Elements of the Holy Grail Quest in David Lodge’s “Small World”

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

24 Pages, Grade: 2,7



1. Introduction

2. Small World – A short summary

3. The Grail Legend according to Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach
3.1 Chrétien de Troyes
3.2 Wolfram von Eschenbach

4. Interpretation of Lodge’s Small World according to Wolfram’s Parzival
4.1 The Holy Grail theme
4.2 The Parzival and Waste Land theme

5. Conclusion

6. Literature

1. Introduction

David Lodge was born 1935 in South London as the child of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. He was raised in the middle class and went to Catholic schools. With the age of 22 he became postgraduate student for English literature at the University college of London. In 1960 he became a lecturer at the Birmingham University and published his first novel The Picturegoers. Being a lecturer he discovered the field of literary criticism and wrote his first critical book Language of Fiction. After touring the USA and studying at the Brown University and at Berkeley he was so inspired by travelling and the academic world that he wrote Changing Places. This academic novel about travelling teachers of literature was the first part of a trilogy together with Small World and Nice Work. All three of them were pioneering for modern fiction of the 20th century. For Changing Places David Lodge won the Hawthornden Prize and the Yorkshire Post Fiction Prize.[1] Small World, as well as Nice Work, were shortlisted for the Booker Prize and Nice Work was Sunday Express Book of the year and actually adapted for Television.[2] All three of them showed the academic world in a new light. After World War II more people from middle class went to Universities and the competition between the Universities as well as the scholars became harder. Travelling around the world from conference to conference was on the day’s schedule of every scholar. David Lodge used this milieu and mixed it with humour and sarcasm and so innovated fiction writing of today.[3]

This paper is about David Lodge’s Small World and its linking to the King Arthur myth especially to the knight Perceval and the Holy Grail. The connection between the novel and the legend results from David Lodge’s knowledge of both, the academic world and the medieval literature. He mixed them so to create a modern version of Perceval’s quest for the Holy Grail.

The first chapter is concerned with Small World and it’s contents. The focus of the summery lies on the main character Persse McGarrigle and his quest for his big love Angelica Pabst as well as on Arthur Kingfisher and the UNESCO-chair. The summary must be detailed because this is important for the main body of the paper which analyses Small World.

The second chapter is a summery of the two original adaptations of the story of Perceval and the Grail. Firstly Chrétien de Troye’s version Perceval ou le conte du graal is discussed and summed up. Secondly Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival is compared with Chrétien’s version. Both varieties are summed up very detailed to work out the analysis and parallel elements between Perceval and Persse in the next chapter.

The main body consists of a comparison between Small World and the Perceval theme. At first the Grail theme and then the Waste Land theme are analysed. The focus in this chapter lies on the linking between the Fisher King as well as Perceval’s quest and the Holy Grail motive by Lodge. After that the points of the previous chapters are summed up and forged to a conclusion.

2. Small World – A short summary

David Lodge’s novel is about University teachers and their conference travelling from April to December in the year 1979. The main character, Persse McGarrigle is a young modern English literature teacher at the University of Limerick going to his first conference at Rummidge College in England. He is much into writing poems and writes at the moment a book about the influence of T.S. Eliot on Shakespeare. In Rummidge he gets to know some other university teachers, who try to give their presentations there and who will play their role in the next chapters. These teachers are Phillip Swallow, Morris Zapp, Robin Dempsey, Miss Maiden and others. On this conference Persse also meets Angelica Pabst with whom he fell in love at first sight. From the moment he saw her, he wanted to merry her. Persse sees in her an angle sent to him by God. So he does everything to win her. He writes her a poem and wants to loose his virginity with her. Unfortunately he looses her at that conference and begins a quest around the world to get her back and to ask her if she wanted to become his wife. At the Rummidge conference appear characters like Morris Zapp and Phillip Swallow and some other characters who are adopted from Lodge’s former novel Changing Places. Here Morris is an elderly professor from Rummidge college, who has some problems with his wife and wanted to become the best paid and most famous professor of the literary world. In the first chapter Morris meets Persse at the conference and becomes Persses fatherly guide through the academic world.[4]

Miss Maiden, another important character of the play, is also introduced in the first chapter. She is a professor emeritus and goes to the conferences “because it helps to keep me young”[5]. She loves phallic symbolism and theories about it, especially in literature that has anything to do with the King Arthur myth. Miss Maiden seems to be a minor character, but in the end has a very important role to play. In the second part of this novel Morris goes to his old friend Phillip Swallow. They talk about old times, their marriages and their study topics. The rest of the chapter is not interesting for this paper.[6]

The first part of the second chapter consists of various scenes, where the reader gets to know more characters like Rodney Wainwright, Désirée (Morris Zapp’s ex-wife), Rudyard Parkinson or Fulvia Morgana who all play a more or less minor role in novel. The second part of this chapter is again concerned with Persse and therefore more interesting for the purpose of this paper. This part mainly plays at the Heathrow airport in London. Persse has left Rummidge after Anglica vanished into nowhere and now wants to find her. At the check-in terminal of British Airways works a young clerk, Cheryl Summerbee, who reads a lot of trashy romantic novels during the departures and arrivals of flights. She is responsible for the seats in the flights, so she can control where the passengers sit on their trip. Cheryl thinks that she can make a match between passengers and so makes Morris Zapp sit beside Fulvia Morgana. She also comes in contact with Persse, who is in Heathrow waiting for his connecting flight on his way to Limerick. In the meantime Persse searches for a chapel and asks Cheryl for the right way. There he prays for Angelica and posts a written petition: “Dear God, let me find Angelica”[7]. Then he goes on his flight. Morris Zapp and Fulvia Morgana talk enthusiastically on the plane to Italy and Morris is invited to spend the night with Fulvia at her villa. After dinner they start sexual interaction. However Fulvia’s husband Ernesto comes home and wants to join them, but that’s to much for Morris and so he locks himself in the guest room. Furthermore the reader gets to know Arthur Kingfisher, an elderly Professor for English literature and a passionately literary critic. He lives together with his young Korean assistant Song-me Lee but is not interested in marrying her, because he is impotent.[8]

In the third chapter Persse is back at his college in Limerick where he finds out that he won a ₤1000 prize for his poetry from the so called “Maud Fitzsimmons Bequest of the Encouragement of Anglo-Irish poetry”[9]. Persse, of course, uses his chance to search for Angelica after having this money. Firstly he has to go on a ship to receive his prize, where he meets Ronald Frobisher. After the “Annabell Lee” set on land again Persse and Frobisher went to some bars in London and after that to Soho where he sees a picture of Angelica in the window of a striptease-bar. But Angelica doesn’t work any longer there, so Persse has to search elsewhere. In the meanwhile Philip Swallow has to go to the university of Ankara because of his Hazlitt book.[10]

Persse flies to Amsterdam to find Angelica’s father, to get to know where she might be. He meets Morris Zapp there by chance who is on a conference. Persse goes with Morris to a lecture of a German Professor, von Turpitz, who copied his first draft of his book on T.S. Elliot and confronts the German with that. Von Turpitz just does not care much and leaves. After that Persse went to a bar with Zapp and sees on the opposite side of the street a picture of Angelica in a striptease bar. Later Persse finds out that Angelica does not work there anymore, so he has to move on.[11]

Chapter four shows a devastated Persse back in Ireland not wanting to think of Angelica anymore. Therefore, he is willing to write his paper about T.S. Elliot and goes to the “Celtic Twilight Summer School” for inspiration. There he goes on a boat trip with American students to the Lake Isle of Innisfree. Unfortunately their boat sinks because Persse meets the man who impregnated his cousin Bernadette and started to fight with him on board. This makes him again think of his quest on Angelica and his need for helping his cousin. So Persse goes back to Soho and searches for “Girls Unlimited” to tell his cousin Bernadette (she is working for that call-girl institution) to tell her about the settlement of the father of her child. After that Persse goes again to the airport’s chapel in Heathrow and finds out that Angelica had answered his petition, leaving a reference to a quote in The Faerie Queene by Spenser. He asks for this book in three different bookshops at Heathrow without success, then meets Cheryl who has got a copy of the book by chance. With the help of the passage in The Faerie Queene Persse finds out that Angelica must have a twin sister. Understanding Angelica’s game and hint he goes immediately to Cheryl to follow Angelica. He finds out that there is a conference in Geneva and tries his luck, but nothing. From there he heard that Angelica had travelled to Lausanne, finds her pension there, but she has gone shortly before he had arrived. After that frustration he checks Angelica’s room and finds a note in the waste basket with the number of her flight. So he phones the agency and gets to know that this flight to New York and Los Angeles was postponed till the next morning and so takes a taxi to the airport, pays for an empty seat right next to Miss Pabst, but cannot go on board because he has no visa. He was so close but now he knows where she is going to and so tries to get a visa to the USA as fast as possible to find Angelica or her father.[12]


[1] Bergonzi, Bernhard. David Lodge. Plymouth (UK): Northcote House, 1995.p.vii.

[2] ibid. p. vii.

[3] Pfandl-Buchegger, Ingrid. David Lodge als Literaturkritiker, Theoretiker und Romanautor. Heidelberg: Univ.-Verlag C.Winter, 1993.p.13-16.

[4] Lodge, David. Small World – An Acadamic Romance. New York: Penguin Group, 1984. (SW) p. 3-58.

[5] SW p. 11.

[6] SW. p. 58-79.

[7] SW. p. 125.

[8] SW. p.83-145.

[9] SW. p. 149

[10] SW. p. 149-227.

[11] SW. p. 149-227.

[12] SW. p. 231-310.

Excerpt out of 24 pages


Elements of the Holy Grail Quest in David Lodge’s “Small World”
http://www.uni-jena.de/  (Anglistisch/Amerikanistisches Institut)
Hauptseminar: King Arthur
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ISBN (Book)
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Elements, Holy, Grail, Quest, David, Lodge’s, World”
Quote paper
Doreen Bärwolf (Author), 2008, Elements of the Holy Grail Quest in David Lodge’s “Small World”, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/156443


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