A clash of two different worlds in David Lodge's "Nice Work"

Robyn Pensrose as a lecturer of English literature in Victor Wilcox's world of industry and the irony of the "Romantic Quest"

Seminar Paper, 2005

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Characterization of Robyn Penrose

3. Characterization of Victor Wilcox

4. Clash of Robyn and Victor – the collision of two different worlds

5. The ironic treatment of the “Romantic Quest”
5.1. A contribution to literary theory
5.2. The irony between Robyn and Victor

6. Summary / Conclusion

8. Bibliography

1 . Introduction

This scientific essay has been written according to the Proseminar “Contemporary British novelists. An introduction. David Lodge’s »How far can you go?« (1981) and »Nice work« (1988)”. For my essay I decided for the book »Nice work«.

The aim of my essay is it to find out what happens when the world of academia meets the world of industry, therefore when Robyn Penrose as a lecturer of English Literature meets Victor Wilcox, who is a Managing Director in a factory. This clash of values causes quite a lot of personal and public conflicts, problems and obstacles for Robyn and Victor. But they try to get on with each other as well as they can. And although these two people are so different, they find each other in the end.

In my essay I will also pay special attention to the use of irony according to the theme of the “Romantic Quest”, because I think that this is quite an interessting topic to write about. The reader learns a lot about the relationship between Robyn and Victor and about David Lodge’s special techniques of writing.

Stefanie Warnke

2 . Characterization of Robyn Penrose

Robyn Penrose is first mentioned in chapter one when also Victor Wilcox and his family are introduced. So the reader first gets an impression of Victor and his life until he gets known to a totally different character and person – namely Robyn. In chapter I/2 the reader is introduced to Robyn Penrose and gets quite a lot of information about her past, her life, her appearance and her career: Doctor Roberta Anne Penrose, who is now a Temporary Lecturer in English Literature at Rummidge University, was born in Melbourne, Australia and is now thirty-four years old. She is a tall and slender person with a womanly shaped figure. She has got grey-green eyes and her nose and her chin are a little bit too long. Robyn prefers wearing dark and loose clothes made out of natural fibres, so that nobody can see her body as an object of sexual attraction. Robyn’s hair, her finest feature, is curley and copper-coloured. When Robyn was five years old, she and her family moved from Ausralia to England, because her father, as an academic historian, had a scholarship at Oxford. And so they stayed in England and later her father came to an univerity situated at the south coast of England, where he has an own Chair. Robyn never returned to Australia and can not remember very well in her childhood and the country where she was born. Robyn had a good childhood. She grew up in beautiful house on the sea and attended a fisrt-class direct-grant Grammar School, where she got an excellent leaving certificate. After the A-level exam Robyn’s teachers wanted her to go to Oxbridge, but she went to Sussex, because most young people in the “Wild Seventees” went there and because this place had an innovatory and exiting reputation. In Sussex Robyn read authors like Marx, Freud and Kafka, who she could not have read at Oxbridge. At the university she lost her virginity and was promiscuous until she met (or chose) Charles, who is now her husband and also a lecturer at the university in Suffolk. First they lived togehther in a flat in Brighton and later they bought a house in Rummidge. Robyn’s thinking is mostley influenced by capitalism and by several writers. That is why she does not believe in the concept of character and thinks that characters are “a bourgeois myth, an illusion created to reinforce the ideology of capitalism.[1] Robyn is a very self-confident person and she thinks she is good at what she is doing and she prefers her career and not raising an own family. She is also very strong-willed and rational in thinking an finishes the relationship with Charles, because she thinks it is about to die and because he had an affair with another woman. After this seperation they got together on more time, but it failed again and so Robyn decided not to look for a man on her side any further. Admittedly Robyn is fullfilled and happy with her job, but she is also very lonley. But Robyn is a feminist and she is convinced that women are not incomplete without man, because they can love other women or themselves. But that does not mean that she is lesbian – she is interested in having sex with men. And so she became involved in a Women’s Group at Cambridge, where she discussed for example women’s writing together with a group of women. Robyn likes her job so much that she can imagine to work as a lecurer for the rest of her life. But like every person else, she has also fears an anxienties and wants to make the world a better palce. Every now and then she strikes for more money and no cuts in the education - she dreams of an ideal university. But money does not mean everything to her, because she thinks that money can not fulfill her life and she does not want to become very rich. All in all one could say that Robyn Penrose is a very intelligent young women, who loves her work at the university. She is very self-confident and knows exactly what she wants in her life. Sometimes she is also a bit arrogant towards other people, who are not as educated as she is. Robyn is a feminist and likes having the company of women, who are as strong as she is. Robyn is a little fighter – she fights for women’s rights and for better circumstances in the world of academia.

Robyn Penrose is also a telling name. The name “Robyn” itsself is a masculine one, but she prefers that name instead of “Roberta”. “Robyn” is also the name of a bird with a red chest – this could be an allusion to the political attitude of Robyn (“a Leftie”). The name “Penrose” consists of two syllables – “pen” and “rose”. “Pen” could be allusion to Robyn’s work at the university. She is a lecturer and has quite a lot do with literature, writing and written language. “Rose” as a flower could be related to Robyn’s female features – romantic, beautiful, sweet, but also dangerous because of its thorns.

3 . Characterization of Victor Wilcox

Victor Wilcox is the fist character the reader becomes acquainted with in the first chapter. Because of the detailed descriptions of Vic’s daily life, his family and his routines, the reader gets an impression of this person: Victor Eugene Wilcox, who is now foutry-six years old, works as a Managing Director at Pringle & Sons Casting and General Engineering. His workplace is the factory. Vic was born in Easton, Rummidge and after he attended the Primary School and the Grammar School for Boys, he went to a College of Andvanced Technology in Rummidge. Before he became a Managing Director at Pringle & Sons, he worked as an engineer at several enterprises in Rummidge. Vic is married to his wife Marjorie and has three kids (Raymond, Sandra and Gary). He works very hard for his money and his family uses this money without seeing the hard work behind it. Due to his capitalist doctrines, money is very important to Vic. He is a stereotypical busineness man – he and his family are living in beautiful house, he is wearing expensive clothes, he smokes and has a huge office room with expensive furniture in it, he reads the “Daily Mail” and his taste of music is simple and sentimental (he prefers female singers like Jennifer Rush). But instead of identifying with the upper class, Vic counts hisself to the working class – he does not believe in status symbols, he speaks the local dialect, he does not need a lot of electronic devices in the houeshold and he is in a particular way modest. But he seems to be very unsatisfied with his life and with his marriage and believes that he has missed something in his life, because he has always worked so much. He lives in a routine – every day the same procedures. He gets up, goes to the bathroom, has breakfast, drives to the firm, works until late in the evening, goes home , has dinner and goes to bed. Vic does not love his wife anymore and feels disturbed by her. He also does not respect his children. He hates the materialistic attitudes of his family. All these things make his social life to an extention of work. Vic can not sleep very tight. He always lies awake in his bed before the clock is ringing and thinks about his work and all the decisions he has to make and what consequences these decisions have. Vic knows that he is just a “little light” in the huge world of industry and that he can lose everything in very short period of time. And so the most importatnt things for Vic are his job and the money he makes with his profession. He enjoys the advantages of his job in higher position – he has his personal secretary, he drives a Jaguar and he eats out in expensive restaurants for free when there is a business meeting, for example. Vic has a certain attitude towards industry. For instance, he is convinced that people, who are working in industry always do something respectable. Industry produces goods, which are needed for the surviving of the society and that is why everybody should be respectful towards the work of industry. He thinks that the industry is responsible for the whole society, because industry is always doing something useful. People, who are employed in a factory are working with their hands, that means they are doing “real work”, especially men. Vic says that men love to do hard work, because they need it for their self-respect. Refering to women in the factory, Vic thinks that they are glad to work here and that they are not opressed. “We don’t force people to work here […] For every unskilled job we advertise, we get a hundred applicants […].” [2] Statements like that are typical for Vic’s capitalist attitude. He also believes in “Buying British”. All in all one could say that Victor Wilcox is a very accurate and serious man, who loves his job as a Managing Director in the factory. Sometimes he treads the workers in the factory in a very cruel way, because he makes them feel that they can be replaced by somebody else so easily. He would do nearly everything to preserve the foundry and keep it go on working, without considering the people’s personal situations in life.

“Victor Wilcox” is also a telling name. “Victor” could be an allusion to the Victorian people and their attitudes. “Wilcox” can be devided into two syllables – “wil” and “cox”. “Wil” could be an allusion to the verb “will” and “cox” could refer to Vic’s higher position in the foundry. That means that “Wilcox” could be a name for a man, who wants to be a strong and leading person in every situation of life.

4 . Clash of Robyn and Victor – the collision of two different worlds

Now we got known to two totally different chararcters: Robyn as strong and steadfast woman, whose workplace is the world of academia, namely the university. And on the other side there is Victor, a stereotypical business man, who works in the world of industry and for whom money is the most important thing in life.

Robyn and Vic meet each other in chapter II/II within the bounds of the so called “Shadow Scheme”, which is a kind of exchange project between the “Industry Year” and the “Faculty of Arts”. And so Robyn was chosen to take part in the “Shadow Scheme”, because her special field of work is the nineteenth-century Industrial Novel. And Vic, after being convinced by his colleagues, decided to join this project, because it is a good PR for his group in the firm. The “Shadow Scheme” consists of two parts and its aim is it that an academic follows a person from the world of industry all day long and watches him or her doing the daily work – and the other way around. Later the ”shadow” (= the person, who follows around) has to write a short report about what he or she has learned by that.


[1] Lodge, David. Nice work. England: Penguin Books, 1989. p. 39.

[2] Lodge, David. 1989. p. 120.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


A clash of two different worlds in David Lodge's "Nice Work"
Robyn Pensrose as a lecturer of English literature in Victor Wilcox's world of industry and the irony of the "Romantic Quest"
http://www.uni-jena.de/  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Anglistische Literaturwissenschaft)
Contemporary British Novelists. An introduction. David Lodge’s “How far can you go?” and “Nice work”
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
389 KB
David Lodge, Romantic Quest, Nice Work, Robyn Penrose, Victor Wilcox, clash of different worlds
Quote paper
Stefanie Warnke (Author), 2005, A clash of two different worlds in David Lodge's "Nice Work", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/121698


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