(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although Small World, David Lodge’s seventh novel, is ostensibly an academic comedy of manners, Lodge compounds, or comically complicates, his story and its realistic surface by joining to it an underlying plot borrowed from romance literature, the mythic quest. Actually, there are numerous quests, of which the most prominent (if not necessarily the most important) involves Persse McGarrigle’s pursuit of the beautiful, intelligent, and playfully elusive graduate student Angelica Pabst, whose command of romance literature and contemporary literary theory is as formidable as Persse’s naivete is comic. Beginning at the sparsely attended University Teachers of English Language and Literature conference held at Rummidge University (the setting of half of Lodge’s earlier novel, Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses, 1975), Persse pursues Angelica over much of Europe to Los Angeles, Asia, and Jerusalem, going from academic conference to academic conference, until he finally ends up, along with many of the novel’s other characters, in New York, at the annual conference of the Modern Language Association (MLA). The reader’s pursuit of the story of Persse’s pursuit of Angelica is further complicated in a number of ways. While pursuing Angelica, for example, Persse runs into his cousin Bernadette, now a fallen woman, and determines to do what he can to save her. More important, and more confusing, Persse is only one of the many characters in...

(The entire section is 440 words.)