are finite, I’m happy to report that I haven’t begun to exhaust them.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480
SOURCE: A review of Nice Work, in World Literature Today, Vol. 64, No. 3, Summer, 1990, p. 464.
[In the following review, Quinlan offers a positive assessment of Nice Work.]
“We have a lot of Anglophiles here,” Morris Zapp, chair of the English Department at Euphoria State, informs Robyn Penrose in a transatlantic phone conversation from his home in the Bay area. “It must be because we’re so far from England.” Indeed, the landscape of British academia is looking even bleaker now in 1986 than it did when Zapp first visited there—reluctantly—decades earlier in David Lodge’s Changing Places. That novel was the opening number in a trio of studies of the academic community that have proved to be both enormously entertaining and rather shrewd reports from the front lines of the profession itself. Now, in the third in the series, Mrs. Thatcher has imposed severe cuts on the university system and gloom prevails. Robyn Penrose, a brilliant young lecturer who specializes in the Victorian industrial novel and who is of determined feminist and poststructuralist persuasion, finds herself desperately hanging on to her temporary position at Rummidge University in the unlikely hope of being offered permanent employment there.
Meanwhile, Vic Wilcox, a hardworking executive at an engineering firm, is having his own problems with an outdated plant, poor labor relations, and a semimoronic home life. In an effort to improve understanding in the community, Robyn is assigned to “shadow” him as he goes about his duties of patrolling shop floors, conducting management meetings, and purchasing new machinery. Surprisingly ignorant of the real conditions of contemporary industrial England, Robyn begins her education anew and is forced to put to the test the abstractions about language, selfhood, late capitalism, and so on that she had apparently mastered during her heady Cambridge years. Vic too, of course, is forced to confront his prejudices about the causes of the ills of modern society. A lively debate between the two follows—so good at times that Lodge’s novel might be usefully mined for handy, up-to-date expositions of some of the more arcane ideas of Derrida, Lacan, and other poststructuralist thinkers.
Lodge, however, is never heavy-handed in his writing, and his story moves along at a spanking pace, at once intelligent, reflective, and perhaps with an edge of irritation at times. In fact, Nice Work is not only reminiscent of Changing Places and Small World, but also of Souls and Bodies, a much earlier novel in which Lodge explored the growing pains of a group of Catholic university students as they moved from an era of prohibition to one of permissiveness. Lodge’s own origins, it seems, ensure that he is never in danger of making a fool of himself for a pretty hypothesis or a trim system, even if he sometimes displays a tendency to wish to resolve too neatly the seemingly intractable ironies of life.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583
SOURCE: A review of After Bakhtin, in World Literature Today, Vol. 65, No. 4, Autumn, 1991, p. 780.
[In the following review, Quinlan offers a favorable assessment of After Bakhtin.]
A remark in the introduction to David Lodge’s quite excellent new book—or rather collection of occasional essays, all of which have been influenced in some way or other by Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories of the novel—appears to deconstruct immediately the pieces that follow: “Though I intend to go on writing literary criticism [after his recent retirement from the University of Birmingham], I doubt whether it will be ‘academic’ in the way most of the essays included in this book are academic.” Why not? Because, without the “institutional stimuli, satisfactions and incentives” of university life, “a lot of academic literary criticism and theory—the kind published in learned journals and by American university presses—frankly no longer seems worth the considerable effort of keeping up with it.”
Nevertheless, though Lodge’s comments do not strike one as being at all coy or disingenuous, and indeed though one knows what he “really” means, his essays themselves in turn deconstruct their introduction. Academic they may well be, but they are so suffused with intelligence, honesty, and accessibility as to excite the reader with renewed enthusiasm for both the works they comment on (by Austen, Joyce, Lawrence, James, George Eliot, Kundera, and others) and the kind of criticism in which Lodge engages. In other words, whatever the excesses of the theoreticians, there will always be a place for the kind of essay—the kind of academic essay—that cannot be found in the pages of the New York Times Book Review, the various “popular” journals that cater to a sophisticated elite, or indeed in the TLS. It might be added that although Lodge is certainly not in the forefront of today’s theoretical critics, he has published enough in the area and edited a sufficient number of anthologies of such readings to have become a little jaded by the enterprise and dubious of its merits. The reader more prone to eclectic interests (though surely Lodge is that also?), less obsessed with “keeping up,” stimulated in appropriate measure by the newsweeklies, a theoretical article in one or another of the professional periodicals, teaching a classic novel that he or she has never read before or a promising one that has just been published (Lodge acknowledges that “the serious literary novel is enjoying something of a boom”), watching certain television programs, visiting the movies, responding in short to the carnivalesque of modern bourgeois culture, will be less despondent. Perhaps.
Meanwhile, After Bakhtin shows again and again how the Russian theorist’s ideas can serve to illuminate strategies in novelistic texts for which New Critical and structuralist approaches have proved inadequate. Or, offended by those who proclaim the “death of the author,” Lodge neatly counters their arguments with: “Barthes says: because the author does not coincide with the language of the text, he does not exist. Bakhtin says, it is precisely because he does not coincide that we must posit his existence.” Finally, Lodge’s review of a disconcerting book by a member (Bernard Sharratt) of Britain’s far Left not only suggests his own political stance in such a context but is also a marvelous exercise in critical empathy. One is consoled to reflect that David Lodge will probably be unable to go too far in changing places in our small world and that his “nice work” will therefore continue.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2546
SOURCE: “Rainbows,” in London Review of Books, September 12, 1991, pp. 14-5.
[In the following review, Coster offers an unfavorable evaluation of Paradise News.]
Had the Pentagon, back in the late Sixties, accepted Boeing’s tender for a massive new cargo aircraft for the United States Air Force, David Lodge would not have been able to write Paradise News. Instead, however, Lockheed got the contract, and Boeing were left with a redundant set of blueprints for the biggest furniture van never built. To save all that development money going to waste, they came up with a blindingly simple solution: fill it with seats, and call it an airliner. Thus was the Boeing 747 born, and now David Lodge has written what may, in socio-historical terms, be the first post-Jumbo Jet novel. Just as Wordsworth and Ruskin in the last century predicted and fulminated against the social implications of the new railways' capacity for moving hordes of people into somewhere like the Lake District, so a newer mass translation of the populace is behind Paradise News: nowadays the wide-bodied jet enables hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of us all of a sudden to be the other side of the world, and Lodge to beam a whole plane-load of people to Hawaii for a fortnight.
Lodge novels have begun with journeys before: previously, though, they have tended to introduce the binary contests on which his fictions often turn—Vic Wilcox in Nice Work cruising to work in his Jag as Robyn Penrose tootles to college in her Renault 5, or Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp of Changing Places crossing somewhere above the North Pole as their planes take them in opposite directions for the start of their academic job-swap. Two ideas setting off for each other’s point of origin: Paradise News lacks this beautifully simple dynamic, because everyone jumps on the same plane. Still, in Medieval times Chaucer put a disparate band of travellers together on the road to Canterbury and called it a pilgrimage; now we call it a package tour. Unsurprisingly, amongst Lodge’s sun-seekers is a researcher called Sheldrake who is investigating the phenomenon of tourism as modern religious ritual—the survival, as it were, of the ‘holy-day’ in the holiday. ‘One day,’ he earnestly explains, ‘sitting on a lump of rock beside the Parthenon, watching the tourists milling about, clicking their cameras, talking to each other in umpteen different languages, it suddenly struck me: tourism is the new world religion. Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists—the one thing they all have in common is they all believe in the importance of seeing the Parthenon. Or the Sistine Chapel. Or the Eiffel Tower.’ He proceeds to Hawaii, of course, to find that what we think of as a hotel swimming-pool is actually a baptismal font, and so on. A truly terrible essay in Lodge’s collection Write On, in which he attends a Shakin’ Stevens teenybop gig ‘struck by the Christian symbolism permeating the whole event’, suggests he was right not to push his luck with Sheldrake’s musings, even for comic purposes. An American art critic featured on a recent TV documentary about Madonna and her eclectic borrowings puts this sort of stuff in context: ‘We are invited to call it post-modernism,’ was his deadpan verdict, ‘but I prefer to call it shopping.’
Sheldrake is one of the bit-part players in Lodge’s satirical tableau of the English on holiday abroad: a soft target for comedy, and hardly a profound one. While Sheldrake is the product of a donnish, mildly facetious wit, some of the other characters are victims of an equally mild, but still obtrusive condescension. You have the tiffing honeymooners, the woman huffily denying her new hubby his nuptial rites after disclosures at the wedding reception of past naughtinesses. There is Brian Everthorpe, a Nice Work refugee, still trying to flog his Riviera sunbeds, and this time equipped with mousy wife and brand-new video camera (the showing of the subsequent holiday home-movie at an end-of-tour reception is, however, the novel’s comic highlight)—and there is the middle-aged couple from Croydon. One day a PhD student utterly at a loss for a thesis topic will light on ‘The Usage of Croydon as a Motif in English Literature’, and log every instance, all the way from D. H. Lawrence and Anna Wickham through John Betjeman to Martin Amis, of one single placename’s use to connote a vast tundra of anodyne, apathetic anonymity. Here, though, Croydon is exactly where you’d expect Lodge to make his couple come from: a prompt for often disappointingly chummy humour at the expense of such characters’ tacky taste, loud manners or bovine ignorance. Like their subjects, the jokes are pretty happy with tawdry dress sense and cheap taste.
At least this stereotyped situation comedy is only a backdrop for the main matter of Paradise News, which turns it into a very different kind of book. If there is a contest, indeed, it’s in the uneasy fluctuation in tone between jocosity and grimness, for this is actually Lodge’s most intentionally serious and sober novel since How Far Can You Go? On the package tour to Waikiki (because it offers the cheapest flight) he brings a middle-aged, uneasily celibate Catholic priest who has lost his faith, accompanying his elderly and curmudgeonly father on a visit to a long-lost aunt who is dying of cancer. Aunt Ursula has been in disgrace and out of favour with the Walsh family ever since following her GI lover to Florida; now Bernard Walsh has received a phone-call out of the blue and a plea to bring his father out to effect a reconciliation before it is too late. Bernard’s sister Tess can see nothing but bad issuing from such a commission, and when, the day after stepping off the plane, their father looks the wrong way as he crosses the street and is knocked down by a car, her prediction already seems justified. The initial ironies, then, are obvious, though not facile: as well as being the ‘earthly paradise’ that Lodge’s harassed package tourists need a holiday to recover from, Hawaii is also a place where someone can be dying a slow, lonely death and an old man suffer a pointless accident.
The momentum of the novel is of things gradually being made good. Bernard’s father’s fractured pelvis slowly mends; Aunt Ursula, whom Bernard discovers languishing in seedy, insanitary digs on the wrong side of the tracks, he manages to transfer to a more comfortable haven for her last weeks; Bernard’s sister even joins them on a whim to escape from her own family, and Bernard is belatedly initiated into love and desire through a deepening relationship with none other than the woman who has run his father over.
In How Far Can You Go?, Lodge’s previous novel with explicitly Catholic concerns, things were not always so good. Marriages settled into unsatisfactory, irremediable co-existences, a child was killed in a hit and run road accident, a woman suffered repeated mental disturbance. About such grievous, hapless chance there was nothing to be done, philosophically or, far less, by any slick contrivance of plot. The one uneasy aspect of Lodge’s next novel, the excellent Nice Work, was its incipient susceptibility to the providential solution. Vic Wilcox is rejected by Robyn Penrose after their one-night stand in Germany, loses his job without warning, and is stranded in an empty marriage to someone intellectually his inferior whom he no longer desired even before his encounter with Robyn. Yet not only does Robyn receive a windfall legacy from a long-lost uncle in Australia, which she can then, newly secure in her own job, pass on to Vic to start his own business with, but his wife Marjorie is galvanised by the idea into improbable vitality:
Vic looked at her in astonishment. Her eyes were bright. She was smiling. And there were dimples in her cheeks.
Lodge’s technical defence of such horrendous Dickensian winsomeness is that the conclusion of his 20th-century industrial novel parodies the hectic, loose-end-tying coercion of its 19th-century exemplars. Certainly Lodge does not take from that century’s fiction George Eliot’s stern notion of nemesis. But the entire course of Nice Work has been, movingly and justly, to establish the dignified independence of Vic Wilcox, someone not to be patronised by either the reader or the plot. The dimples, in other words, are in Lodge’s cheeks, and not the lumpish Marjorie’s.
The bright eyes twinkle rather more over Paradise News. Disaster is, at every turn, narrowly averted, with congenial consequences. The middle-aged couple from Croydon are in Waikiki to visit their son, who has invited them out to meet his new partner. His partner turns out to be gay, and constricted Croydon morality is baffled and obscurely disgusted. But by the end of the book Russ, the spurned honeymoon groom, has been saved from drowning in a surfing accident by Terry and Tony, the gay couple, and not only are Sidney and Lilian Brooks from Croydon converted to proud parents of a brave son but Cecily, the hoity bride (who has been able to resuscitate her husband with mouth-to-mouth technique fortunately learned in the Guides), is reconciled to the respiring Russ by the fright of nearly losing him. Paraphrased like that, it all sounds the most frightful schlock. The trouble is simply that nothing becomes critical, everything is of assistance; all things march to an end, and each end is a new beginning. Literally and teleologically, the sun shines on the cast of Paradise News.
Thus with the destinies of Bernard and his aunt Ursula: as she makes her way, with his and his father’s help, towards a good death, he, with the support and counsel of Yolande, the car driver, belatedly blooms out of decades of celibate hibernation into a good life of love and pleasure. Ursula finally confronts the sexual confusion which, it emerges, has dogged her marriage and has its roots back in her childhood; Bernard overcomes the inhibitions that have hitherto cauterised his emotional yearnings. In both cases Lodge navigates their task of making settlement with their lives solemnly and conscientiously. There is one particularly dimple-cheeked deus ex machina Lodge pulls out, with the implacable defiance of a Blue Peter presenter exclaiming, ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier,’ as Ursula is conveniently rewarded with the discovery of a cache of immensely valuable IBM share certificates that pay for her new, improved nursing-home care (and a cool ＄100,000 left over to bequeath to the penurious Bernard)—but otherwise you don’t grit your teeth too much at their both finding peace and rest.
Nevertheless, two factors prevent Lodge’s story from truly troubling. First, we never see problems themselves, only solutions. Lodge gives us Ursula’s fortnight of laying a lifetime of ghosts, but not the—so we are told—harrowed lifetime. We see Bernard swiftly initiated into sexual pleasure, but not the years of parched solitude. In How Far Can You Go? Lodge gave us everything: year by year, the whole chaotic, random, attritional process of coping with how things happen. Here, his narrative priorities in effect show how easy, even inevitable, it is for a bad life to be exorcised by a good fortnight. And secondly, the narrative is never contentious: nothing is ever ultimately at stake because of the equal opposition of its contrary. In Changing Places both Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp’s marriages are put at risk by the philandering of the other; in Nice Work Robyn Penrose’s ivory-tower academicism is challenged by, as it simultaneously challenges, Vic’s philistine pragmatism. In Paradise News all the characters inch along parallel railway tracks towards the same terminus, and they’ll all get there. There are contrasts, but no contests. The conclusion is a strangely consensual affair: all the protagonists agree with one another. After Aunt Ursula’s ashes have been scattered at sea off Waikiki beach, writes Yolande to Bernard (incidentally and conveniently confirming that she has decided to leave her husband and come to join him in England), a rainbow appears over the hill above the town. ‘Even Waikiki was a thing of beauty,’ reflects Yolande: ‘I suppose that just about sums up Hawaii: the real rainbow cosying up to the artificial one. Nevertheless, it did look rather wonderful … I felt we had secured repose for Ursula’s soul.’ Well, good.
‘Nevertheless it did look rather wonderful’: it could stand as the novel’s epigraph. If that ‘nevertheless’ betrays a qualified special pleading, it’s because Paradise News is picking up the pieces and making do in the absence of a theological rainbow. Bernard Walsh has lost his Catholic faith before the story opens—a faith assumed by default, it seems, with his family’s expectations that the son should enter the priesthood, but now vanished all the same. ‘The Good News is news of eternal life, Paradise News,’ he reflects. ‘For my parishioners, I was a kind of travel agent, issuing tickets, insurance, brochures, guaranteeing them ultimate happiness.’ He realises he doesn’t believe a word of it. The oddly frenetic problem-solving on display in Paradise News, therefore, seems a kind of homiletic assurance that you don’t need God for things to turn out right. And yet, if it isn’t a benign God bestowing all these providential turns of plot, then someone is. Bernard returns to his theology lecturing at the end of the book, wryly and defiantly sceptical, and quotes to his scholars from Matthew 25, that ‘most explicitly apocalyptic of the synoptic gospels’:
Then the virtuous will say to him in reply. ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you: or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?’ And the King will answer, ‘I tell you solemnly, insofar as you did this to the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’
‘It’s as if,’ comments Bernard, ‘Jesus left this essentially humanist message knowing that one day all the supernatural mythology in which it was wrapped would have to be discarded.’ Paradise News’s theology, or anti-theology, thus has it the other way as well: you can believe in God if you like, because it needn’t make any difference. What Lodge’s novel does believe in—its enormous, unexamined, bright-eyed act of faith—is the necessary reward of good action, that good will come of good. As to why, or even if, that should be so, the question is loudly begged. Indeed, the paradoxical effect of Lodge’s reliance on excessive good fortune, of his relentlessly providential plotting, his ineffaceable optimism, is to argue its unlikeliness, its incredibility. We are a long way from the instantaneous scrubbing-out deaths of E. M. Forster, and further still from, say, Anita Brookner’s austere fables of how goodness will fail because it is too good to cope with bad, but when, at the close of the novel, Bernard opens a letter from Yolande and announces yet more ‘Very good news’, we might think of these writers.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1193
SOURCE: “Vacation or Vocation,” in Times Literary Supplement, September 27, 1991, p. 25.
[In the following review, Cunningham offers an unfavorable assessment of Paradise News.]
David Lodge’s latest novel [Paradise News] is a very hodge-podge affair. Fictional kinds and methods clash brusquely in it. Tonally, it is an unresolved mixture of the earnest and the comic. It reads as if the satirico-autobiographical Roman Catholic Bildungsroman mode of How Far Can You Go? were bumping noisily and lumpily around in an old kitchen blender with the academic-travelogue matter of Changing Places and Small World, and refusing quite to blend.
Bernard Walsh, aged forty-four, is the latest in Lodge’s lengthy line of screwed-up Catholic boys who will, or might just, be saved by a guilt-free screw. A spoiled priest from a South London Irish family who lectures in negative theology at an interdenominational theological college in the Midlands city of Rummidge. Bernard is escorting his reluctant and accident-prone Daddy on a package trip to Honolulu, for a belated reunion with his estranged aunt, Ursula, who is dying of cancer.
It is a busy journey into pun, analogy and allegory. Double entendre is the name of Lodge’s fictional game. How far, the question is, can Bernard go, or come? He’s come, we’re told, a long way since being chief thurible-bearer at Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. And now he’s come a long way to the place billed as Paradise. Paradise, Hawaii is full of paradisal claims. There is, for instance, a Paradise News. And Lodge is eager to pass on News from Paradise. But Paradise is a term, like many another here, that skids and slips provokingly about. Once, of course, Bernard promoted consoling priestly visions of divine paradise to fraught suburban Catholics. He was, he gloomily reflects, a kind of heavenly travel agent. Now all he’s got left is the secular paradise offered to sun-seekers in holiday brochures—texts glibly glossing the horrors of Heathrow queues, in-flight movies, concreted-over nature and theme-hotels. In Lodge’s book, tourism as secularized grail-quest is as unsatisfactory as the old discredited Christian promises. There is a collapse of eschatologies, sacred and secular, old and new, all round.
But is all this comic? Lodge comes to us as a renowned comic writer, expanding, according to the blurb, “the boundaries of comedy”. His narrative voice strives for the jokey and America is obliging with joke-stops. In Honolulu, there’s a tropical slush called pupu; much chortling accompanies its many appearances. Cosmopolitan names are also good for a laugh. Aunt Ursula has a Jewish neighbour called Mrs Knoepflmacher; smirk again. (Actually, Lodge has borrowed the name of an American Victorian scholar: no need to speculate here, as there was with Morris Zapp, which living academic donated it.) But none of this amounts to more than thin pickings. Like the so-called “carnivalesque” when Bernard and his Daddy whizz about Heathrow on a buggy, looking for lost passport and boarding-card in the company of a cripple and a fat black woman, it is not very funny.
Still, there is the satire. And Lodge clearly enjoys that: some of it familiarly Catholic charismatic priests, liturgical innovations, and so on; much of it familiarly American: the restaurant sketch, the zeal for litigation, the ghastly business of medical insurance (Daddy gets knocked over by a car so, with Ursula deep in medical territory, Bernard does a lot of negotiating with Medicare personnel and visiting of the sick.) What really animates Lodge is sick comedy and comedy about the sick black wrynesses provoked by metaphorically sick human activities such as tourism, but mainly ironies accumulating around the actually sick. Cancer is everywhere in the story. Paradise News is a kind of cancer ward, full of the old, the sick, the dying. It keeps arranging visits to hospices, from the stinking hovels which the poor and underinsured get landed in, to the quasi-paradises which big bucks buy you. Aunt Ursula, who contracted her malignant melonomas in the tropical sun, shares her author’s gallows humour. Chemotherapy is refused because she “wants to die with her hair on”. Others are unconsciously sick-humorist; one Brummy tourist comes unstuck trying to flog off his stock of sun-beds to the natives.
So is this, then, a black comedy? It is hard to be certain: not least because happy endings are dished out so busily. By the end, the unhappy crowd of package tourists have become mainly satisfied. The quarrelling just-marrieds reaffirm their marriage vows to the strains of Hawaiian love songs. The parents, appalled to discover their son’s homosexuality, are reconciled because of his heroism in rescuing someone drowning in the surf. Bernard has his long-lost libido restored by the rather lengthily dwelt-on sex-therapy devices of the comely woman who knocked his father over. There are hints of a miracle, no less. And much Catholic sentimentalism washes over Ursula’s last encounters with the final priestly ministrations. So what J. R. R. Tolkien christened eucatastrophe is apparently asserted, and the novel’s various journeys towards paradise prospects take on the ancient airs of Shakespearean comedy. But it is not completely so. There still remain great flaws in the final unguent Bernard, at the end, is still theologically negative—far to the left, as he says, of what’s left of Don Cupitt. Paradise remains lost. Death and disease remain incurable, even by the nice charismatic American priest’s anointings and prayers. What’s more, inheriting Ursula’s dollars won’t reverse the brain-damage that Bernard’s nephew, Patrick, suffered at birth.
Lodge has long been a notable haverer about theological certainties. And while being agnostic about Christian belief doesn’t necessarily condition anybody’s view about the nature of jesting as such, it is an honestly doubtful posture that naturally leads to dithering about Divine Comedy and the prospects of paradises of every sort. It does not, though, explain, or excuse, the other kind of clamant indecisiveness in this novel’s writing—Lodge’s hesitating between the desire, on the one hand to produce lightly satirical stuff about travel agents and package tourists, involving flat characters, conventionally slack lingo and stereotyped scenes, and on the other to go in for serious, didactic, learned reflections about God, theology now, leisure pursuits in a post-Christian culture and modern textuality. His easygoing jibes, telly-series-style, which describe doings in departure lounges and foreign caffs and tour-buses, sit uneasily with his favoured seminar manner. Here, the professorial, pedagogic Bernard is assisted by a travelling poly lecturer who deconstructs tourism: in addition, we get the author’s usual easy ranging across English literature, the learned vocabulary of post-modernist critical discourse from midrash to pareschaton, and the constant criticism of the rather artfully arranged varieties of modern travel’s battery of conflicting texts—the brochures, postcards and videos.
Lodge’s attempt to weld the discourses of the everyday with those of the seminar-room—which was the effective point of the satire in Nice Work—simply breaks down here in an uneasy mish-mash of styles. Perhaps it is time he decided to write for only one kind of audience—graduates or couch potatoes—at a time.
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SOURCE: “Recycling Metafictions,” in New Statesman & Society, September 27, 1991, p. 53.
[In the following review, Quinn offers an unfavorable assessment of Paradise News.]
While transporting his characters to more exotic climes, David Lodge does not appear to have noticed just how small his own world has become. His latest novel, Paradise News, borrows its main hinge—cloistered academic visits new world and discovers a new self—from Changing Places, but that’s not the half of it. Lodge here is not revisiting old themes and motifs so much as recycling them. Readers who have delighted in his previous work—I count myself among them—may well come away from it with a bad case of déja vu.
The book opens at Heathrow, where Lodge assembles a motley package of holiday-makers all bound for Hawaii. The travel rep surveys the party with “an expression of mingled pity and contempt”, hardly surprising given the condescension their creator has visited upon them. Here come a pair of warring honeymooners; a tedious anthropologist out researching a new study of tourism; a married couple from Croydon off to visit their son; and Brian Everthorpe, the loutish salesman from Nice Work, with wife and video camera in tow. Lodge’s approximation of the lower-middle-class vernacular carries the wretched de haut en bas jollity of those early Punch cartoon captions—does he really expect us to laugh at people dropping their aitches?
Also among this holiday bunch is Bernard Walsh, a sad-sack lecturer in theology and a disgraced ex-priest, drummed out of the church after an amorous indiscretion. He is accompanying his frail, curmudgeonly old dad’ on a visit to Waikiki, where Mr Walsh Sr’s long-lost sister, Ursula, is living. Or rather dying—she is terminally ill with cancer, and wants to make peace with a brother she hasn’t seen since a big family schism in the 1950s. Bernard’s sister Tess thinks the whole venture a foolish risk to her father’s health, and when Walsh Sr is knocked down by a car on his first day in Hawaii, her forebodings seem far from misplaced. Bernard in the meantime gets friendly with Yolande, driver of the offending vehicle, and another unlikely romance takes root.
While Bernard is sorting out his personal life, in between shuttling from his father’s bedside to his aunt’s, Lodge wanders freely around his ensemble for yet another take on the English Abroad. He handles this by inserting a chapter of letters and postcards home, none of which amuses or even convinces, since he hasn’t bothered differentiating one from another.
Further flouting one’s credulity is Bernard’s delivery of his “journal”—roughly a third of Paradise News, in fact—to Yolande’s doorstep at a crux in their relationship. “It’s like reading about yourself as a character in a novel,” she coos, though it’s more like a limp reminder of Lodge’s interest in the procedures of metafiction.
One is reminded of much else in these pages: the handicapped child (from How Far Can You Go?); the conveniently timed windfall (from Nice Work); the sexual awakening of an ingénu (from Small World). Why, you wonder, has the novelist taken to plagiarising his own oeuvre? Lodge in his professorial mode would probably dignify this as “intertextuality”—we, on the other hand, would more accurately call it “old hat”.
Lodge’s best fiction has set up a conflict between disparate attitudes or ideologies, then milked it for a steady flow of gags. Paradise News lacks that defining tension, and resolves the little crises it sets for itself with a minimum of drama and, sadly, wit. Its thematic content is largely tied up with Bernard’s uneasy break from the Catholic Church and his spiritual compromise as a theologian, but the tussle between faith and doubt has been expressed more economically—and much more entertainingly—in How Far Can You Go? That novel seemed born of a real urgency to communicate. Paradise News, I’m afraid, seems born of David Lodge’s latest commission for a television series.
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SOURCE: “Nice Work,” in Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 25, No. 2, Winter, 1992, pp. 211-3.
[In the following review, Kershner offers a positive evaluation of After Bakhtin. Though noting that the volume offers few new observations concerning Bakhtin's work, Kershner praises Lodge's analysis and recommends the collection for general academic readers and students of dialogic criticism.]
A review should be, in principle, a dialogic rejoinder to one’s own discourse, but that discourse did not want or expect a rejoinder, it pretended to render all further discussion of the matter superfluous, to leave the reader in a state of dumb admiration. Hence, if your reviewer agrees with you, he seems to be stating the obvious, which is boring, or he agrees with you for the wrong reasons, which is embarrassing, and if he disagrees with you, it is because he has missed the point, or is airing a view of his own, which is irritating.
This passage from David Lodge’s new book [After Bakhtin] would be a good example of what Bakhtin calls the “word with a sideward glance,” except that it is closer to a “sideward glare.” Lodge is an intelligent and elegant enough writer to put me into a state of acute self-consciousness even before I realized my choices were to be boring, embarrassing, or irritating. All the more so since this is purportedly Lodge’s farewell to academic criticism. Several years ago he retired from his position at the University of Birmingham, and since then has gradually felt himself increasingly removed from academic literary criticism, which he sees as a more and more arcane metalanguage, less and less relevant to his own work as a practicing novelist. He admits, accurately enough, that there is a certain “elegaic ring” to a number of the essays.
In staking out his critical position, Lodge, I think, finds himself in somewhat the same situation as Wayne Booth: both, having produced a sort of summa for their respective generations—Booth’s Rhetoric of Fiction, Lodge’s Language of Fiction—now find that Bakhtin has caused them to rethink important aspects of their positions.1 Lodge, trained as a New Critic, was attempting to demonstrate that the novel form is capable of the same sort of subtlety, ambiguity, and formal coherence that the New Critics had found in lyric poetry, and in general he sought his evidence in passages of authorial narrative, what Plato called the diegesis. All critical questions about the novel, he then believed (though he no longer does), were reducible to questions about language. During his career Lodge has been more informed about and open to Continental criticism than most of his British contemporaries, and has been able to make very practical use of structuralism and narratology, especially the work of Todorov and Genette. He has been far less sympathetic to post-structuralism, with its demolition of individual subjectivity, especially that of the Author, and its reduced reliance on close reading. Still, the challenge of post-structuralism obviously has bothered him, and he is delighted to find that “if we are looking for a theory of the novel that will transcend the opposition of humanist and post-structuralist viewpoints and provide an ideological justification for the novel that will apply to its entire history, the most likely candidate is the work of Mikhail Bakhtin” (21).
As Lodge points out, one of the reasons for Bakhtin’s popularity is that aspects of his thought can be adapted by critics of widely varying persuasions, from classical humanists to post-structuralist Marxists. Each creates his or her own Bakhtin, generally in his or her own image, and this problem has been exacerbated by the fact that few critics are competent to read Bakhtin’s works in the original Russian or to evaluate their original context (even if we knew for sure which are his works). Thus most of us are at the mercy of Bakhtin’s interpreters, such as Tzvetan Todorov with his rather structuralist Bakhtin, Julia Kristeva with her post-structuralist Bakhtin, Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist with their Christian, non-Marxist Bakhtin, Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson with their evolving, linguistically-based Bakhtin, or Ken Hirschkop with his maverick Marxist Bakhtin.2 Of these, Lodge most often invokes Todorov and Clark and Holquist as authorities; of course, some of the essays collected here were written in the early eighties, when few other sources were available. His own Bakhtin is rather formalist, despite his awareness of Bakhtin’s fundamental disagreements with the Russian Formalists. Thus Lodge repeatedly invokes well-known binary oppositions such as fabula/suzhet, diegesis/mimesis, and metonymy/metaphor throughout the essays in ways that will be familiar to readers of The Modes of Modern Writing (1977), even as he admits that they are of limited utility. In After Bakhtin his most frequent use of Bakhtin’s own critical procedure is in analyzing the dialogical interactions between “authorial language” and “character language” in a wide span of novels, and this he does as well as anyone now writing.
The first essay in the book, “The Novel Now,” which appeared three years ago in Novel, is a short, lucid, but somewhat dated discussion of the critical controversies of the sixties and seventies and an introduction to Bakhtin’s significance in that context. The next, “Mimesis and Diegesis in Modern Fiction,” argues that the “classic realist” novel intermixed diegesis and mimesis, which the modernist novel moved almost entirely toward mimesis (or at least away from the “authoritative” authorial voice), and the postmodern novel (by which Lodge seems to mean the novel since the second World War, including Waugh and Isherwood) foregrounded diegesis, though without the classic implication of authority. In the next few chapters Lodge shows the workings of dialogism in a variety of places where one might not expect to find it; for instance, in George Eliot. Lodge convincingly demolishes Colin MacCabe’s argument in James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word that in the “classic realist text” Middlemarch the authorial voice overwhelms all other languages represented within it. He even finds dialogism working in Lawrence’s Women in Love, although here I think he is confusing Lawrence’s ability to represent seriously the position of characters other than the Lawrence-figure Birkin with a genuinely dialogical interaction of voices that would affect the authorial voice as well. In “After Bakhtin” he tackles the problem of “monologism” in Bakhtin’s thought: since Lodge, like many critics, including myself, finds dialogical effects not only in the classical realist novel but in poets such as Yeats, where would we look for monologism? He suggests, reasonably enough, that the dialogical and the monological are two tendencies of writing, seldom if ever found in a pure state.
The essays in the second half of the book are less focussed on Bakhtin; some concentrate on familiar issues like structure and indeterminacy, and a few, like “Crowds and Power in the Early Victorian Novel” introduce a social or political element into Lodge’s critical perspective. This might well be another aspect of Bakhtin’s legacy by way of his concept of carnival, although in general Lodge pays little attention to the fundamental role Bakhtin assigns to the ideological element in language. The depth and breadth of Lodge’s reading in the novel are, as always, impressive; he is equally good on Austen, James, Kipling, and Kundera. His last two essays in the collection are especially energetic. The first of these appreciatively reviews a radical critical text by Bernard Sharratt entitled Reading Relations which is itself apparently one of the few genuine examples of dialogical criticism, in that it includes within itself hostile “reviews,” relevant “seminar” records, anthologies of quotations from critics, take-home examination questions, and so forth. The last reviews Imre Salusinsky’s collection of interviews with “star” critics (Kermode, Said, Lentricchia, Bloom, Miller, etc.) entitled Criticism in Society. This book too, in a different sense, might be said to represent dialogical criticism, in that critics interviewed later were able to read the comments of their predecessors and respond to them, and also in that the personal and institutional situation of each of the critics tends to enter the discussion, clearly affecting the “abstract theorizing” that Bakhtin so hated. Both of these essays deal with the frightening degree of self-consciousness that has recently been brought to the professional critic’s vocation—a self-consciousness that Lodge, in a less overtly disturbing way, himself shows throughout these essays.
The audience of After Bakhtin is hard to determine: perhaps the “general academic reader,” if such a creature exists. The specialist in theory will find few new ideas here, although the specific readings of texts are both exciting and elegant. For the benefit of the non-specialist, Lodge has tried to define his terms as he goes, not always successfully; “metalanguage,” for example, is defined on its first usage but not “aposiopesis.” There is a good deal of redundancy among the essays in the material introducing Bakhtin’s ideas (although, to be fair, there is a good deal of redundancy in Bakhtin as well). Because Lodge is primarily interested in only a few of the ways in which Bakhtin’s thought can be used in literary studies, this is probably not the best introduction to the Russian thinker available. It is, however, the first place I would send students interested in how to apply the concept of dialogism to literary texts. It is also well worth anyone’s time for its wit, grace, and clarity, for its demonstration of how a master analyst of the novel reads, and for its provocative implications on the state of the profession.
See Booth’s “Freedom of Interpretation: Bakhtin and the Challenge of Feminist Criticism” in Gary Saul Morson, ed., Bakhtin: Essays and Dialogues on His Work (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 145–76.
See, e.g., Tzvetan Todorov, Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle, trans. Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984); Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, trans. Thomas Gora et al. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980); Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, Mikhail Bakhtin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984); Michael Holquist, Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World (New York and London: Routledge, 1990); Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990); Ken Hirschkop and David Shepherd, eds. Bakhtin and Cultural Theory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989).
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SOURCE: “Flying High,” in Commonweal, May 22, 1992, pp. 23-4.
[In the following review, Wheeler offers a positive assessment of Paradise News.]
David Lodge has returned to familiar territory—sex and the fences Catholicism seems to throw about it. This is a love story, a status report on the minds of late twentieth-century theologians, an allegory of modern tourist practices as pilgrimage, and finally a meditation on finality: of the four last things, death, judgment, heaven and hell, only death is certain. The other three items get marginal restatement in a quotation from Unamuno by way of Reader’s Digest.
This is so deeply Catholic a book it is a wonder that it is not religious. No, Paradise News is a literary novel, as previous works by the former professor of English at Birmingham University (U.K.) have led us to expect. The hero, Bernard Walsh, very much in the pattern of Lodge’s displaced academic heroes, quotes Yeats, points the direction of the neo-Platonic allegory, and yet, in ways most unlike his predecessor Phillip Swallow (Changing Places, Small World, Nice Work), gains from us considerable compassion. He is unpretentious, honest, and likable as he grows into competence in facing a world which has lost its old meanings. Bernard is a laicized priest; his disillusionment, his agnosticism, his skeptical teaching of theology, and his awakening to love in “paradise” offer a review of the last thirty years of church history and one of its possible outcomes. Schadenfreude was a term that Lodge used in his earlier works, that joy in others’ misfortune; the measure of the author’s own trajectory into late middle age can be taken at the narrowness of the arc of the humor he lobs at death: satire becomes more a grimace when the ground starts to open closer to our own feet.
Sexual tension with a unique Catholic twist, which Lodge exploited so humorously in The British Museum Is Falling Down and Souls and Bodies, still drives the novel, but the force of sex is darker as the chief characters move closer to ends. The plot takes Bernard and his crusty father to Hawaii, the paradise of the title, to tend a terminally sick aunt. The journey there gives the book a locus, a sort of Canterbury Tales’ Tabard Inn with wings. The souls are departing to the fortunate isle and one traveler, a sociologist with a specialty in tourism, offers Bernard and us the allegory of package tour as pilgrimage. But there is a skull-ready to grin beneath the skin of all those who inhabit paradise. Lodge shows us the effects of cancer and the modern way of dying in nursing homes; memento mori for Bernard’s aged aunt is a call to exhume an episode of sexual abuse in her vivid but distant Anglo-Irish past. The return to her roots is a discovery of a sort of maggot, the sexual serpent in the Catholic stem which cankers marriage and the embrace of life. She and Bernard’s father have to come to terms, and do. As the flesh withers from his aunty’s frame, laicized Bernard discovers mortal rebirth in sexual therapy. The novel ends justly with family reconciliation, happy death, redemption of the body, and atrophy of belief. The flesh is indeed always and finally willing. But the spirit? Bernard’s spiritual and theological being hangs by the slenderest of hopes—the stretched sense that this life can’t be all there is. (This in bald paraphrase is Unamuno’s contribution.) Not much pńeuma comes through the noose.
The book rehearses familiar Lodge narrative structures: contrasting settings, one in drab English Rummidge and the other in exotic Hawaii; multiple perspectives recorded through the texts of postcards, journals, videotapes and the like; the shifts from the major plot structure by way of interleaved segments—a cinematic technique—and cameo appearances of characters from earlier novels. This is an artfully and vividly realized world. But David Lodge has us reaching for anthologies to check citations or to pursue a scriptural reference. The cross-matching of the allegory does tease a reader: if tourism is pilgrimage, then the reverse holds true and the church is travel agent. Thus Bernard on his loss of faith:
The appeal of the gospel message … remains essentially the same. The Good News is news of eternal life, Paradise news. For my parishioners, I was a kind of travel agent, issuing tickets, insurance, brochures, guaranteeing them ultimate happiness. And looking down at their faces from the altar, as I pronounced these promises and hopes week after week, looking at their patient, trusting, slightly bored faces, and wondering whether they really believed what I was saying or merely hoped that it was true, I realized that I didn’t, not any longer, not a word of it. …
Later we overhear Bernard as he delivers an introductory lecture on trends in twentieth-century theology. He asks rhetorically what distinguishes a Christianity purged of a promise of eternal life from secular humanism. The answer: “It’s as if Jesus left this essentially humanist message [Matthew 25] knowing that one day all the supernatural mythology in which it was wrapped would have to be discarded.” We also hear the true and narrow bickerings of families over estranged relations, over possible inheritance, of the burden of profoundly disabled children. And the effortless prose—the pleasures of the text that are not above a type of readerly foreplay and delayed consummation. Yolande Miller is the initiator of Bernard’s awakening to the flesh. Here is experienced Eve giving virgin Adam the right news in paradise. It is a grand and enjoyable read; but the plot leaves little doubt that the forms of theological thought cannot contain the wine of life. No, nor can the institution of the church offer much more than social service. This is an honest meditation on the last things, but the prayer which evolves from the clear apprehension of death is more an affirmation of eros than of agape.
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SOURCE: “Father of Fun,” in National Review, August 17, 1992, pp. 41-2.
[In the following review of Paradise News, Johnston objects to Lodge's superficial treatment of religious doubt but finds modest entertainment value in the novel.]
David Lodge is one of those prolific English novelists who finally make the lucrative transatlantic leap with their six or seventh novel. With the appearance of Small World in 1984 the American reading public became Lodge conscious. Once they pick up on an Englishman like Lodge, moreover, American readers tend to remain loyal. This is probably because English novelists of moderate talent are so dependable. We know exactly what to expect from them, whereas it’s anyone’s guess what Roth or Mailer or Styron—authors who reinvent themselves with each new book—is going to do next.
Brand loyalty has its rewards. In Lodge’s case, we can expect a comedy of manners set in a specific milieu (say, the English department of a university) which is thoroughly researched. Lodge’s best novel, Changing Places (1975), was a hilarious sendup of modern academia which contained much absorbing information about the latest fads in literary criticism. His new novel, Paradise News, an account of a family errand that brings two Englishmen to the island of Oahu, has a similar wealth of detail about the vacation industry. Just as Sinclair Lewis had to set up a Bible-preaching school to get material for Elmer Gantry, so we can imagine Mr. Lodge hanging around travel agencies and Waikiki hospitality suites in order to get the details exactly right.
The story line of Paradise News is almost not worth mentioning. Bernard, an excommunicated English priest who has ceased to believe in God but still teaches theology, takes his father to visit a dying relative on Oahu. Once they are there, a minor family drama plays itself out. But when a buxom American matron crosses Bernard’s path, the only question is, Can the former priest revive his long-suppressed libido?
The answer is on page 221: “‘OK! OK! OK! Oh!’ she gasped.”
What brought Bernard to this pass, where it takes days of coaching on a hotel bed before he can join the ranks of adulterers? Readers of previous Lodge novels already have the answer: his Catholic upbringing. “Basically I was paralyzed with fear of Hell and ignorance of sex,” Bernard informs us. Here we get to the heart of Lodge’s “message,” to the extent that he has one. It is that sex, not religion, is redemptive. Just as every D. H. Lawrence novel must have a scene in which a repressed English woman trembles before the “dark beauty” of an illiterate peasant, so in Paradise News we know from the start that the lapsed Catholic priest is going to discover that priapic abandon beats the sacramental order any day.
To make sure that we don’t take this flight from God to hedonism lightly, Bernard the theologian gives us pages of serious lectures about the impossibility of believing in any religious creed. Despite the dropping of names like Barth, Tillich, and Rahner, these arguments are about as sophisticated as those of anti-clerical journalists a hundred years ago who asked how anyone in an age of steam engines and telegraphs could believe in God.
Since this is a novel, however, Lodge can have it both ways: he can do his best to persuade the casual reader that there are good reasons for doubting the existence of God, while not having to worry that any competent authority will bother to expose his non-sequiturs and dubious premises because this is, after all, only fiction.
I don’t want to make too much of Lodge’s shallowness, because he succeeds in the primary task of the novelist, which is to entertain. But it’s too bad that he has opted to go flopping along with the spirit of the age, which detracts from his powers as a satirist. The promotional literature accompanying my review copy makes the inevitable comparison with Waugh; but Waugh’s comedy is of a much higher order, not least because he had a firmly traditional faith, in opposition to modern tendencies. Waugh’s novels provide nourishment along with laughs, while the author of Paradise News is merely being clever.
Still, the novel moves along with a pleasurable hum; turning its pages is as easy as listening to light FM. Lodge’s eye for comic detail also remains as sharp as ever. You can take Paradise News to the beach, skip the theological bits, and ponder the bitter-sweet observations of a sea resort where everyone is strenuously trying to have fun.
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SOURCE: “Holding the Floor,” in Times Literary Supplement, October 23, 1992, p. 23.
[In the following unfavorable review of The Art of Fiction, Kemp finds shortcomings in the volume's lack of focus and consistency.]
“This is a book for people who prefer to take their Lit Crit in small doses, a book to browse in, and dip into”, David Lodge declares in his introduction to The Art of Fiction. It is also a book—that description could, unfortunately, be construed as confessing—strung together from short newspaper pieces, lacking any guiding structure, and fairly shallow in content.
What makes this a particular pity is that its intention is admirable: to discuss aspects of the novel in a manner accessible and attractive to the “general reader”. What is presented to that reader between Chapter One (“Beginning”) and Chapter Fifty (“Ending”), though, is a random-looking miscellany, with Lodge skipping, apparently at whim, from “Suspense” to “Teenage Skaz”, from “Weather” to “Repetition”. A big topic like “The Comic Novel” gets less space than “The Telephone”.
Though longer than they were, chapters rarely seem adequately enlarged from their original, necessarily cramped state as weekly pieces in the Independent on Sunday. No attempt appears to have been made to apply some organization or weed out overlap. On three separate occasions, for instance, Erving Goffman’s theory about “breaking the frame” is commented on.
Such recurrences wouldn’t matter, if it weren’t for the fact that the book suffers from lack of room. Partly this is a result of Lodge’s decision to allow himself considerable intrusion. A glance at the index, where Conrad, Joseph, and Lawrence, D. H., get seven entries each, Richardson, Samuel, five, and Wells, H. G., one, while Lodge, David, gets eleven (some several pages long), gives an indication of the priorities obtaining. Formulations like “To cite my own experience”, “Reviewing my own practice in this respect”, “Readers acquainted with my Changing Places may recall …”, usher in sizeable disquisitions on his own work. These can be very interesting. But often—as when half of the chapter on “Coincidence” is devoted to Small World while Hardy doesn’t even get a mention, or more pages are allocated to the end of Changing Places than to the entire topic of “The Comic Novel”—it’s hard to see that they justify their length in a book that everywhere shows signs of being squashed. There’s a feeling of other authors having to flatten themselves against the walls as Lodge holds the floor.
The best things in the book are chapters where Lodge closes in on topics sufficiently self-contained to be reasonably discussable in three pages or so. A particularly deft section uses an extract from Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes to exemplify suspense. Ingeniously, Lodge takes an episode—where Knight is perilously clinging to a cliff—that illustrates his subject both literally and metaphorically and gives vivid substance to the concept of the cliff-hanger. The close reading he applies to the passage is an additional bonus, also on offer in some other sections: a fine analysis of Martin Amis’s prose in Money that draws notice to the way even verb mood changes—indicative, interrogative, imperative—energize it; an alert itemization of effects achieved by lists in a scene from Tender is the Night about Nicole as a consumer.
In sections like these, there’s no sense of the glaring gaps that appear elsewhere. A chapter on “The Comic Novel”, looking only at Lucky Jim and a sentence from Decline and Fall, and one on “Imagining the Future”, represented by a glance at Michael Frayn’s A Very Private Life and talk about the opening of Nineteen Eighty-Four, seem stocked with peculiar meagreness. Asserting that “there is no real equivalent to be found in modern English literature” to the European “novel of ideas”, Lodge’s chapter on that subject overlooks Iris Murdoch’s copious output, though you’d think her fiction would perfectly fit his definition of a form “in which abnormally articulate characters bat philosophical questions back and forth”.
Again and again, the book seems slightly out of true. In his essay on “Beginning”, Lodge remarks that Muriel Spark “broods mentally on the concept of a new novel and does not set pen to paper until she has thought of a satisfactory opening sentence”. But, as she has stated in interviews, it’s the title of a novel, not its opening sentence, that is her starting-point: “I always start with a title. … A novel for me is always an elaboration of a title.” Even more out of focus is the claim that “when the narrator of Goodbye to Berlin says ‘I am a camera’, he is thinking of a movie camera”. If so, he’s thinking of a very odd one, since he adds that this camera, “with its shutter open”, is taking pictures that “will have to be developed, printed, fixed”. The last word scarcely suggests the “cinematic” mobility Lodge says Isherwood is promising.
Blurriness on detail can result in notable incongruity. Devoting a chapter to “Names”, and maintaining that “In a novel names are never neutral”, the book refers several times to a character in The History Man called Flora Benidorm. This down-marketing of Bradbury’s voluptuous academic, Flora Beniform, is particularly puzzling as it follows the quoting and analysing of a passage in which her “lovely chest” is prominent.
The book can seem a bit awry on even larger matters. When discussing. “The Title”, Lodge affirms that recent novelists “often favour whimsical, riddling, off-beat titles like The Catcher in the Rye, A History of the World in 10[frac12] Chapters, For Black Girls Who Consider Suicide When The Rainbow Is Not Enuf”. But a far more noteworthy trend is surely towards one-word, often abstract, titles that encapsulate a novel’s theme: Shame, Possession, Money, Regeneration, Restoration, Immortality, Deception, Fraud. This chapter typifies another feature of the book, as well, in the unabashedly basic nature of much of its commentary. Lodge notes, for instance, that “The titles of the earliest English novels were invariably the names of the central characters” but doesn’t move on to add the more significant point that—well into the nineteenth century—when that character is male, both Christian name and surname will generally appear in the title (Joseph Andrews, David Copperfield, Daniel Deronda); when the protagonist is female (Evelina, Pamela, Emma), only the first is usually given, it being assumed that marriage is likely to change the surname by the end of the book.
Lodge never shrinks from the banal; a novel’s opening “should … as the phrase goes, ‘draw us in’”; “New Grub Street is not a cheerful book”. This stems from an honourable unwillingness to be high-falutin or obscure—though inconsistencies do creep in; hyperbole is scrupulously translated as “exaggeration or overstatement”, but a piece of recent jargon like “mediation” goes unexplained. Sometimes, the tone—eager not to alienate by sounding too academic—can lapse into the roguish jocularity of a slightly desperate extramural lecture: of Elfride’s rescuing of Knight from the cliff-face, Lodge twinkles “How she does it I will not divulge, except to say, by way of encouragement to those of you who haven’t yet got round to reading this delightful book, that it entails taking off all her clothes.”
At a time when most literary criticism has shut itself into a specialist bunker, bristling with rebarbative terminology and densely surrounded by semantic smoke-screens, it comes hard to carp at an enterprise as praiseworthy in purpose as this. But, disappointingly, an author who has shown himself very much at home in the novel form seems off his form in this survey of it.
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SOURCE: A review of After Bakhtin, in Notes and Queries, Vol. 237, No. 4, December, 1992, pp. 529-30.
[In the following review, Sellars offers an unfavorable assessment of After Bakhtin.]
The ‘Bakhtin industry’ is undergoing a period of expansion. After Bakhtin, however, is not a study of the Russian literary theorist as such. There is little discussion of Bakhtin criticism—not much on Todorov or de Man, for example, and no mention of Kristeva. As regards Bakhtin himself, Lodge tends to repeat the same quotations (or even misquotations) from one chapter to the next, without furthering a general argument. His book is a ‘collation of warmed-up occasional essays and reviews’, to take one of his own phrases out of context (169). More could have been done to revise the collation, and to explore the problems of Bakhtin.
We are ‘after’ Bakhtin in the obvious sense that he was hardly known at all in English during his lifetime. After Bakhtin attempts to show what effects his work might now have on writing and reading. The book begins with two essays on the state of the novel and literary theory. Then there are essays on George Eliot, realism, and Colin MacCabe; on D. H. Lawrence and Bakhtin; and on dialogue in the contemporary novel. The central chapter is entitled ‘After Bakhtin’, but Bakhtin then fades from view, the last citation of his work being found in the subsequent chapter on the industrial novel and the French Revolution. This is followed by a discussion of Jane Austen and realism, an introduction to Henry James’s The Spoils of Poynton, an essay on Kipling, a discussion of Milan Kundera and the question of the author, and finally reviews of an experimental work by Bernard Sharratt (Reading Relations) and a book of interviews with literary theorists by Imre Salusinszky (Criticism in Society). The scope is wide, but too many of Lodge’s suggestions—regarding the impossibility of ‘monologic’ discourse, the nature of the trope in Bakhtin, or the significance of Bloom’s theory of influence—are left undeveloped.
Admirers of Lodge’s fiction will want to read After Bakhtin, which may be his last collection of criticism (8). It is clearly the work of a novelist, building a latter-day House of Fiction. As novelist, Lodge feels a ‘parental responsibility’ for his novels (15), and as critic, he is preoccupied with saving the author as an autonomous agent—hence his resistance to post-structuralist theory. He claims that Bakhtin offers a theory of intertextuality which does not subvert the ‘author’, thus supplying Lodge with a convenient defence against post-structuralism (4, 57–8), a rationale for his novelistic practice (7), and an account of the productive relationship between his fiction and criticism (24). Lodge’s occasional self-criticisms apply to both aspects of his work, and he blurs the epistemological boundaries between them, to intriguing effect. Theory feeds fiction. Anyone familiar with the novels will recognize Morris Zapp as the source of the dictum ‘“Every decoding is another encoding”’, which Lodge disingenuously ascribes to ‘another modern authority’ (90). Professor Zapp has become a kind of critical authority, and is cited as such in Bernard Bergonzi’s Exploding English (Oxford, 1990). It testifies to the strength of Lodge’s fiction that, in his final chapter, we can imagine the critics interviewed by Salusinszky as characters in a David Lodge novel or play. The book ends by dismissing the ambition to enter the Small World of academic criticism with the throwaway line, ‘If that’s what you want to do’ (184). Lodge has hitherto published criticism and fiction in alternation: in 1991 we can therefore look forward to the next piece of fictional Nice Work from this indefatigable comic writer. Perhaps it is ungrateful to censure the critical work of someone so dedicated to the cause of cheering us all up.
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SOURCE: A review of Paradise News, in World Literature Today, Vol. 67, No. 1, Winter, 1993, pp. 181-2.
[In the following review of Paradise News, Thompson praises Lodge's narrative skill and humor, but finds shortcomings in his treatment of profound theological issues.]
As in a number of his earlier novels, David Lodge in Paradise News is both very funny and serious—in that order. Funny, in that his treatment of a group of British tourists who disembark for a vacation in Hawaii after a long and exhausting flight from Heathrow often verges on the wildly hilarious; but also serious, in that his central character, Bernard Walsh, who teaches theology in England—having earlier abandoned the priesthood and the Church along with his faith—has now to cope with dilemmas in commercialized Honolulu that turn out to be as ethically important as they are incongruous.
If David Lodge is serious about his work, however, a question remains about his method. Granted that he is steadily inventive, can he balance serious ideas against humor that can move from dazzling to slapstick without having his work sometimes slip over into the merely facile? Typically, he grounds things on a well-plotted story line with details that are accurate. Thus, his random crowd of British tourists have very specific reasons, ranging from the silly to the reasonable, for taking this two-week package tour to Paradise. Sue and Dee are in their early thirties and looking for a husband, “Mr. Right,” for Dee, as they have done on earlier trips to Athens, Florida, Crete, and other such spots. Brian Everthorpe and his wife are on their second honeymoon, middle-aged and determined to enjoy themselves and to record the whole thing on videotape. Cecily and Russ are on their first honeymoon, but the bride isn’t speaking to her husband. Sheldrake is an anthropologist who has built a successful academic career out of explaining how organized travel can be considered as the modern equivalent of the medieval pilgrimage—visits to scenic spots instead of holy shrines. He makes lists of things; Paradise Motel, Paradise Bakery, Paradise Laundromat, Paradise News—the latter with information for tourists.
Barnard Walsh has the real problem, however, in that his father, who didn’t want to come on this trip anyway—a thoroughly irascible man and a believer, as Bernard is not—ends up in the hospital with a fractured pelvis instead of paying a long-delayed visit to his sister Ursula, who is dying of cancer. The elderly man had looked the wrong way in stepping off the curb and been struck by a car driven by Yolanda, a middle-aged Hawaiian woman who will become first a friend an then a bit more than that to Bernard, instructing him in the delights of physical intimacy and then love, as at other times she questions him about details of the Catholic faith in which he no longer believes.
This latter provides Lodge the opportunity to develop his main concern: the dilemma of the honest skeptic in a secular age who tries to face up to everyday life but who cannot quite let go of the big questions. Lodge has Bernard rely at first on the Penny Catechism for his answers to Yolanda, but finally Bernard will bring in ideas from Swedenborg, Barth, Bultman, Tillich, and Bonhoffer in his attempt to justify to this woman a secularized theodicy in a world contingent and shorn of purpose, where God has been demystified into an indefinite presence, and Hell and Heaven (i.e., Paradise) mostly dispensed with. And here is where Lodge’s method, though ingenious, runs some risk. He speaks as the omniscient narrator with frequent side excursions (usually funny) into the conversations and private thoughts and scribbled postcards of the tourists. At one point, however, he simply gives up and has Bernard write a long diary-journal and hand it to Yolanda, as later she sends him a page of Unamuno’s Tragic View of Life, photocopied from a dentist-office Reader’s Digest. (Just as, back in England, Bernard reads off a lecture on secular theology to a group of students as random in serious thought as the tourists themselves.)
Thus the novelist seems to talk out the ideas in which he is ultimately interested rather than dramatize them; and although he can exploit bizarre comparisons beautifully (as he had done in Changing Places with the Universities of Berkeley and Birmingham and in Nice Work [see WLT 64:3, p. 464] with the business world and academe), one wishes that serious idea and humor here—often dazzling—were everywhere more steadily unified.
David Lodge is good, very good. Is it presumptuous to convey respect for him by wishing that his Paradise News were better?
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SOURCE: “A Touch of Dread,” in Times Literary Supplement, April 28, 1995, p. 23.
[In the following review of Therapy, Korn finds Lodge's satire generally entertaining, but concludes that Lodge's attempt to make light of Kierkegaard's existential philosophy is unsuccessful.]
Asked by one of his various healers (the cognitive behaviour therapist, as it happens) to compile a list of the good and bad things in his life, balding, fifty-eight-year-old-in-1993 Laurence “Tubby” Passmore has no problem with the left-hand column: he is scriptwriter to a successful sit com, consequently rich, apparently healthy, his marriage stable, his children out of his hair, he has a nice car (after inexplicable difficulty in deciding to buy it), and a nice house in second-city Rummidge, not to mention a flat in London, where he spends quality time (asexually and therefore without threatening item four) with nice tolerant Amy, who has her own agenda as well as her own therapist. With the other side of the balance sheet he has more trouble: all he can come up with is “feel unhappy most of the time”.
Clearly the list of blessings, not unlike Job’s, is vulnerable to a late-mid-life spiritual emptiness rite-of-passage novel, technically a Pinfold. The health goes first: Laurence’s knee is the site of mysterious pangs; these continue even after surgery, as is the way of metaphorical pangs, and lead to loss of sexual potency, a frequent complication of knee problems in Pinfold subjects. Younger novelists, in early-mid-life spiritual emptiness rite-of-passage novels, often report similar symptoms, but in their case it is due to fall-out; in Laurence’s age group it is caused by Weltschmerz, and cannot be helped by acupuncture nor aromatherapy, which he has on Fridays, nor by surgery. His knee operation is performed by a Mr Nizar, which enables Passmore to make a joke (“Knees R us”). Unreconstructed commentators might say it gives Lodge a chance to make such a joke. The Nizarness of Mr Nizar is not otherwise portrayed. Amy’s psychoanalyst is a Hungarian named Kiss.
So why has wretched “Tubby” Passmore become a sounding brass and a tinkling symbol? Can it be because he has not charity? But he has: he has paid a thousand pounds for a special cheque-book to optimize the effectiveness of his charity (“Of course I could afford to give much more”) and is quite decent to Grahame, who sleeps in his doorway in Charing Cross Road. One of Laurence’s few endearing characteristics is that he likes to look things up. (It is wonderful how much material there is in a good dictionary.) Unfortunately, Amy idly uses the word Angst, and quite soon Laurence is up to his elbows, or at any rate his popliteal crease, in Søren Kierkegaard. He begins a masterclass in Dread.
This is deepened by trouble at t’sit-com, as you might say: longstanding, long-suffering wife, mainstay of plot, wishes to go elsewhere. At which point, by one of those parallelisms that make fiction stranger than fiction, Laurence’s wife Sally, a figure who has never been very distinct, at any rate not to Laurence, tells him she wants a separation. Actually she had told him earlier that evening, but he didn’t hear, being in the middle of explaining Kierkegaard at the time.
The second section of [Therapy] deals with Laurence’s response to the loss of the loved object, less philosophical than Søren’s. A comically misdirected burst of jealousy (towards his wife’s tennis coach) is followed by a swift tour of all his female acquaintances to see if they want to take over her sexual chores. Several disasters ensue: with Amy, on an improbable dirty weekend in Gran Canaria; in Los Angeles with Stella, who had expressed a passing fancy to him one evening several years earlier, and then with an unattached friend of hers; with his new script assistant in Copenhagen, where the ghost of Kierkegaard hilariously intrudes.
There is an entertaining medley of narrative voices in this section, but if we think we are escaping Laurence Passmore’s gloomy interior, we are deceived.
Now, Laurence digs deeper, locating the root of evil in his betrayal of his calf love, Maureen, whose Catholic and virgin scruples he treated disobligingly in 1951. This is the warmly remembered landscape of austerity Britain and the sexual austerity of adolescence, which Lodge wrote of in Out of the Shelter (1970, in mutilated form; restored 1985). He pursues the adult Maureen, hot for absolution, and runs her to earth on a foot-slogging pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. This does wonders for his knee, and his peace of mind. The purification through loss which Kierkegaard speaks of so highly is brought about with a satisfactory series of ironies.
No book by David Lodge is ever without incidental pleasures. There is an effective narrative trick I don’t recall having played on me before. And there are plenty of good jokes and crowd-pleasing editorials about BritRail, the NHS, porno visiting cards in telephone kiosks: a debilitating excess of topicality. At best, he catches the essence of someone in a word, as with the prescient throwaway on page 47 (“waving discreetly to Stephen Fry, who was just leaving”); at worst, he waffles like a stand-up satirist in a thin week for sleaze.
But the problem is the suitability of Scandinavian Christian Existentialism for extended comic treatment: not that Lodge doesn’t extract fun from the incongruities of it, not that he doesn’t nudge the reader to believe that the book is the therapy it describes. “The most dreadful thing that can happen to a man”, says Kierkegaard, “is to become ridiculous in his own eyes in a matter of central importance.”
Well, no actually. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to see his children butchered by the Interahamwe. Or to be unable to prevent his children dying of famine. This probably does not make him feel ridiculous, though it may have similar effects on his manhood. Like the path to salvation, like the dark night of the soul itself, the book can be a little slow-moving in places. But if David Lodge (who was fifty-eight in 1993) had a bet with himself that he could write a funny novel which would quote extensively from Fear and Trembling, The Concept of Dread, and Either/Or, he should probably pay up.
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SOURCE: “Sick at Heart,” in New Statesman & Society, May 12, 1995, p. 41.
[In the following review, Angier offers praise for Therapy.]
I read most of Therapy on a train, hooting uncontrollably (me, not the train). It’s so gloriously accurate. “Slough will be the next station stop,” said the tannoy—and there it was, on page 58: “Rugby will be the next station stop.” “BR has taken to using this cumbersome phrase, ‘station stop’ lately, presumably to distinguish scheduled stops at stations from unscheduled ones in the middle of fields.”
We got to Paddington; “This train has terminated” wasn’t in the book, oddly enough, but the station was (about Euston): “the hoi polloi waiting for trains must sit on their luggage, or on the floor (since there are no seats in the vast marbled concourse.)” Not to mention the post office (“cordoned-off lanes like Airport Immigration”), or the city library, “a brutalist construction in untreated concrete, said by the Prince of Wales to resemble a municipal incinerating plant.”
Lodge is merciless about modern Britain—but there’s so much fun in the recognition. As his hero Laurence Passmore says, seeing himself in Kierkegaard’s “unhappiest man”: “This guy has my number alright: Why then am I grinning all over my face as I read?”
Therapy is a perfect Lodge trick. It seems absolutely modern—but is in fact ancient, or timeless; it seems a comedy—but is about the stuff of tragedy: love and betrayal, good and evil, guilt and sin.
Its hero, Tubby Passmore, is middle-aged and (now) middle-class. He has a successful career (as the writer of a television sitcom), successful children, a successful marriage (a platonic mistress and a wife “of tireless sexual appetite”).
So why is he so unhappy? Why is he having every therapy under the sun: physiotherapy, aromatherapy, psychotherapy (with Dr Alexandra Marples, called Marbles—“If she ever moves or retires, I’ll be able to say I’ve lost my Marbles”), Inversion Therapy (for his baldness: “hanging upside down for minutes on end to make the blood rush to your head”)? Why, in particular, has he suddenly started to get terrible shooting pains in his knee? Because he has idiopathic chondromalacia, says his orthopedic consultant, Mr Nizar (“I call him Knees-R-Us”): “Patella chondromalacia means pain in the knee, and idiopathic means it’s peculiar to you, old boy.” Because, says his physiotherapist, he has Internal Derangement of the Knee: “IDK. I Don’t Know.”
Soon there is IDK everywhere, outside Tubby Passmore (“Dianagate, Camillagate … Internal Derangement of the Monarchy”) and especially, of course, in. He loses his wife and his mistress; he is in danger of losing his job and his mind. Then he starts to listen: to read Kierkegaard; and to remember. Especially to remember. “Somewhere, sometime,” he says, “I lost it, the knack of just living … How?” This—like the whole novel—seems casual, but is entirely serious. There was a moment in which love and goodness were betrayed, and something worldly and worthless chosen. Tubby sets out to find it, and put it right.
This may sound like psychotherapy, but it isn’t. It is much more like religion. And though Tubby isn’t religious—certainly not Catholic—his search leads him, like Kierkegaard, to religion, and even to Catholicism. So, like comedy and tragedy the modern and ancient worlds are connected, interpenetrated.
Therapy is a most accurate title; but it might just as accurately have been Pilgrimage. Or Writing—because that has been Tubby’s best therapy all along, and his pilgrimage; and because with love and religion it is the hidden, serious subject of this very funny book.
I’ve always wondered how David Lodge managed to write about religion and literature and still get on the bestseller lists, station bookstalls and television. Therapy has showed me, once again, why. Because, like Tubby, he's so light on his feet; because he sees and writes comedy and tragedy together, interpenetrated; because, simply, he’s so damn good.
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SOURCE: “Tubby, Redeemed,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 23, 1995, pp. 1, 9.
[In the following review, Smiley offers a favorable assessment of Therapy.]
There are few writers whose roster of novels I’ve read in its entirety, but David Lodge is one of them. I began with his hilarious academic satire, Small World, and, mostly because that book gave me a laugh or two on every page, I sought out all the others, from the almost as well-known Changing Places (two university professors, one from a rainy British red-brick university ever falling on hard times, the other from Berkeley, which Lodge calls Euphoria U., exchange jobs and much else), to the quite obscure Out of the Shelter (young man escapes the narrowness and deprivation of postwar London). Like any other novelist, Lodge has his themes and his tricks—he often explores the redemptive effects of sex and travel, and redemption in general; his contemplation of Catholicism, particularly English and Irish Catholicism, is longstanding and always worth reading. Neatly laid out in his 35 years of novels is an astute social history of postwar England. And he tells a good story.
So it was that my heart sank with the title of Lodge’s latest, Therapy. After Philip Roth, after Woody Allen, after Jeffrey Masson, is there still a joke to be teased out of psychotherapy, even British psychotherapy? And Lodge’s protagonist, Tubby Passmore, seemed especially unpromising—a successful TV sitcom writer with a shooting pain in his knee, a sexy intellectual wife, a five-bedroom house, a Japanese luxury car and an attitude mostly compounded of rue and self-conscious irony.
On the other hand, at what point in his career does a writer earn the faithful reader’s patience, even trust? Is the reader always obliged to be ruthless, demanding sparkling invention and flourishes of stylistic novelty every time out? Why, in other words, was I so hard to please? Am I not interested in the Angst of prosperous white men? Do I really not care about the sexual ennui of 30-year marriages? Was I actually not going to laugh at Lodge’s digs at British Rail? (Here’s one: “BR has taken to using this cumbersome phrase ‘station stop,’ lately, presumably to distinguish scheduled stops at stations from unscheduled ones in the middle of fields, concerned perhaps that passengers disoriented by the fumes of bacon and tomato rolls and overhead brake linings in carriages with defective air conditioning might otherwise stumble out on the track by mistake and get killed.”)
Unwilling to leave any therapeutic stone unturned, Tubby engages not only a physiotherapist for his knee, but also a cognitive behavior therapist, a blind aromatherapist and an acupuncturist. His platonic mistress is seeing a traditional psychiatrist. But Tubby’s array of therapists offers him no relief; instead they give him only more ways to elaborate his story. His story devolves. Narrative lines proliferate. Tubby tries some time-honored ways of relieving his pain—aggression, sex in the tropics—and others not so time-honored—visiting Copenhagen in gloomy weather, visiting Los Angeles in sunny weather. Nothing works, not even revenging himself upon his wife.
I kept reading. Lodge’s style is practiced and smooth, goes down easy, slipping past the doubts and kvetching. He introduces Kierkegaard. Now there’s a notion. Woody Allen once wrote a story that was just a list of funny ideas. One of them was “Christy Brown,” the Irish writer handicapped from birth, who wrote with his big toe, the only part of his body he could manipulate. Christy Brown was not inherently a figure of mirth, but, as Woody Allen realized, context is all. So it is, in Therapy, with Kierkegaard, despair, existentialism and “Fear and Trembling.” And then (I won’t say where, because that’s Lodge’s joke and it wouldn’t be polite to exploit it cheap) he got me.
Fact is, David Lodge is a sly one. Heir to a tradition of realism that is long, broad and deep, he effortlessly constructs the substantial world of modern England. His characters have not only jobs, connections, social positions, belongings and histories, they also have opinions. Tubby, for example, comments that Philip Larkin is his favorite modern poet. “Apparently,” he remarks, “he used to end telephone conversations to Kingsley Amis by saying, ‘F—- Oxfam,’ Admittedly, there are worse things than saying ‘F—- Oxfam,’ for instance actually doing it, like the gunmen in Somalia who steal the aid intended for starving women and children, but still, what did he have to say a stupid thing like that for? I took out my charity checkbook and sent off fifty quid to OXFAM. I did it for Philip Larkin.”
At the same time possessed of a highly developed sense of fun, he lets his characters run happily, or if need be, unhappily, amok. Tubby manages to embarrass himself in any number of ways before he gets a clue, for example pitching to his producer a movie about Kierkegaard, “I said, ‘Where’s your jeopardy, Tubby? Where’s your suspense?’ He looked rather taken aback. … ‘Well,’ he said, ‘there was a time when a satirical magazine started to attack him. That caused him a lot of pain. They made fun of his trousers’” Life-affirmingly for Tubby, his fellow Lodgian characters hold no grudges.
Life-affirmingly for us, David Lodge is one of the few writers who can actually construct a happy ending that fits into the world as we know it. When Tubby decides to seek out his boyhood love, who, not surprisingly in a Lodge novel, had introduced him to Catholicism, the story seems to deepen rather than to cheapen (though I admit there’s a narrow edge there, and Lodge does teeter a bit once or twice). But what I especially like about it, and it would be especially cheap for me to give it away) is how he manages to sustain the irony and skepticism of Tubby’s style in the teeth of redemption all around.
Lodge has always been patient, both with his readers and with his material. Though I’ve found Small World uproariously funny and exquisitely insightful, my favorite Lodge novel is an earlier one, How Far Can You Go?, which follows a handful of English Catholics for 20 years, from their last day at university, in the early ’50s, deep into adulthood, through years of endeavoring to live moral lives while all ideas of morality are changing and even falling away.
Apart from the questions Lodge persists in asking through his characters, one of the most interesting aspects of the novel comes on the last page, when the narrator all of a sudden, but quite subtly introduces himself. The novel immediately shifts shape and becomes both more complex and more poignant as a result. Lodge is an accomplished and brilliant novelist who sometimes dazzles and always satisfies. A measure of his know-how is precisely the fact that he can take a subject so many have flogged before him and make something refreshing and wise of it. Therapy is, finally, a delicious read.
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SOURCE: “The Globe-Trotting Professor: David Lodge's Romance of the Modern Literary Critic,” in Midwest Quarterly, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2, Winter, 1996, pp. 183-94.
[In the following essay, Fawell examines Lodge's parody of contemporary literary theory and academic careerism in Small World. Fawell notes that, despite its humorous dissection of academic hypocrisy and impotence, the novel contains sexual and quest motifs more consistent with the romance genre than satire.]
David Lodge updates the minor genre of the academic novel in his 1984 work, Small World, by pondering two relatively contemporary aspects of Academics: the influence of modern technology and the malaise of the contemporary critical theory scene. In his prologue he asks what Chaucer must think as he, like his hero Troilus,
looks down from the eighth sphere of heaven on “This little spot of erthe that with the se / Embraced is” and observes all the frantic traffic around the globe that he and other great writers have set in motion—the jet trails that criss-cross the oceans, marking the passage of scholars from one continent to another, their paths converging and intersecting and passing, as they hasten to hotel, country house or ancient seat of learning, there to confer and carouse, so that English and other academic subjects may be kept up.
Lodge is fascinated by the way in which technology has created a sort of international scholarship or global campus. “There are three things which have revolutionized academic life in the last twenty years,” says the brash American deconstructionist, Morris Zapp, “jet travel, direct dialing telephones and the xerox machine” (50). Zapp, pondering the jet streams criss-crossing the sky, compares the modern scholar to the knight-errant of old, wandering the ways of the world in search of adventure and glory” (72).
This sense of the scholar as an errant knight and of the conference as his quest is further reinforced by the contemporary critical conception of reading as a form of quest, a search for a meaning that is endlessly deferred. Interpretation of a novel, says Zapp, is not possible because of the nature of language itself, in which meaning is constantly being transformed from one signifier to another and can never be absolutely possessed. To understand an essay is to decode it. Language is a code. But, and this is Zapp’s mantra, “every decoding is another encoding” (28). Zapp expresses the same ideas differently in his racy lecture “Textuality as Striptease,” in which he parallels the act of reading to the act of watching a stripper:
The dancer teases the audience, as the text teases its reader, with the promise of an ultimate revelation that is infinitely postponed. Veil after veil, garment after garment is removed, but it is the delay in stripping that makes it exciting, not the stripping itself; because no sooner has one secret been revealed than we lose interest in it and crave another.
Reading, to Zapp, is a quest for meaning that is always deferred, always lays tantalizingly outside our grasp.
The novel’s central narrative concerns the young hero, Persse (short for Percivale) McGarrigle’s search for a woman, Angelica, that he has met at the first conference in the book. Beautiful and intelligent, Angelica represents the twin pleasures of the academic conference—sensuality and intellectuality. Lodge conceives of the conference as a kind of modern pilgrimage that “allows the participants to indulge themselves in all the pleasures and diversions of travel while appearing to be austerely bent on self-improvement. Angelica is a kind of conference muse and she has always just left whatever conference at which Persse arrives. Like Zapp’s stripper, Angelica is ungraspable. In fact, Persse never does track her down (though he comes close, sleeping, in the end, with Angelica’s twin sister, Lily, who is as sensual and satisfying as Angelica is elusive and frustrating). What is it, Lodge asks in his book, that we are looking for in reading, but also, what is it that the scholar is looking for at the conference?
Contrary to our expectations of an allegory of the Arthurian tales, none of Lodge’s professor/knights are inspired or spiritually enlivened by their quests. Lodge’s knights resemble Tennyson’s in “The Holy Grail,” spreading themselves across the globe in a vain search for spiritual understanding that is best found by fulfilling the duties they have abandoned in Camelot. Like Tennyson’s Percivale, they dissipate themselves in a search for an ungraspable phenomenon when there is real work to be done at home. Lodge has said that he thinks literary studies are in a demoralized state, partly because of increasing specialization and the use of highly technical language. “Compared to the 40’s and 50’s” he told The New York Times Book Review, “when a Lionel Trilling or an F. R. Leavis was a major figure, there are few giants today. Those working at the coal-face are unintelligible to the general public. Those who are intelligible often have nothing to say” (7). Lodge often seems to suggest, in Small World, that the sharpest minds in literature are wasting themselves in the arcane games of psychoanalytic and post-structuralist literary criticism while those who do not become involved in this game and stick up for the old concept of the man of letters do so only because they are frightened of the new stuff and lack the intellectual breadth and confidence of a Trilling or Leavis.
At any rate, Lodge’s characters in Small World run the gamut from deconstructionists like Zapp, who are clever but unintelligible to bellelettrists like Zapp’s old friend, and nemesis, Philip Swallow, who is intelligible but really has very little to say. Small World is encyclopedic in its treatment of the varieties of literary theory. Robert Towers wrote in the New York Review of Books that he could almost imagine a hard-pressed graduate student relying on it to answer an “‘identify and briefly explain’ exam question on Textuality” (26). In addition to the deconstructionist Zapp and the traditionalist Swallow, there are the multimillionaire Italian Marxist Fulvia Morgana, the gay French narrologist, Michel Tardieu, the Jessie Weston disciple and mythic psychologist, Sybil Maiden, the computer-addicted linguist, Robin Dempsey, and the mysterious reading response specialist, Siegfried von Turpitz. Each of these theorists hurriedly scurries his ideas around the globe but each does very little to advance the appreciation of literature.
Lodge is particularly successful in parodying the modern scholar’s preoccupation with sex. There’s Sybil Maiden, of course, the Jessie Weston disciple, who finds fertility cycles everywhere she looks, even in the children’s pantomime “Puss ’n Boots” (“It’s a wonder they allow children to see these pantomimes,” says Persse, after Sybil explains the play to him). But she’s a bit of a stock character in academic novels. More original and up to date is Lodge’s portrayal of deconstructionist and psychoanalytic critics, such as Zapp and Angelica, who not only find sexual content in literature but interpret the very act of reading and writing as a form of sexual displacement.
We have to laugh at the calm presumption in Angelica’s voice when, while speaking at an MLA conference, she states that tragedy is the genre of castration, and then adds parenthetically, “we are none of us, I suppose, deceived by the self-blinding of Oedipus as to the true nature of the wound he is impelled to inflict upon himself or likely to overlook the symbolic equivalence between eyeballs and testicles.” Persse, the virginal hero of the book, who worships Angelica and is listening to her paper, is indeed deceived by Oedipus’ eyes and likely to overlook such symbolism. He is shocked by Angelica’s theory that the epic is a phallic genre and the romance a vaginal one, characterized not by one climax but by many, a multiple orgasm of sorts. “Persse listened,” writes Lodge,
to this stream of filth flowing from between Angelica’s exquisite lips and pearly teeth with growing astonishment and burning cheeks, but no one else in the audience seemed to find anything remarkable or disturbing about her presentation. The young men seated at the table beside her nodded thoughtfully and fiddled with their pipes, and made little notes on their scratchpads. One of them, wearing a sports jacket of Donegal tweed, and with a soft voice that seemed to match it, thanked Angelica for her talk and asked if there were any questions.
Watching this lecture through Persse’s eyes, we are astonished by the contrast between the x-rated material and the bland conference routine, the shocking nature of the material and the blase attitude of the listeners. The questions are as absurd as the lecture. What’s funny about them is that the audience knows how to play the game also. They are completely non-plussed by the nature of Angelica’s lecture and jump in with an equivalent ardor. One person asks Angelica if she would agree that the “novel as a distinct genre was born when the Epic as it were fucked romance.” Another asked if the organ of the epic was the phallus, of tragedy the testicles, of romance the vagina, what was the organ of comedy? “The anus,” Angelica responds instantly with a bright smile, “think of Rabelais” (366–67).
Lodge plays subtle games with this theory of literature as a displacement for sexual energy, turning the theory against its practitioners. Zapp, for example, though presenting himself as some kind of sexual-literary guru in his paper, “Textuality as Striptease,” has not been interested in sex for years. He admits to Swallow of having given sex up in favor of the pleasures of scholarship. Another principle character in the book, the great English critic Rudyard Parkinson, is a virgin, “not,” writes Lodge, “that you would guess that from the evidence of his innumerable books, articles and reviews, which are full of knowing and sometimes risque references to the varieties and vagaries of human sexual behavior” (109). Parkinson is sexually sophisticated on the page, but not elsewhere. The fecundity of his mind correlates to a physical sterility. Parkinson has displaced his sexual energy into writing. Writing to him, Lodge tells us, is “an assertion of will, an exercise of power, a release of tension. If he doesn’t write something at least once a day he becomes irritable and depressed—and it has to be for publication, for to Rudyard Parkinson unpublished writing is like masturbation or coitus interruptus, something shameful and unsatisfying” (110–11).
Most of Lodge’s scholars have displaced their sexual energy into their work and have anemic lives to show for it. Rodney Wainwright, an anonymous, struggling professor in England, tempted by a swimming outing with a young woman student, banishes the idea by recalling that “the effects of twenty years’ dedication to the life of the mind are all too evident when he puts on a pair of swimming trunks, however loosely cut; beneath the large, balding, bespectacled head is a pale, pear-shaped torso, with skinny limbs attached like afterthoughts in a child’s drawing” (95). Lodge’s professors are a sickly crew. Most of them have messed-up sex lives. There is a sterility in Lodge’s literary kingdom just as there is in Arthur’s when the knights are off chasing the grail. Lodge’s vision of the sterile professor renders Zapp’s and Angelica’s evocative lectures absurd. Never has fertility been so much on the mind of the scholar, never has scholarship been so barren.
The rest of the critics in the book are characterized by the same impotence, the same inability to find fulfillment in literature. Fulvia Morgana, the Marxist, is only playing along with the bourgeois spectacle of the literary canon until the revolution comes. Zapp at one point politely asks Fulvia how she reconciles living like a millionaire with her Marxism. Fulvia describes that as a very American question and explains that
those are the very contradictions characteristic of the last phase of bourgeois capitalism, which will eventually cause it to collapse. By renouncing our own little bit of privilege we should not accelerate by one minute the consummation of the process, which has its own inexorable rhythm and momentum, and is determined by the pressure of mass movements not by the puny actions of individuals. Since in terms of dialectical materialism it makes no difference to the historical process whether Ernest and I, as individuals, are rich or poor, we might as well be rich, because it is a role that we know how to perform with a certain dignity. Whereas to be poor as our Italian peasants are poor, is something not easily learned, something bred in the bone, through generations.
This speech is remarkable both for its hypocrisy and its eloquence. It is not a totally farcical explanation and yet it is also an absurd rationalization. Lodge has a unique talent for rendering the scholar at once eloquent and hypocritical (there’s a lot of sense to Zapp’s and Angelica’s x-rated lecture as well). Lodge has said himself that there is something inherently funny about people, such as scholars, who are committed to excellence and standards and yet continue to make fools of themselves. Roger Rosenblatt, noting this kind of humor in Lodge’s book in his review for the New Republic, has remarked similarly. “In reality,” Rosenblatt writes, “professors may often be whiny, prissy, cheap and second-rate but certainly the world of thought with which they deal is none of these. One feels a tension say between the laughable moral pipsqueak who lectures on Emerson and Emerson himself.” Lodge capitalizes well on this tension, drawing his scholars as, at once, acutely perceptive and ridiculous.
Lodge, however, does not attack the modern, trendier theorists alone. He saves some salvos for the traditionalist also. At one conference, a couple of humanists “feel intimidated by the literary jargon of their hosts, which they both think is probably nonsense, but cannot be quite sure, since they do not fully understand it” (270). The traditionalists in Lodge’s world are tentative thinkers. They don’t have the brashness or confidence of a Morris Zapp. There is a wonderful comic interplay between the confident modernist Zapp and the rather fuzzy-thinking belletrist, Philip Swallow. Swallow has labored seven years over his first book on William Hazlitt, only to see it consigned to oblivion upon release. Zapp, on the other hand, has written his seventh book in five years, another throw-away on critical theory. “It’s called Beyond Criticism,” he chirps to Swallow, “neat, huh?” Of course, it’s acclaimed.
There is a righteous indignation to Swallow with which we can identify. Sometimes he seems the only critic in the book who faces the onslaught of modern critical theory with some backbone. “Theory,” he says at one point, “that word brings out the Goering in me, when I hear it I reach for my revolver” (28). But there is also a lack of diligence in Swallow’s thinking. As Lodge said, his point is to satirize, not only the unintelligible, but the intelligible who have nothing to say. Swallow cuts off one of Robin Dempsey’s linguistic binges by remarking that he could “never remember which came first, the morphemes or the phonemes and one look at a tree-diagram makes my mind go blank” (26). Swallow here effectively snubs the excessive scientific Dempsey but also reveals a certain superficiality in his approach to literature, a kind of dilettantism characteristic of the traditional humanistic scholar.
Perhaps Swallow’s humanist approach to literature is most undermined by his approach to life. There seems to be no consistency between the two. As Zapp notes, “For a man who claims to believe in the morally improving effects of reading great literature, Philip Swallow takes his marriage vows pretty lightly” (282). There are dangers in preaching morality in literature and Philip Swallow doesn’t quite seem to have the stature to stand up to his ideas. Despite his acute parody of the jargon of modern criticism, Lodge seems to prefer his brazen American Zapp to his wishy-washy English Swallow, whose life seems to be as hazy and unfocused as his literary theories.
Unlike Swallow, Zapp is not caught in a contradiction between an elevated conception of literature and a less elevated lifestyle, because Zapp doesn’t find much elevated about literature to begin with. He doesn’t really believe in literature. He is a sort of literary nihilist. As he tells Fulvia Morgana, deconstructionism is exciting because it is “the last intellectual thrill left. Like sawing through the branch you’re sitting on” (134). There is an anarchist freedom to Zapp. Like Fulvia, he seems to believe that literary appreciation as we know it is coming to an end. But he doesn’t offer any proletariat utopia in the future as Fulvia does. Zapp has no such ideals. Rather his nihilistic attitude frees Zapp to approach literary criticism in a practical way, as a means of gaining power and advancing his career. Zapp represents a fusion of European theory and American careerism that is rather common on today’s campuses. Swallow asks Zapp after Zapp’s lecture on striptease, “what is the point of our discussion of your paper if according to your own theory we should not be discussing what you actually said at all, but discussing some imperfect memory or subjective interpretation of what you said?” There is no point, Zapp responds blithely, “if by a point you mean the hope of arriving at some certain truth. But when did you ever discover that in a question-and-answer discussion. Be honest, have your ever been to a lecture or seminar at the end of which you could have found two people present who could agree on the simplest precis of what had been said?” What then, as Swallow, is the point of it all. “The point,” concludes Zapp, “is to uphold the institution of academic literary studies. We maintain our position in society by publicly performing a certain ritual, just like any other group of workers in the realm of discourse—lawyers, politicians and journalists. And as it looks as if we have done our duty for today, shall we all adjourn for a drink?” (31–32)
Zapp is unflappable because he is not burdened by any of the normal pretensions of the literary world. He approaches literature like an industry and he puts all of his effort into streamlining his job, being more efficient. He is not, for example, weighed down by any moral imperatives in regards to conferences. He tells Persse that “the first rule of conferences is never to go to lectures, unless you’re giving one yourself of course. Or I’m giving one” (21). Zapp always gets the maximum use out of the minimum work. When Angelica tells him that his striptease paper applies to her ideas on romance, Zapp replies, “Naturally, it applies to everything” (34). Later he brags to Persse that his paper is “wonderfully adaptable. I plan to give it all over Europe this summer” (136). Zapp has found his ticket abroad. The attraction of the conference circuit, writes Lodge, is that it is “a way of converting work into play, combining professionalism with tourism, and all at someone’s expense. Write a paper and see the world! I’m Jane Austen—fly me! Or Shakespeare, or T. S. Elliot, or Hazlitt. All tickets to ride, to ride the jumbo jets” (262). Zapp has the art of translating work into playtime down, of using literature to make someone else foot his bills.
Zapp’s ultimate goal is to obtain the Unesco chair, a “purely conceptual chair,” as one academic in the book describes it, that pays 100,000 dollars a year and carries with it no academic responsibilities. To Zapp this is the inevitable conclusion to his career which has always been dedicated to a continuous reduction of responsibilities. To Zapp, the beauty of the academic life is that
to those who had, more would be given. All you needed to do to start was to write one really damned good book, which admittedly isn’t easy when you are a young college teacher just beginning your career, struggling with a heavy teaching load on unfamiliar material, and probably with demands of a young and growing family as well. But on the strength of that one damned good book you could get a grant to write a second book in more favorable circumstances; with two books you got promotion, a lighter teaching load, and courses of your own devising; you could then use your teaching as a way of doing research for your next book, which you were thus able to produce all the more quickly. This productivity made you eligible for tenure, further promotion, more generous and prestigious research grants, more relief from routine teaching and administration. In theory, it was possible to wind up being full professor while doing nothing except to be permanently absent on some kind of sabbatical grant or fellowship. Morris hadn’t quite reached that omega point, but he was working on it.
Zapp’s goal is to reach an academic omega point, a state of permanent absence. It’s an appropriate goal for a deconstructionist and one that parallels the deconstructionists’s conception of the reading experience.
Zapp, in his theories of the academic industry, seems to be a spokesperson for Lodge. In his narration, Lodge suggests that the purpose of conferences is not the program of papers and lectures which has ostensibly brought the participants together, and which most of them find intolerably tedious, but the informal contact that surrounds these lectures. Each academic subject group, he notes, has its own jargon, pecking order, newsletter and professional association. Lodge emphasizes the social hierarchy of conferences. He tends to describe conferences as later versions of high-school with everybody jockeying for position on the social/professional ladder. At the first conference of the book, a horrible, provincial affair in the muddy town of Rummidge, England, the accommodations are miserable, the furniture is stained and broken, the closets have no coat hangers, the beds are narrow and sag dejectedly in the middle, deprived, Lodge writes, “of all resiliency by the batterings of a decade’s horseplay and copulation.” Conference-goers have to walk down labyrinthian hallways to find vast institutional washrooms that provide sinks and toilets in abundance but little privacy. But the real source of depression as the conferees gather together for sherry the first night and squint at the little white cardboard lapel badges on which each person’s name and university are printed is, Lodge writes, “the paucity and it must be said the generally undistinguished quality of the numbers. Within a very short time they had established that none of the stars of the profession was in residence—no one, indeed, whom it would be worth traveling ten miles to meet, let alone the hundreds that many had covered” (4–5). One of the conferees remarks that the trouble with these conferences is that “the chief speakers tend to bugger off as soon as they’ve done their party piece. Makes you feel like a besieged army when the general flies out in a helicopter” (17–18).
It is this kind of awareness of social hierarchies that really characterizes the academic conference. The conference is a sort of academic playfield where scholars start, gauge or advance their careers, a cocktail party where, both inside and outside the lecture hall, scholars try to break into the conversation of their superiors.
This then is Lodge’s world of the modern literary academic. Roger Rosenblatt has observed that Small World is appropriately subtitled an academic romance and not a satire since satire would indicate not only the desire for, but the possibility of, improvement. Lodge offers no solution to the uninspired state of literary criticism. Nor does he really mourn that state. He enjoys taking higher education down a few pegs and he takes a real pleasure in the anarchistic Zapp, who has no pretensions as to the relevance of literary criticism and who plays the game of the modern industrial academic beautifully. Romance, Rosenblatt goes on to say, is really a wild party in prose and that is exactly what Lodge offers. He likes to sit back and watch the jet streams criss-cross in the sky, to see the lines of each ridiculous school of literary theory crossing each other across the globe.
There may, however, be one hopeful note towards the end of the book when Zapp, kidnapped and nearly killed by Italian terrorists, survives his experience but loses his faith in deconstructionism. “Death,” he tells Persse, “is one concept you can’t deconstruct. Work back from there and you end up with the old idea of an autonomous self. I can die, therefore I am. I realized that when those wop radicals tried to deconstruct me” (373). A spiritual note creeps in to the end of Lodge’s book, a call for critics that recognize the validity of the self and the transcendent meaning of a book. But the whole book suggests that the really great and clever minds are going to have to abandon their sexual and mathematical games in order to explicate this meaning. It can’t be left to the likes of Philip Swallow.
Lodge, David Small World. New York: Warner Books, 1984.
Rosenblatt, Roger. “Professorial Chic.” New Republic, April 15, 1985, 30.
Rosenthal, Michael. “Leading Three Lives.” New York Times Book Review, August 15, 1985, 7.
Towers, Robert. “Moveable Types” New York Review of Books, August 15, 1985, 26.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2204
SOURCE: “‘Every Decoding is Another Encoding’: Morris Zapp's Poststructural Implications on our Postmodern World,” in English Language Notes, Vol. 33, No. 3, March, 1996, pp. 61-7.
[In the following essay, Friend discusses the literary and epistemological implications of Morris Zapp's postmodern dictum “every decoding is another encoding” in Lodge's novel Small World.]
Poststructuralism and postmodernism have much in common. Poststructuralism, of course, is more linguistically based, but the two theories merge on their notions of obscurity and indeterminacy. The insufficiency of language as signifier in poststructural doctrine precedes postmodernism, where, ultimately, everything is insufficient as signifier. Reactions to this postmodern condition vary greatly, but in many instances postmodernism describes a fascinating and unfortunate way of looking at the world, simply because its implication of indeterminacy invites unnecessary confusion. In David Lodge’s parodic novel Small World, which addresses some of these issues, Morris Zapp, a scholar and critic supposedly modeled after Stanley Fish, outlines at a literary conference his theory of reading: “every decoding is another encoding.”1 While a parody mostly of the English teaching profession, humorously exaggerating the lives of what might be typical professors and scholars, Small World also satirizes postmodernism, for which Morris Zapp, a cigar-smoking jet-setter, provides a theoretical base.
Zapp presents his axiomatic theory boldly; the analogy he uses to illustrate his point details the process of a striptease, an analogy that drives some of the women from the conference room. “The dancer teases the audience,” Zapp explains, “as the text teases its readers, with the promise of an ultimate revelation that is infinitely postponed.”2 At one point, the audience feels “restive” at his suggestion that any true consummation of the activity of reading must be “solitary, masturbatory.”3 I point to the rather startled reactions to Zapp’s speech because they parallel, in a way, my own reaction to the implications of the reading theory he presents. Morris Zapp is a fictional representation of a poststructuralist, yet his poststructural theory is not at all fictional and has profound implications that affect not only literary texts, but also our now postmodern society and the way we live in our society.
If “every decoding is another encoding,” as applied to literary texts, then readers are logically stuck in an endless loop of insufficient representation. As Zapp points out, “To understand a message is to decode it. Language is a code. But every decoding is another encoding.”4 Therefore, readers, as astute and in tune as they think they are, can never come to an accurate decoding (or understanding) of any message communicated by signifiers—that is, any message. True representation of ideas is impossible because of the inherent nature (flaw, according to poststructuralists) of language. Language, being only a set of representative letters, morphemes, words, phrases, sentences, poems, stories, novels, essays, and so on, cannot ever be what is being represented. And, by extension, tropes of all sorts become ultimately ineffective. The signifiers (that is, codes) of metaphors, for example, cannot reliably indicate any particular referent because that referent is at best another signifier itself. In this way, all “ungrammaticalities” (to borrow a term from Michael Riffaterre)5 are irreconcilable and remain ungrammatical, never pointing to a greater semiotic significance.
Further, Zapp’s poststructural theory parallels the postmodern plot of Small World. The notion of an ongoing search for an ultimately satisfying, conclusively real thing becomes one of the novel’s themes. For example, the character Persse McGarrigle, another jet-setting scholar, is on a quest to find the woman who he thinks is the love of his life, a woman named Angelica Pabst. He searches for her throughout the whole novel and throughout the whole world, which, as David Lodge implies, is small. And when he finally finds her, he embraces her and makes love to her, only to find that she is not who he thought she was: she is Angelica’s twin sister. Lodge effectively uses the idea of twinship (sameness and difference together) to indicate the incongruity of perceived and projected truths, of interpretation and reality. Persse’s search continues (even after he has found what he thought was the “real” thing) and becomes an active example of Zapp’s theoretical notions, the object of his quest, much like the message of a text, always out of reach. Even at the end of the novel, Persse displaces the goal of his pursuit with another woman, who is perhaps more—yet never fully—attainable.
Morris Zapp and Persse McGarrigle, like most of the characters in this novel, come in and out of contact with each other randomly, unexpectedly. Lodge notes, in his “Prologue,” the “jet trails that criss-cross the oceans, marking the passage of scholars from one continent to another, their paths converging and intersecting and passing. …”6 In many scenes, the cliché that is the novel’s title is played out to its melodramatic fullest, and through this humorous, haphazard interplay, Lodge offers a world in which the human quest finds only that which it does not seek. And by juxtaposing Zapp and McGarrigle, Lodge implies the inevitable connection between poststructural theory and the baffling condition of postmodern life. This connection is made explicit when, after Angelica romantically proposes that she and Persse re-enact the poem “The Eve of St. Agnes,” Persse must, for practical reasons, interpret the stanzas to discern her intentions: “It was all very well for Morris Zapp to insist upon the indeterminacy of literary texts: Persse McGarrigle needed to know whether or not sexual intercourse was taking place here—a question all the more difficult for him to decide because he had no personal experience to draw upon.”7 In the poem, Porphyro risks his life to hide in Madeline’s bedroom and watches her prepare for bed. In the dark, Persse enters what he thinks is Angelica’s room and hides in the wardrobe, but he is surprised to witness another man undress before him. Despite her apparent invitation, Angelica continually eludes Persse, and Persse continually seeks her.
Zapp’s pithy indictment, therefore, initiates a cascade of indeterminacy, where no thing can accurately represent any other thing and where we are thus engaged in an endless (and fruitless) search for “true” representation and “true” fulfillment, both in literature and in life. Small World derides this postmodern predicament precisely by having fun with it.
The elusiveness that is inherent in Zapp’s poststructural theory and in the postmodern plot of Lodge’s novel can be traced back to its linguistic base. Language is commonly classified into two theoretical oppositions: “foundational” and “rhetorical.” The foundational camp, as Stanley Fish asserts, believes that language should
establish a form of communication that escapes partiality and aids us in first determining and then affirming what is absolutely and objectively true, a form of communication that in its structure and operations is the very antithesis of rhetoric.8
Rhetoric, on the other hand, according to Fish, is “language that is infected by partisan agendas and desires, and therefore colors and distorts the facts which it purports to reflect.”9 Morris Zapp puts forth a theory that implies that all language and, by extension, all things are rhetorical; that is, all things are only distorted reflections of other things. Whether they are distorted purposely, as by political motives, or completely unintentionally, all things are rhetorical and at least somewhat indeterminate. For example, the page you are now reading is not a piece of paper with ink on it: it is a manifestation of effort, a vehicle for communication, a distorted part of a tree, material for a child’s airplane. It is all of these things at once, or one of them, or none, just as a Morris Zapp “decoding” is open to interpretation the moment it is definitively stated.
There is, therefore, an immense measure of flexibility in rhetorical, postmodern communication, and this can be a positive aspect. Aristotle, in the Rhetoric, offers an explanation of the “proper” use of rhetorical language:
We must be able to employ persuasion … on opposite sides of a question, not in order that we may in practice employ it in both ways (for we must not make people believe what is wrong), but in order that we may see clearly what the facts are.10
But postmodern communication, with its excess room for interpretation, effects an unfortunate result because it has been, as Fish says, “infected by partisan agendas and desires.” It is now often used to “make people believe what is wrong.” Or, in the very least, it takes advantage of people’s inherent urge to seek an ultimate reality (as if it exists). We are all on our own quests (for success, love, satisfaction, happiness, whatever), and the notion of a quick fix is certainly tempting but also harmful in its deception. Postmodernism, with its slick tendency toward obscurity, keeps us—like Persse McGarrigle in his search for Angelica Pabst—searching for a reality that is hidden behind the fictions we ourselves create.
Additionally, in today’s high-tech, information frenzy, where television, computers, and other forms of virtual reality prevail, “the ‘real,’” according to Neville Wakefield, “is now defined in terms of the media in which it moves.”11 That is, media of all kinds, which once aided in “decoding” and representing reality, now only serve to further encrypt meaning by appearing to “become” that which they purport to represent. If we believe that decoding and encoding become one, as Zapp suggests, then it is also plausible for reality and media to merge. Indeed, many believe that in this postmodern era we cannot “distinguish between surface and depth.”12 And Lodge, with his comedic use of the Pabst twins, satirizes this What-You-See-Is-Not-What-You-Get dilemma of postmodernism. Postmodernist Jean Baudrillard writes of “the epoch of ‘simulation,’” in which “reality is gone for good and we are left only with appearance.”13 Now it is increasingly likely to mistake reality for virtual reality, a nonfictional television show for a fictional one, a sibling for her twin, passion for love, a satisfied quest for a false consummation. Through the epic comedy of errors that is Small World, Lodge expresses concern for the fact that we live in a world defined by the confusion between what is real and what is not.
Further, in the chaos of this age, we constantly act out “postmodern moments,” where things or situations are invariably indicative—or worse, symptomatic—of other, larger things. In this sense, nothing is itself; everything becomes a symbol, an icon, of some other thing. An elevator door closing on a conversation, for example, indicates the terseness of our human relations; a joke signifies our sadness; a compliment, an ulterior motive. We could turn the inferences around in a positive manner: an elevator door closing on a conversation indicates a desire to communicate further; a joke signifies good humor; a compliment, kindness. Still, without agreed-upon notions of reality and language in this postmodern era, one never knows. It is a great irony that our information age has ultimately led us to distrust information. Yet language, with all of its insufficiencies, is still our primary tool for the job of communication. While it is valid to point out that language is inherently insufficient for representing ideas, taking that insufficiency to its extreme—where neither text, conversation, nor situation is capable of signifying accurate meaning—is a step toward communicative anarchy. Deconstructing meaning at every possible turn is a way of self-effacing our own potential, shooting ourselves in the interpretive foot.
Although I feel compelled to place limits on the reading theories of poststructuralism and postmodernism, postmodern texts, written by authors such as John Barth, Donald Barthelme, and Thomas Pynchon, are crucial representatives of our current moment in literary history. These texts are conspicuously aware of their own contrivance and therefore have fun, and are at play, within the limitations of language. Some postmodern texts light-heartedly mock language and remind readers that language does have its limits. Other texts, like Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, never let readers forget that they are reading a book. And it is difficult to “lose” ourselves in a story when we are already, as Barth’s short story suggests, “Lost in the Funhouse.” Ironically, the creativity and effectiveness of postmodern texts demonstrates, for me, that language is not incompetent.
We are all separate entities, imperfect in our communicative faculties, and perhaps we should rejoice in this imperfection. If, for example, we could communicate actual representations (an oxymoron, to be sure), perhaps the “high fun of the act of communication,”14 of writing and reading, of speaking and listening, would be absent. Such “ideal” communication would neglect the idea that literature “[invites us] to join actively in a game for which the rules are indicated by the text. …”15
David Lodge, Small World (New York: Warner, 1984) 30.
Michael Riffaterre, Semiotics of Poetry (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978) 5.
Stanley Fish, “Rhetoric,” in Critical Terms for Literary Study, eds. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990) 205.
As quoted in Fish, 206.
As quoted in Raman Selden and Peter Widdowson, A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory, 3rd ed. (Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1993) 180.
Selden and Widdowson 179.
Selden and Widdowson 180.
Robert Alter, The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age (New York: Simon, 1989) 30.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1693
SOURCE: “Aromatherapy and Kierkegaard,” in Cross Currents, Vol. 46, No. 1, Spring, 1996, pp. 130-3.
[In the following review, Gaffney offers a positive evaluation of Lodge's novel Therapy.]
Most of David Lodge’s earlier novels involve academics as the principle subjects. In The British Museum Is Falling Down, Changing Places, Small World, Nice Work, and Paradise News he proved himself a master teacher and a sparkling parodist of the academy. Adept both at enabling the general reader to comprehend the academic enterprise and at spoofing professorial pretensions, Lodge has produced fiction in which imaginary lives are palpably real. His stories about English and American dons are more convincing than earnest biographies by scholars about scholars—or than the even more earnest autobiographies of scholars about their stuffy and pretentious lives.
Alfred Kazin once noted that there are two radically different kinds of autobiography. The first sheds light on history; it enables the reader to see the author’s world through the eyes of the narrator. For example, Kazin says, we learn much about eighteenth-century Boston and Philadelphia in Ben Franklin’s Autobiography. The second offers little or no insight into the world beyond the self-important author. Kazin offers Richard Nixon’s memoirs as an example; in them one learns little about Russia or China except that Nixon is central to their histories.
In Therapy Lodge turns aside from the academy and emerges as a writer of great psychological depth, tackling and handling superbly the theme of personal conversion. The protagonist of this fictional autobiography, Tubby Passmore, unfolds his story in the form of crisp journal entries into his laptop computer whenever he can squeeze some time from his highly successful career as scriptwriter for a hit sitcom on British TV, The People Next Door. Coupled with Tubby’s rigorous honesty, his skill as a writer is critical to his therapy and makes his healing entirely believable. Tubby shares some of Nixon’s self-obsession, but at the end of the day his story is much closer to the Ben Franklin approach; we learn a lot about the quest for the spiritual in Tubby’s world by reading his journal.
What ails Tubby? A year before his journal entries begin he experienced a “sharp, piercing pain, like a red-hot needle thrust into the inside of the right knee and then withdrawn, leaving a quickly fading afterburn.” The ensuing arthroscopy is unsuccessful and his physician rediagnoses his problem as “Internal Derangement of the Knee.” This obscure diagnosis serves as a metaphor throughout the novel for deeper dysfunctioning that Tubby encounters, such as his inattention to others as he goes through the motions of listening and responding (Internal Derangement of Awareness), his impotence (Internal Derangement of the Gonads), his fear of turning into a hermaphrodite (Internal Derangement of the Hormones), and negative equity in a home mortgage (Internal Derangement of the Property Market). Finally, Tubby suffers from general indeterminacy, a condition he diagnoses as “I.D.K. I Don’t Know.”
Tubby also suffers from “depression, anxiety, panic attacks, night sweats, insomnia.” All these ailments are aggravated when his wife Sally insists one evening that their marriage is over. So unaware is Tubby of her experience that she has to tell him on two occasions before he hears the news that shatters his illusion of a happy marriage. His first doubts about the quality of his marriage lead to a spirit of confusion about his grasp on reality, followed by anger, blame, and resentment toward Sally. Enough, in short, to indicate the need for a healing hand in Tubby’s life. Thus, as Lodge suggests in one of his epigraphs, Tubby qualifies on all scores for the dictionary definition of “therapy:” “the treatment of physical, mental or social disorders or disease.”
Not all who suffer the sorts of pain that Tubby does are willing to enter into therapy. His willingness to do so and his docility—to compensate for his “lousy education” he regularly looks things up in the reference books that line the shelves of his study—mark him as an ideal candidate for therapy. So committed indeed is Tubby to enter into a process of healing whatever it is that ails him that he is willing to try almost any kind of therapy except drugs (he is smart enough to turn down Valium for fear that he will get hooked on it). Tubby tries Chinese acupuncture until Sally drops her bombshell, after which he associates the idea of acupuncture with his life falling apart. He adheres to a regimen of physical therapy. He even goes in for aromatherapy and gets some relief from a therapist who consults a computer program to determine which fragrance will best correspond to the feelings of the patient. Tubby hides aromatherapy from his psychotherapist, knowing that she wouldn’t “go in for that sort of thing.” When Tubby asks his aromatherapist whether he has anything for going through a divorce, the latter comes up with lavender, which he says is good for stress. In fact, the lavender therapy changes Tubby’s life by giving him an olfactory memory of his first adolescent love, his “first kiss,” and his “first breast”: Maureen Kavanaugh, through whom he will ultimately come to be healed—and dare I say redeemed?
If Lodge is “taking the piss”—British for having us on or kidding us—in his humorous depiction of Tubby’s dependency on various alternative therapies, he is brilliant in depicting the painful journey of self-awareness reflected in Tubby’s journal entries. As Lodge puts it, quoting Graham Greene, “Writing is a form of therapy.”
Tubby seems a likeable enough guy. But at the core he is a self-absorbed narcissist who is almost clueless about why all is not right with his marriage or his other relationships. As his wife Sally puts it, Tubby is “completely wrapped up in himself, not listening to a word anyone says to him.” As with other Lodge novels, Therapy abounds in irony. Sally’s statement about Tubby’s narcissism is actually a self-conscious disclosure by Tubby, who writes it in the voice of his wife after she has abandoned him. At a conscious level Tubby understands that his deepest need is to diminish his narcissism and move into greater awareness of how others feel and think.
The most transformative exercises of his therapy are the pieces in which Tubby struggles for the gift of seeing himself as others see him by writing in their voices. We learn of Tubby’s blind jealousy of Sally, whom he imagines to be having an affair with her tennis coach, by reading the coach’s statement to the police about Tubby’s ridiculous raid on his bedroom. We discover his desperate attempts to “make up for lost philandering” from his accounts of what the partners in his escapades in Los Angeles, Tenerife, and Copenhagen think of his failed attempts to recreate the right moment for sexual satisfaction. His therapist tells Tubby he is too hard on himself, but it is plain that the attempt to be honest in this way and to become more aware of others puts Tubby on the path to recovery from desperation and lonely self-pity.
The most moving part of the novel is the conclusion, in which Tubby’s therapy takes a turn from the cognitive to the analytical, from treating the symptoms that make him miserable to finding the source of his troubles in a long-repressed memory. The act of writing a touching memoir of his first love, Maureen Kavanaugh, whom he had dumped unceremoniously forty years earlier, unlocks for Tubby the enormous consequences of this seemingly trivial act: that he has “never recovered from the effect of the bad faith” of pretending that it was Maureen’s choice, not his betrayal, that caused them to split up. Tubby decides to set out to find Maureen so that he can make his peace with her by seeking not her love, but her forgiveness; he wants to make amends for the cruelty with which he ended their relationship. So valuable is that goal that Tubby is willing to let go of his acrimony with Sally, and settles the divorce rather generously. Grace is not cheap, but costly.
When Tubby discovers that Maureen has joined the hordes of pilgrims who make their way each year to Santiago de Compostela, he puts everything aside to join her on this pilgrimage. Tubby’s quest is guided by his searching inquiry into the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, which provide the hermeneutical thread deftly woven into the fabric of the novel. At one point Sally diminishes the “Kierkegaard thing,” which she describes to her marriage counselor as a “device to dignify his petty little depressions as existential Angst.” But once again Lodge is having his way with delicious irony: it is actually Tubby (writing in Sally’s voice) who is confessing his doubts about the existential value of his doubts. Of such stuff is healing made.
Tubby has learned from his reading of Kierkegaard that there are three kinds of pilgrim: the esthetic, the ethical, and the religious. Esthetic pilgrims don’t pretend to be true pilgrims; they’re just there to have a good time, to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Ethical pilgrims always worry whether they are true pilgrims; they are very competitive with their fellow travelers (no staying in hotels, for instance). Religious pilgrims simply do the pilgrimage, just as religious Christians make a leap of faith into the void and in the process choose themselves, define themselves as inextricably bound up with the absurdity of Christianity.
In journeying with Maureen to the end of her spiritual pilgrimage and in feeling empathy for the depth of suffering that led her to this journey, Tubby has reached a new beginning in his life. One could say that the secularist has found God, or that God has found him. But as Kierkegaard’s uncle Christian Lund, cited in an epigraph, puts it, “You know what, Søren? There’s nothing the matter with you but your silly habit of holding yourself roundshouldered, Just straighten your back and stand up and your sickness will be over.”
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4341
SOURCE: “Right, Here Goes,” in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 277, No. 4, April, 1996, pp. 119-24.
[In the following review of Therapy, Stossel provides an overview of Lodge's fiction and career, and discusses recurring motifs and postmodern devices in his novels.]
For some years now literature has been under siege by “theory” in its various incarnations: deconstructionism, post-structuralism, Marxism, cultural criticism, and historicism, among other esoteric isms. Although most of the reading public continues to approach books and literature in much the same way that it has for at least a century or two, reading for plot, character and meaning, anyone even dimly aware of the tenor of current academic literary criticism knows that literature has been cut adrift from its ontological moorings. Plot? A flimsy technical device, used to propagate consumerist cant. Character? A bourgeois myth, an illusion created to reinforce capitalist domination. Meaning? No such thing; post-structuralism has shown that owing to the nature of language, meaning is endlessly deferred along a string of signifiers. Authors? They don’t exist. The author is merely an ideological construction that artificially limits the proliferation of meanings in the text. Coherent novels (or “coherent texts,” in the academic vernacular) do not exist in current criticism; every text is shot through with other texts and with the seeds of its own de(con)struction.
But all this is academic nonsense to the common reader, who still reads to be entertained, enlightened, and perhaps even morally enlarged. Does “the best that has been known and thought” consist of nothing more than those works that make the most effective use of certain formal literary devices? What happened to Horace’s dictum that literature should entertain and instruct? Must literature be reduced to deluding while indoctrinating (or, worse, to self-deconstructing)?
The answer to these questions is yes and no. This is nowhere better demonstrated than in the writing—both fiction and nonfiction—of David Lodge, a sixty-one-year-old British academic who retired from the University of Birmingham in 1987. Lodge has published five books of criticism and nine novels, along with assorted other books. He straddles the worlds of academia and middlebrow fiction. In Lodge the scholar of the novel we have an academic who has gone native. And in Lodge the novelist we have, in effect, a mole: he reports in his nonfiction on the latest in novelistic technique—this while in his novels pillorying the academy’s continuing campaign to create a literature for professionals only.
Lodge’s novels, in both their form and their content, reflect the experience and the language of the academic. Four of them—The British Museum Is Falling Down (1965), Changing Places (1975), Small World (1984), and Nice Work (1988)—feature academics in academic settings: in them Lodge the novelist parodies the sorts of discourse he produced as Lodge the professor. In fact, some of the language in the opening paragraph of this review was pulled from Nice Work and Small World. Lodge’s criticism—in books with titles like Working With Structuralism and The Modes of Modern Writing—contains both some of the opaque academic language that one expects of academic criticism today (he can definitely talk the talk) and nuggets like this one (which perhaps indicate why he took early retirement from the university):
A lot of academic literary criticism and theory … frankly no longer seems worth the considerable effort of keeping up with it. A vast amount of it is not … a contribution to human knowledge but the demonstration of professional mastery by translating known facts into more and more arcane metalanguages
—which means something coming from someone who can actually understand these metalanguages.
Lodge defends his fiction against theory’s assaults by co-opting them, incorporating the assaults into his stories. He anticipates the commentary of the academic critic and puts it into the voices of his characters. Let’s, the narrator of Nice Work says, meet
a character who, rather awkwardly for me, doesn’t herself believe in the concept of character. That is to say (a favourite phrase of her own), Robyn Penrose, Temporary Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Rummidge, holds that “character” is a bourgeois myth, an illusion created to reinforce the ideology of capitalism.
The narrator goes on in this mode at sufficient length to become unsettling. Maybe character is an illusion. But then Robyn’s views are summarily (though good-naturedly) deflated.
In practice [these views don’t] seem to affect her behaviour very noticeably—she seems to have ordinary human feelings, ambitions, desires, to suffer anxieties, frustrations, fears, like anyone else in this imperfect world, and to have a natural inclination to try and make it a better place. I shall therefore take the liberty of treating her as a character.
By such touches Lodge manages to have it both ways. He constructs wonderful stories and metaphors and narrators in his novels, points out in the same novels how these stories and metaphors and narrators can all be (in the dread procedures of academic criticism) deconstructed, unpacked, or historicized, and then makes fun of this process of deconstruction.
Only in a Lodge novel would a professor at a conference say, after giving a speech on narratology, “No, no, my presence [here] would be superfluous … I have performed my narrative function for tonight.” His way of telling the other characters that he’s going to bed now is Lodge’s way of highlighting the fictionality of his fiction.
Lodge also plays with form on a larger scale: the last chapter of Changing Places, for example, collapses form and content into each other. Changing Places tells the story of what happens when a British and an American professor exchange positions (and, as it turns out, wives) for a year. On the surface the plot is fairly conventional: it uses a simple conceit—taking two characters and dropping them into unfamiliar contexts—to great comic effect. But Lodge manipulates the structure of Changing Places to experiment with form, so the novel is more complex than it might seem on the surface. Each of the six chapters alternates between Philip Swallow, the British professor, and Morris Zapp, the American (who has many of the idiosyncrasies of two prominent real-life American critics, Stanley Fish and Harold Bloom), and each chapter is written in a different style. The last chapter, called “Ending,” is in the form of a screenplay. Its final lines consist of a kind of extended metafictional joke.
PHILIP: You remember that passage in Northanger Abbey where Jane Austen says she’s afraid that her readers will have guessed that a happy ending is coming up at any moment.
MORRIS: (nods) Quote. ‘Seeing in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.’ Unquote.
PHILIP: That’s it. Well, that’s something the novelist can’t help giving away, isn’t it, that his book is shortly coming to an end? It may not be a happy ending nowadays, but he can’t disguise the tell-tale compression of the pages. … I mean, mentally you brace yourself for the ending of a novel. As you’re reading, you’re aware of the fact that there’s only a page or two left in the book, and you get ready to close it. But with a film there’s no way of telling … There’s no way of telling which frame is going to be the last. The film is going along, just as life goes along, people are behaving, doing things, drinking, talking, and we’re watching them, and at any point the director chooses, without warning, without anything being resolved, or explained, or wound up, it can just … end.
PHILIP shrugs. The camera stops, freezing him in mid-gesture.
Lodge’s postmodern machinations whir and grind at a level beneath the surface of his stories—stories at times so conventional and straightforward (in a way that the flamboyantly postmodern stories of, say, John Barth or Milan Kundera are not) that they’ve escaped the notice of many academic critics, who place a modernist premium on inaccessibility, and wandered into the realm of popular fiction.
His best novel may be Small World, a send-up of the world of international academic conferences, which chronicles the haphazard comings and goings of a herd of professors (including Morris Zapp and Philip Swallow) all over the world. The novel has as its formal model the chivalric romance, in particular the Grail quest as interpreted by Jessie Weston in From Ritual to Romance (a book that T. S. Eliot used as a major source for The Waste Land). Lodge hews fairly faithfully to his chivalric analogue. The hero’s name, Persse McGarrigle, is a variation on Percival, the name of the knight who in most versions of the legend undertakes the Grail quest. Arthur Kingfisher, a doyen of literary criticism, has become impotent sexually and tapped-out creatively—just as in the Grail legend the lands of the Fisher King had become dry and sterile. There are numerous plots and numerous Grails in this novel—Persse, for example, a young and innocent T. S. Eliot scholar, is questing for the woman he loves—but the Grail that most of the academics in the novel are in avid pursuit of is a new chair of literary criticism, which comes with the highest salary in the profession, tax-free, and which can be occupied wherever its possessor wishes to reside. Kingfisher chooses the chair’s occupant when Persse, like Percival, asks the appropriate question—one that cuts brutally to the heart of what academic literary studies are about.
While the Grail quest provides the structural skeleton around which Small World is built, numerous other models and allusions and formal games dance at the edges of the text. Lodge uses these allusions and formal tricks (“intertextuality,” in the jargon) throughout to deepen the meaning of the story by lending it mythic resonance and at the same time to sharpen its satire: giving mythic status to the petty ambitions of these careerist academics highlights their absurdity. Lodge also uses his formal games to point out the fictionality of his conceit. When he has a character describe the genre of romance as “a pre-novelistic kind of narrative. … full of adventure and coincidence and surprises and marvels … [and] lots of characters who are lost or enchanted or wandering about looking for each other, or for the Grail, or something like that,” he is doing what he has called in his critical writings (borrowing from the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin) “baring of the device”: he is having the character describe the fictional conventions on which her reality—the reality of Small World—is based.
Lodge’s humor and wit have earned him his reputation as a comic novelist. His novels, especially those published after Small World, have done well, both popularly and critically.Paradise News (1991), for example, his next-to-most-recent novel, spent a considerable amount of time on British best-seller lists, outselling Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in 1992. Both Small World and Nice Work were turned into popular and acclaimed television programs in England. Graham Greene declared himself a David Lodge fan after the publication of Lodge’s early novels (which were swollen with bile toward the Catholic Church), and Anthony Burgess in 1984 ranked How Far Can You Go? (1980) as one of the best novels published since the beginning of the Second World War. Lodge has also been short-listed twice (for Small World and Nice Work) for the Booker Prize.
But he has never actually won the Booker (in 1984 Small World lost out to Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac; in 1988 Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey, beat Nice Work). Has he been runner-up for the award because he’s good but, in the end, not that good? Or is it because, as a comic novelist, he’s not accorded the same respect as “serious” novelists? Woody Allen has said that comics don’t get to eat at the grown-ups’ table and that this has affected the reception of his films. Might a similar syndrome have affected Lodge’s critical reception? Or is it accurate to say, as the British newspaper The Guardian has, that “ultimately, Lodge’s comic view of life is sustainable only because it doesn’t dig very deep”? Some of Lodge’s novels end, certainly, like Shakespearean comedies, with couples improbably reuniting. But Lodge also uses the comic to gesture meaningfully at the weighty and profound.
Take Paradise News. At the end of the first chapter the novel’s hero, the skeptical theologian Bernard Walsh, muses that “there was, after all, something incongruous, even indecent, about using a package holiday to visit a dying relative”—the package holiday being a trip to Hawaii. A priest who has lost his faith, Bernard has been living a drab, Spartan life, teaching theology at a small college. As he helps and comforts his ailing aunt, Ursula, and enters a relationship with Yolande Miller (whose discordant name, in “yoking together the exotic and the banal,” typifies the novel’s incongruities), who has hit and injured his father with her car, he begins to discover how resourceful he is, and to become aware of life’s manifold possibilities.
Lodge explores the meaning of Bernard’s progress in a theology lecture that Bernard delivers at the end of the novel. What can be salvaged from the “eschatological wreckage” of traditional religious faith? Bernard asks. In many ways this is what Paradise News is about. Religious awe at earthly things and at earthly pleasures, and the wonder that attends the “uncertainty” of the existence of God, fill the void left by the discrediting of traditional Christian dogma. (Paradise News is also, of course, about interpretation, and about the impossibility, after post-structuralism, of a literary text’s having an absolute meaning.) Bernard finds a kind of modest paradise in these wonders, and he prefers them to the guarantee of heaven. Whereas Milton undertook in Paradise Lost to justify the ways of God to man, Paradise News, though it winks slyly at Milton, shows how our helping and caring for one another will be rewarded in a world where we cannot even be sure that God has ways. One hopes this view of life can be sustained outside the comic novel.
Still, if happy endings belong fundamentally to the comic genre, then Paradise News falls into that category. But in Lodge’s latest novel, Therapy, which is soon to be published in paperback, the comic view of life is tempered considerably.
Therapy’s hero, Laurence Passmore, known to most as Tubby, is somewhat fat, more than somewhat balding, and fifty-eight. He is married to Sally, a linguist, and he has two grown children. He is the writer of a successful sitcom called The People Next Door, which has been running for five years and is watched by 13 million people each week. This show has yielded Tubby a small amount of fame and a large amount of money. Tubby also has a mistress—albeit a platonic one—named Amy.
Tubby believes he should be happy; “So really you would say that I’ve got it made, wouldn’t you? I’ve solved the monogamy problem, which is to say the monotony problem, without the guilt of infidelity. I have a sexy wife at home and a platonic mistress in London. What have I got to complain about? I don’t know.” He doesn’t know. That’s just the problem. In addition to a real and nagging physical ailment, a recurrent sharp pain in his knee, Tubby is plagued by a malaise of uncertain origins. He doesn’t suffer from nightmares, but
nightmares are about the only thing I don’t have, in that line. I have depression, anxiety, panic attacks, night sweats, insomnia, but not nightmares. … [If I did have nightmares] maybe I would get a clue then to what’s the matter with me. I don’t mean my knee. I mean my head. My mind. My soul.
Nearly all Lodge’s heroes have some sort of obvious weakness or shortcoming that becomes almost a defining characteristic: they are short (Victor Wilcox in Nice Work), fat (Tubby), lapsed priests (Bernard in Paradise News), sexually bumbling (Persse in Small World and the entire cast of characters in How Far Can You Go?), or just plain benignly ineffectual (Philip Swallow in Changing Places, Adam Applebly in The British Museum Is Falling Down). It is as though Lodge, who in his earlier novels was somewhat angrily trying to address the frustrating proscriptions of the Catholic Church through comedy, has abandoned the specific tenets of Catholicism while retaining at least one of its basic moral principles for his artistic vision: The meek shall inherit the earth. These short, fat, bumbling characters usually end up okay, often even better off than they were at the beginning.
Much of Lodge’s comedy stems from the amplification in his characters of our deepest insecurities: about sex, about our appearance, about our place in the world. Woody Allen similarly zeroes in on basic human insecurities. But Lodge’s touch is lighter than Allen’s, even in Therapy, which has Allenesque existential preoccupations. Here, in a scene told from the point of view of Amy, Tubby makes his first attempt at compensating for “lost philandering” after his wife has left him.
Well, it was lucky I was [drunk], otherwise it would have been just too embarrassing for words. … I got the giggles as soon as I saw Laurence putting on his knee-support when we were preparing for our siesta. It’s made from some spongy stretch fabric, like they use to make wet-suits, and it’s bright red, with a hole in it for his kneecap to poke through. It looked particularly funny when he had nothing else on. … Apparently he always wears it when he and Sally have sex. When he put on an elasticated elbow bandage as well I nearly had hysterics. He explained that he’d had a recurrence of tennis elbow lately and didn’t want to take any chances. I wondered if he was going to put on anything else, a pair of shin-pads perhaps, or a cycling helmet. Actually, that wouldn’t have been a bad idea, because the bed was so narrow he was in some danger of falling on the floor during foreplay … I felt like a cross between a hooker and an orthopaedic nurse.
Lodge mines the endless array of sexual foibles to extract laughter and sanity. The humor in this passage bears one of Lodge’s trademarks: it is funny at his characters’ expense without sacrificing the warmth and empathy the reader feels for them.
Therapy doesn’t scale the heights of comedy the way some of Lodge’s earlier novels did. This may be because Lodge is most in his element in comic writing about being an academic and being a Catholic. Indeed, Lodge’s first comic novel, The British Museum Is Falling Down, was about a Catholic academic. Thinking about how easy sexual life must be for non-Catholics, Adam Appleby, who is a poor graduate student with three children already, marvels,
How different from his own married state, which Adam symbolised as a small, over-populated, low-lying island ringed by a crumbling dyke which he and his wife struggled hopelessly to repair as they kept anxious watch on the surging sea of fertility that surrounded them.
His wife keeps getting pregnant, despite the couple’s best efforts at Catholicism’s version of birth control.
They had embarked on marriage with vague notions about the Safe Period and a hopeful trust in Providence that Adam now found difficult to credit. Clare had been born nine months after the wedding. Barbara had then consulted a Catholic doctor who gave her a simple mathematical formula for calculating the Safe Period—so simple that Dominic was born one year after Clare.
When a fellow graduate student accuses Adam of suffering from a special form of scholarly neurosis, the inability to distinguish between life and literature, Adam retorts, “Oh yes I can. Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way round.” The British Museum Is Falling Down lacks the weight and formal neatness of Lodge’s later novels, but it demonstrates his droll humor and his ability to make us simultaneously laugh at and feel for his characters.
There’s no question that in Therapy, superficially a conventional entertainment, Lodge is up to his old playful gamesmanship, at the same time baring and concealing the devices that make his fiction work. Consider even his choice of title. Who exactly is this therapy for? That is, what is the title referring to? All the therapy that Tubby (“On Mondays I see Roland for Physiotherapy, on Tuesdays I see Alexandra for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and on Fridays I have either aromatherapy or acupuncture. Wednesdays and Thursdays I’m usually in London, but then I see Amy, which is a sort of therapy too, I suppose”) and the other characters in the novel receive? No doubt. But is Lodge also offering therapy to us? Probably that, too. After all, the novel’s somewhat sad ending is clearly intended to make us feel better about what Tubby, in talking about the therapeutic social effect he presumes his sitcom to have on viewers, calls our “negative equity.” Finally, maybe, just maybe, is this novel therapy for Lodge? Though it is extremely unfashionable, now that authors are not supposed even to exist, to look in novels for autobiographical clues, I find it distinctly possible that the novel represents a kind of extemporized writing therapy or journal writing, meant to assuage his own midlife angst. (Lodge recently told an interviewer, “In middle age, I’ve found myself prone to more depression and anxiety than I can give a rational explanation for.”) Consider the novel’s epigram, from Graham Greene: “Writing is a form of therapy.” Consider also the extract from the journal of Søren Kierkegaard that Tubby quotes approvingly: “Only when I write do I feel well.” Still more suggestive, however, is the first line of the novel. It comes before Tubby’s entry dated February 15, 1993, and it reads “Right, here goes.” Is this Tubby getting ready to write his diary? Or is it Lodge getting ready to improvise Tubby’s diary? Now combine all this with the way that Tubby describes the pigeons outside his window in his first diary entry: “Pure play—no question. They were just larking about, exercising their agility for the sheer fun of it.” Right away, on page one, Lodge has us wondering. Is this what he is going to do? Is this novel just writing for the sake of writing, writing for the sake of therapy? How else would you begin such an exercise but by saying to yourself, “Right, here goes”?
One final piece of evidence: at the beginning of the novel’s concluding section Tubby muses about the distinctions among writing a novel, writing a script, and writing a journal. The essential difference, he explains, in a passage that recalls the end of Changing Places, is “a question of tense.” Whereas a script is all in the present tense, happening now, when you write something in a book it appears to be all in the past.
Even if you write, “I am writing, I am writing,” over and over again, the act of writing is finished with, out of sight, by the time somebody reads the result. … The special thing about a journal is that the writer doesn’t know where his story is going, he doesn’t know how it ends: so it seems to exist in a kind of continuous present, even though the individual incidents may be described in the past tense. Novels are written after the fact, or they pretend to be. The novelist may not have known how his story would end when he began it, but it always looks as if he did to the reader.
This is an obvious point, really, but by highlighting its own mechanism, it casts the novel in a new light. Is, Therapy, then, just Lodge’s fancy way of saying “I am writing, I am writing”? His way of diverting himself from whatever demons plague him? Who is the author of this diary entry. Tubby or Lodge? Obviously, both are. Tubby in this passage points out that this is his journal; he couldn’t possibly have known where his life was going next as he wrote it. Lodge, however, is the novelist. He knew where Tubby’s life was going all along. Or did he?
Reading Lodge’s critical writing on fiction produces the disconcerting feeling of being allowed a peek at the bricks and mortar, the sweat and craftsmanship, that go into the creation of a literary work. Perhaps you would rather not know how it came to be; you would prefer to entertain the illusion that it appeared on the earthly plane fully formed. In that case, when Lodge the novelist pulls back the curtain to reveal the scaffolding and lighting devices in his fiction as you’re reading it, you would probably just as soon close your eyes and pretend that you haven’t noticed. But you would be missing out: Lodge is simultaneously a playfully postmodern and a plainly conventional comic novelist, and that, along with his intermingling of form and content, is what makes him such an interesting writer. Besides, it is reassuring to read the novels of an academic who still believes in character, in storytelling, and in meaning. And seeing a novel broken down into its component parts should not be alarming, because in the end, as Lodge has written, “a novel is a Gestalt … a perceptual pattern or structure possessing qualities as a whole that cannot be described merely as the sum of its parts.” Literature is far more than an aggregation of technical devices. Even if that’s just what it is.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1239
SOURCE: “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” in Times Literary Supplement, January 3, 1997, p. 25.
[In the following review of The Practice of Writing, Taylor commends Lodge's critical writings, though finds the collection as a whole to be a “mixed bag” of varying importance and interest.]
The nine years since David Lodge gave up his professorship at the University of Birmingham in order to devote more time to his writing have been highly productive. Three novels, a volume of heavyweight literary criticism (After Bakhtin, 1990), screenplay adaptations of his own and other people’s work, a cache of reviews, a “fiction masterclass” in the Independent on Sunday (collected as The Art of Fiction, 1993): the life of the postmodern, transmedia ex-academic has many compartments, and nearly all of them get turned out, in one way or another, in The Practice of Writing.
It is tempting to see Lodge’s bustling post-campus progress as a kind of reversion to historical type. When the bandwagon of “English Studies” was set rolling through the university system at the end of the last century, it had a habit of picking its recruits from light literature (Quiller-Couch at Oxford) or the higher journalism (Lodge’s distant predecessor Churton Collins at Birmingham). It would be idle to compare Lodge to either of these late-Victorian behemoths. At the same time, his relish for what might be called the journeyman side of writing allows his critical work to focus on the hand-to-mouth aspects of literature in a way that hasn’t always commended itself to university professors in the past half-century. When writing about Grub Street, it helps to have some understanding of the conditions in which Grub Street operates.
The “commodification”-of-literature argument can be over-zealously applied, even to some of the lavishly subsidized, market-conscious literary fictions of the 1990s. For all that, Lodge’s comments on the economic pressures to which the average—and less than average—novelist is subject, expressed in “The Novelist Today: Still at the Crossroads”, are no less relevant now than on their first appearance in a volume of New Writing back in 1992. By extension, when, in a discussion of the staging of his play The Writing Game at Birmingham Rep, in the summer of 1990, he stops to calculate how many copies of a hardback novel would produce the same sum in royalties, the reader rather welcomes this glimpse of the writer as businessman. Thackeray, you feel, would have been just as interested in the gate receipts from one of his lectures, and the effect is not so much to diminish the value of what gets produced as to set it in the wider context of the modern literary life.
Like all collections of this kind, The Practice of Writing is a mixed bag. Some of this has to do with the presence of some very different materials. Part One (“Novelists, Novels and ‘The Novel’”), for example, is a clutch of book reviews and literary pieces. Part Two (“Mixed Media”) relates the author’s adventures in the world of stage and screen. A bit more, though, has to do with the range of preoccupations on view and the varying levels of intellectual treatment they receive. Lodge submitting Harold Pinter’s Last to Go to a “structuralist analysis” is, as you might imagine, good highbrow fun. Lodge on the adaptation of Martin Chuzzlewit into a BBC serial, while fascinating in some of its incidentals, has a trick of producing statements such as “The making of a television serial like Chuzzlewit is an enormously complex operation, involving the planning and co-ordination of many distinct tasks and requiring many different skills: writing, casting, designing, costume design, location-finding, studio set construction. … Some of these elements are more important than others, but for a really successful show they all need to work”. You hope, as the late Sir Kingsley Amis might have said, that somewhere some aspiring television producer is writing this down.
The straight literary criticism that opens the book is nearly always excellent. Lodge’s essay on the rarefied genius of Henry Green is particularly good at showing how Green achieves his dialogue effects. “Lucky Jim Revisited”, Lodge’s introduction to the Penguin Modern Classics edition reprinted here, makes the valuable point that for all its status as an anatomy of the 1950s, Amis’s novel has roots extending far back into the 1940s, with Jim Dixon, for example, keeping his lecture notes in an old RAF file and visualizing the streets of London by remembering a weekend leave spent there during the war. Elsewhere, Lodge gets involved in a rather odd exchange with Graham Greene’s biographer Michael Shelden on the subject of Greene’s supposed anti-Semitism: Shelden arguing for its uniqueness in the context of 1930s literature, Lodge adducing a corpus of similar material, and neither bothering to examine the wide range of “Jew” references in novels by, for instance, Priestley, Powell and Orwell, from which some kind of useful discussion could have proceeded.
One talks about the wide range of Lodge’s interests, but in some ways this is a false trail. On one level, in fact, the range of interests on display here is fairly narrow. It includes Catholicism (which allows some sharp insights into the worlds of Joyce, Greene and Anthony Burgess) and sex (Lodge is never so happy as when ransacking the cupboards of a writer’s sex life), but achieves its most salient focus in the figure of Lodge himself. Lodge pops up everywhere in these essays—in a recording studio with Graham Greene, signing books with Burgess, fondly (and legitimately) slotting his own productions into roll-calls of the development of the novel. To make this point is not, perhaps, to level the charge of monomania, but to demonstrate the importance of the subjects Lodge writes about to his sense of himself. Certainly there is, for the most part, a disarming lack of self-consciousness about the many personal appearances. The theatrical interludes, in particular, present an engaging spectacle of Mr Pooter abroad in gallery and green room: the author taking his eighty-eight-year-old mother-in-law to the first night of The Writing Game only for her to fall promptly asleep, or being forced to endure lengthy transatlantic phone calls (“one made from a hotel in Sussex cost me a hundred pounds”).
Here and there the collection sheds a little light on some of the paradoxes of Lodge’s career. These are considerable. The novels display a sophisticated intelligence revelling in slapstick (giggling about sex, young men trying to buy contraceptives). Much of the critical work reveals a skilled interpretative sensibility, festooned with all the latest critical gadgetry but at its shrewdest when writing biographical analyses based on the antediluvian formulae of “character”, “environment” and “temperament” and their relation to his own life. Clearly Lodge isn’t averse to dressing up in the glad rags of literary theory, but on this (and previous) evidence he wouldn’t wear it next to his skin. In the end, The Practice of Writing fits neatly into the category of disguised autobiography. In the piece on Anthony Burgess, he suggests that “there is no doubt that novelists are well advised to postpone the writing of their autobiographies for as long as possible”. David Lodge, who has a lot to tell us about, among other things, the nature of post-war English Catholicism and the rise of “English Studies” on the post-war campus, had better get on with it.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567
SOURCE: A review of The Practice of Writing, in World Literature Today, Vol. 71, No. 4, Autumn, 1997, pp. 795-6.
[In the following review, Hagen offers a positive assessment of The Practice of Writing.]
Time and again, during my reading of The Practice of Writing, I had to remind myself to take notes for this review. David Lodge writes criticism like the good novelist he is. There is always a story to tell: authors’ lives, authors’ books, how his own life and career intersect with their lives and books. This is not to say that Lodge’s criticism is negligible or his judgments entirely personal. The appeal of this collection comes from the personality of an author as he reflects on the experiences and people who have mattered to him as a critic and a creative artist.
The essays have many occasions, from book reviews to lectures, but one important occasion marks the collection as a whole: Lodge’s retirement from his regular position at the University of Birmingham in 1987. Part of what moved him to retire, he says, was that the current academic practice of theory made it more difficult for him to connect his criticism with his creative writing. He hopes the present collection will find readers among students, teachers, and the general public; significantly, he makes no claim on the attention of literary critics. I would suggest they attend: his collection has much to say about modern fictional texts and how those texts come into being, their complex relationships with the author’s life and culture.
The modern authors who matter most to David Lodge are Graham Greene, Henry Green, Evelyn Waugh, D. H. Lawrence, Anthony Burgess, Vladimir Nabokov, and, above all, James Joyce. Most of them are Catholic, and most share Joyce’s dedication to transformative language. Except for Waugh, there is an essay on each. My favorite is the essay on Nabokov, where Lodge approaches his work through two popular genres—the thriller and the mystery. Murder, infidelity, narrow escapes, and their subversions form a deep structure against which language visibly plays, forcing the reader to see the similitude of a world.
“The Novel and Communication” and “Novel, Screenplay, Stage Play” treat the changes in favored point of view, from the eighteenth century to the present, and the modes of compression or informational redundancy natural to different kinds of narrative. Each essay represents what has always been so fine about Lodge’s critical practice: in the tradition of Wayne Booth and Robert Scholes, he makes sense of the history and forms of narrative. When one is reading Lodge, one is less aware of new ideas than synthesis and clarity. One feels at times that one has read the “best statement” on the subject. Only later may it strike one that a particular point may just be original.
The more theoretical work leads directly to essays on Lodge’s own creative writing: adapting his novel Nice Work to the screen, adapting Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit for a television series, and seeing his play The Writing Game through the optioning and production process. The last becomes a valuable account of how the writer must modify a text for performance and how the text is modified by being performed.
The Practice of Writing shows something of what the commitment to writing involves. It demonstrates that the joy of creation can be married to a clear critical intelligence.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530
SOURCE: “A Writer's Revenge,” in Times Literary Supplement, November 19, 1999, p. 24.
[In the following review, Imlah offers a positive assessment of Lodge's prose adaptation of his play Home Truths.]
Home Truths is David Lodge’s adaptation into prose fiction of his play of the same title, which was first staged in February 1998; and it hardly conceals its origins, with its single interior setting, and a narrative which is only a rendering of stage-directions into the past tense:
Eleanor led Sam into the kitchen. A minute or two later Adrian, wearing a T-shirt and tracksuit trousers, came down the stairs and went along the hall towards the front door. … He looked around as if in search of something.
But it is no bad thing if, for most of its course, Home Truths is still what it was: an amusing and nicely crafted satire on the contending impulses—out towards publicity and back into privacy—that pull about the literary life.
The action takes place in the living room of the Sussex cottage home of Adrian Ludlow—once a highly rated literary novelist, now, at fifty, withdrawn to the half-life of editing anthologies of cricket writing—and his wife Eleanor, who has given up her own career in London for Adrian’s sake. One Sunday in the summer of 1997, musing over the newspapers, they come across a vicious profile, by the notorious young interviewer “Fanny Tarrant”, of their old university friend Sam Sharp, who has since become a successful (and vain) Hollywood screenwriter. The next moment Sam himself appears at their door, enraged that the word is out about his toupée. Adrian, for all his private satisfaction, is persuaded to pursue revenge on Sam’s behalf: by submitting himself for interview by Tarrant, but planning to turn the tables by selling a “reverse interview” to a rival newspaper.
The plan founders when, on the day of Adrian’s interview, Eleanor’s car breaks down and she comes home unexpectedly. Happening on Adrian’s tape of the conversation, she hears him being blithely and untypically candid about their private life. Her instant retaliation is to take the departing Fanny aside and give her more hot copy: the real reasons for Adrian’s retirement from novel-writing.
A symmetrical resolution is thus neatly set up, as the Ludlows wait miserably, on another Sunday morning, to see which of them has been savaged or spared in the Sentinel. Instead, it is Fanny Tarrant herself who arrives, diverted from Gatwick like a grieving angel, with news of the death of the Princess of Wales (and Dodi Fayed)—at the hands, as it were, of the media. The sudden intrusion of this real historical event seems at first as misjudged as it did in Shena Mackay’s novel The Artist’s Widow (1998). But Lodge uses it to obliterate all that has gone before, like the news of the crucifixion breaking on brawling shepherds in a Mystery Play. The papers flop in the hall, and no one goes to fetch them. The novella ends with its four characters struck dumb before the television, in awe of a celebrity drama, an act of news-making, which so sensationally dwarfs their own.