The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although the characters are far too numerous to be very fully developed, they are nevertheless not rendered merely as caricatures. Many reappear from Changing Places—Morris Zapp and his former wife Desiree Boyd, Philip and Hilary Swallow, Bernadette, and several others—and nearly all are academics whose interests cover the entire range of critical approaches, from the naive and the humanist to Marxist, structuralist, reader response, and inevitably, deconstructionist. It is a novel with a vast cast but no clearly distinguished protagonist. Persse, however, the least intellectual and least dogmatic of the lot, does receive proportionately the greatest amount of the author’s and the reader’s attention, and it is around his quest for Angelica that many of the other characters’ quests cluster (even though they neither derive from nor depend on it). Persse’s story serves, therefore, less as a narrative focus than as a recurring narrative thread. Possessing native intelligence but entirely ignorant of twentieth century critical theory, Persse embodies the simple folk hero, one who finds himself not in the king’s castle but in the, for Persse, equally alien environment of contemporary academia. His simplicity is deceptive, however, for Persse is not only what he appears to be but also all that he and more especially his name intertextually call to the reader’s mind. Thus, he is not only Persse McGarrigle but also the Perceval of the Grail legends, the Perseus of Greek myth, the Charles Saunders Peirce of semiotics, and the Persse O’Reilly of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939), who is himself one more version of that novel’s protean hero, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Multiple as he himself may be, Persse is nevertheless the archetypal naif and as such tends to misunderstand his world with comic regularity. In fact, given the novel’s overt preoccupation with critical theory, one might say that Persse tends to misread his world and more specifically to misread Angelica, who is not only a character in Lodge’s novel but also an intertextuality of literary citations drawn from a variety of sources, John Milton, Ludovico Ariosto, and the Romantic poets among them. As the birthmarks on her and her sister’s upper thighs make plain, she is herself a literary allusion.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Persse McGarrigle

Persse McGarrigle, a poet and lecturer in English literature at Limerick University, Ireland. A “conference virgin,” he is as ignorant of the structuralist and poststructuralist theories, which have come to dominate literary criticism in the twentieth century, as he is of sex. At his first conference, this “hopeless romantic” falls in love with the elusive Angelica Pabst. He uses the poetry prize he wins to finance his international, conference-to-conference quest for her hand in marriage. He finally catches up with her at a mammoth meeting of the Modern Language Association (MLA) in New York. At the meeting, Persse, playing the part of grail knight, asks the question that frees the small world of academic critics from their sexual and intellectual impotence. He saves them but loses Angelica; ever hopeful, he is last seen about to set off in pursuit of yet another grail/girl, Cheryl Summerbee.

Angelica Pabst

Angelica Pabst, a brilliant and beautiful graduate student, twenty-seven years old, who is the object of Persse’s chaste desire. Adept in the field of contemporary literary theory, she is writing a dissertation on romance from Heliodorus to Barbara Cartland. A foundling, she has been reared by a KLM executive who has bestowed on her the gift of unlimited air travel.

Lily Papps

Lily Papps, Angelica’s twin sister. Their only distinguishing feature is birthmarks high on one thigh that, when they stand together in their bikinis, make them look as if they are inside quotation marks. Not knowing that Angelica has a twin sister, least of all one who works as a stripper and porn star, Persse mistakenly believes that the face he sees outside Soho clubs, in porn theaters, and in Amsterdam’s red-light district is Angelica’s. Only after he has made love to Lily (believing that she is Angelica) does Persse learn that Angelica has not only a twin but a fiancé, named Peter McGarrigle.

Philip Swallow

Philip Swallow, the head of the English department at Rummidge University and author of Hazlitt and the Amateur Reader. He is a recurring character in the author’s work; since his initial appearance in Changing Places (1975), Swallow has become professionally and sexually more assertive. During one of his lecture trips, he resumes his affair with Joy Simpson, whom he believed to be dead. He loses her later as a result of his very British preoccupation with appearances. At the MLA...

(The entire section is 1033 words.)