"Nice Work" by David Lodge. Realism Revisited

A linguistic analysis

Intermediate Diploma Thesis, 2014

40 Pages


To live in the world without becoming

Aware of the meaning of the world is

Like wandering about in a great library

Without touching the books

The secret teaching of all Ages

Lost Symbols, Dan Brown

All great fiction, to a large extent, is a reflection on itself rather than a reflection of reality.

Raymund Federman.


I would like to express my gratitude to my tutor, Dr. Cecilia Acquarone for her generous help and expert guidance on the development of my research paper.

My sincerest thanks are also due to my husband, Jose Luis, my three daughters Lourdes, Julieta and Emilia; my parents Osvaldo and Mirta and my friend, Maria Jose Maruenda, for all their support and encouragement.







3.1. Hypothesis..10

3.2.Corpus of analysis..10

3.3. Treatment of the corpus of analysis..10


4.1. Realist features..11

4.1.1. Logical coherence and cohesion..12

4.1.2. REDUNDANCY..17



4.2.1. METAFICTION..19

4.2.2. TRANSTEXTUALITY..21 Intertextuality..22 Paratextuality..27 Metatextuality..30 Hypertextuality -Parody..32




The aim of this thesis is to trace how David Lodge's fictional piece Nice Work (1984) subverts the compositional principles of the canonical realist novel by undermining the principle of mimesis through different devices: firstly, through narratological devices such as the choice of intrusive narrator and the device of “breaking frame” and secondly, through discursive devices such as transtextuality mainly intertextuality, paratextuality, metatextuality and hypertextuality and parody. This thesis then purports to trace these elements and to delve into the undermining effects these devices have on the compositional principles of realist fiction.


In the 20th century it was common to heed two different theoretical approaches when attempting to explain the nature of language. One of these approaches could be summarised in what Taylor calls the “Designative Theory” (Taylor 1985) which regards language as transparent. As Taylor postulates, according to this theory, words or signs acquire meaning by pointing to objects in the real world. The other approach, which Taylor names the “Expressive Approach” (Ibid.) accounts for meaning by considering language as a constituent of thought rather than as a form of naming an external reality. These two philosophical perspectives on language are vital when discussing realist fiction because “Fundamentally, in literature, realism is the portrayal of life with fidelity” (Cuddon 1999). Thus, when considering realist fiction, attention must be paid to the use of language for, “realism is not a direct or simple reproduction of reality (a 'slice of life') but a system of conventions producing a lifelike illusion of some 'real' world outside the text, by processes of selection, exclusion, description, and manners of addressing the reader” (Baldick 1990). Therefore, this thesis aims to study, on the one hand, the conventions employed to create this 'reality effect' as Roland Barthes terms it, and on the other, to inspect with even closer attention how those principles of verisimilitude and mimesis are undermined in Nice Work through a variety of discursive and narratological devices.

Another perspective to the study of language in the previous century was that of the linguist Roman Jakobson. In his seminal paper, “The Metaphoric and Metonymic poles” Jakobson defined language as a “bipolar structure” since its use involves two basic operations present in any language: “selection” and “combination” (Jakobson 1956). Metaphor belongs to the selection axis while metonymy, to the combination one. In every speech act the metonymic and the metaphoric poles are continually operative but, due to certain preferences as well as to differences in cultural patterns, one of the poles may prevail over the other at any one time. Jakobson went further to claim that the metaphoric pole is governed by the principle of analogy, similarity, dissimilarity, and selection, and that this pole is paradigmatic and synchronic and that its main figure of speech is metaphor, which establishes a relation of substitution in absence. Conversely, the metonymic pole is ruled by combination and its main figures of speech are metonymy and synecdoche, that is to say, relations in presence.

Jakobson's postulates are fundamental for the study of Realism since in general, Realism underscores the idea of an unproblematic relationship between the signifier or the name and the signified or object. From the perspective of Jakobson’s linguistic model, “following the path of contiguous relationships, the realist author metonymically digresses from the plot to the atmosphere and from the characters to the setting in space and time. He is fond of synecdochic details” (2000:57). Although much of the prose of Nice Work seems to follow the organizational principles of Realism, nonetheless, the metonymic contiguity mentioned by Jakobson is on many occasions disrupted or subverted, if only temporarily and briefly, by certain linguistic and narratological devices. Thus, this thesis proposes that such devices as the intrusive narrator, the use of the device of “breaking frame”, transtextuality as intertexuality, metatextuality, metafiction and parody hold in check the contiguous flow of metonymic, realist prose by subverting the boundaries of the canonical realist novel.

Thus, the Designative model of language which seems to underlie traditional realist fiction, gives way in Lodge’s Nice Work to a more “Expressive” approach which disrupts the transparent one-to-one correspondence between the linguistic sign and a reality “out there”. As this study seeks to examine to what extent David Lodge’s Nice Work complies with realist tenets, on the one hand, and to what extent he subverts them, on the other, the starting point for this thesis is to study the theoretical tenets underlying the realist tradition.

According to Harmon (1995), Realism is a literary school that rose to existence between the decline of Romanticism and the birth of Symbolism and that stands opposed to both. Alternatively, Realism defines a literary method, a philosophical and social attitude, and a particular range of subject matter. Realism tries to break with the classical demands of art to show life as it should be in order to show life “as it is” (Lodge 1977).That is, in an attempt to show life as it is, language is used as a transparent medium. Realism considers that there is a one–to–one relationship between the signifier and the signified. But to describe life as it is, Realism has to erase the marks of its own construction and has to hide that fiction is in fact an illusion. Structuralists like Roland Barthes call this “the reality effect.” Barthes was also interested in how the syntagmatic axis of a given literary text worked. What aroused Barthes’ curiosity was the presence of certain superfluous descriptive details which in his paper “The Reality Effect” (1968) he calls “notations.” These notations are “superfluous” or “scandalous” details that are simply there, so to speak, scattered in the text and included only as “filling” details whose only function is “to correspond to a kind of narrative luxury, lavish to the point of offering many futile details” (141). Thus, whereas some details are meaningful and necessary to the account because they either have a symbolic or structural value, notations are useless and their function according to Barthes is purely “summatory”, i.e., their function is to add to the Reality effect rather than advance the narrative or develop any one character(143). In the chapters that follow, then, Barthes’s notions will be applied to the analysis of passages where this superfluous notation is a predominant device in the construction of the reality effect of the novel.

As for the philosophical doctrine on which Realism is based three theories are worth noting. As Harmon (1995) makes clear, Realism is based on Rationalism, Positivism and Empirism. Rationalism is about any one view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification. It is a theory in which the criterion of truth is intellectual and deductive. Rationalists consider that knowledge is gained through reason and it is a priori. The second approach is Empiricism. Empiricists claim that experience is the ultimate source of all our concepts and that knowledge is a posteriori. Finally, the third theory is Positivism.Positivism is a philosophy of science and it is based on the idea that information comes from logical and mathematical treatment and that scientific knowledge is the only valid truth. In this thesis the logical development of certain passages at paragraph level, rather than at the level of the sentence,is suddenly dislocated or disrupted to give way to “illogical” or “asyntagmatic” elements . These “illogical” devices are the intrusive narrator and many other devices for “breaking frame” which will be analyzed in detail in the chapters that follow.

Additionally, in order to see to what an extent Nice Work complies with Realism at the level of textual cohesion and coherence, Halliday and Hasan’s (1991) framework for the analysis of these textual dimensions will be used. Cohesion is the linguistic means by which a text functions as a single unit. Coherence, on the other hand, refers to those linguistic features that combine to make a text meaningful to the readers. The study of both elements helps to see whether Realism follows undisturbed the temporal and spatial contiguity of the metonymic principle and to see whether and to what an extent these elements contribute to creating the reality effect. In the analysis sections coherence and cohesion will be studied through a tracing of lexical chains of co-reference and co-extension. This will allow us to see how the internal coherence and cohesion of a realist text is maintained, and where and how they are disrupted.

The theoretical guidelines for the textual analysis of the realist movement proposed by Hamon (1982) will also be applied to Nice Work (1988). As a structuralist, Hamon opposes the notion that Realism is a copy of reality, and concentrates on the study of the characteristics of Realism as a discourse. He identifies certain hallmarks of realist discourse such as the imposition of common and proper names, the overloading of the text with details (Barthes’s “notations”), a marked excess of information, a peculiar mode of ordering marked by tight logical cohesion and coherence, a high degree of redundancy and ritualization of daily activities.

Our thesis will therefore focus on the following aspects of canonical Realism: the use of reference, logical ordering and coherence, redundancy and ritualization of activities. Likewise, our thesis will then proceed to study all the discursive and narratological devices that debunk the compositional principles mentioned above.

As mentioned in the introduction, this theoretical framework will be the basis for the study of the linguistic devices that allow Realism to create the textual effect of verisimilitude as well as those devices that break with this illusion.“Verisimilitude”, “is the mask which is assumed by the laws of the text and that we are meant to take for a relation with reality” (Todorov 83).

Although in Realism the metonymic pole prevails, it is our hypothesis that Lodge introduces such textual devices as transtextuality, metafiction and postmodern parody in order to subvert that apparently unmediated relation of the text with reality that Realism seems to purport.

Gerard Genette, a French theorist and critic, expounds a coherent theory of what he refers to as “transtextuality”. In his own words, transtextuality is “all that sets the text in relationship, whether obvious or concealed with other texts” (Genette 1992: 83-84). This theorist classifies the term transtextuality in five categories: intertextuality, paratextuality, metatextuality, hypertextuality and architextuality.

Intertextuality is “a relationship of co-presence between two texts or among several texts” and “the actual presence of one text within another” (Genette 1992:1-2). In discursive terms, intertextuality is a crucial device in the novel. According to Fairclough (1992), the intertextuality of texts substantially complicates the processes of text interpretation for in order to make sense of texts, interpreters have to find ways of fitting the diverse elements of a text into a coherent, though not necessarily unitary, determinate or unambivalent whole (141). Intertextuality is a vital element of Nice Work as many intertextual fragments from critical theory, creative writing, feminism, and the theory of literary Realism are interspersed throughout the many different chapters breaking with the unity of the realist text by drawing attention to the text's own compositional principles and in this way subverting the literary tradition to which this novel contradictorily pays homage.

The second type of transtextuality is paratextuality. The paratext in Genette’s approach are the elements at the entrance of the text, which contribute to direct and control the reception of a text by its readers. This threshold comprises a peritext which includes elements as titles, prefaces, captions, illustrations, epigraphs, etc which may have an effect on the interpretation of the text and an epitext which are aspects outside the text as interviews, publicity announcements, private letters and etc. Thus, the paratext is the sum of the peritext and the epitext.

The third type of transtextuality is metatextuality which “unites a given text to another, of which it speaks without necessarily citing it (without summoning it) in fact sometimes even without naming it”(Genette 1997a: 4).

The fourth type of transtextuality is hypertextuality which involves “any relationship uniting a text B (which I shall call hypertext) to an earlier text A (I shall , of course, call hypotext) , upon which it is grafted in a manner that is not that of commentary”(Genette 1997 a: 5). Thus, hypertextuality means the relationship between a text and a text or genre on which it is based but which it transforms, modifies , elaborates or extends (including parody , sequel, etc).

Postmodern parody is a kind of hypertextuality used to undermine the syntagmatic or metonymic flow of the text. On the one hand, parody establishes a formal relation between two texts by way of imitation, but this is a sort of imitation characterized by a reversal of the canonical conventions of fiction. Thus, parody “trans-contextualize[s]” (Hutcheon 1985:10) the new work. In other words, parody gives the new work a new context or a different one from the one commonly associated to the “original”. Postmodern parody and intertextuality seem to be alike, nonetheless it is important to bear in mind that both include the text and the reader but parody also involves the entire context.

Finally, the fifth type of transtextuality is architextuality which connects the designation of the text with a part of the genre o genres. According to Genette (1997), a crucial element of this type is “the reader‘s expectation, and thus their reception of the work”.

On balance, Genette considers that the five types of transtextuality have a reciprocal relationship between them. All kinds of transtextuality add metaphorical elements to a text and then contribute to make it multiple, more complex and less lineal. As a consequence the text moves away from the characteristic coherence of metonymy and hence from Realism.

The fact that the imposition of names, co-referentiality, co-extension, redundancy and ritualization of daily activities can make the novel Nice Work comply with the realist principles, it can be said that the choice of the intrusive narrator, the device of “breaking frame”, metafiction and transtextuality, on the other hand, may subvert the composition allaws of Realism present in it.


3.1. Hypothesis

The choice of metafictional devices such as the intrusive narrator, the device of “breaking frame” and the presence of transtextuality as parody, intertextuality, metatextuality and paratextuality seem to subvert the rationalist empiricist material in Nice Work and produce a multiplicity of meanings, thus providing a revised definition of Realism.

3.2.Corpus of analysis

The corpus of analysis comprises selected passages from Nice Work, a novel by David Lodge (1988), where the devices that underlie realist fiction are both created and sustained for a while only to be subverted and dislocated soon after.

3.3. Treatment of the corpus of analysis

The first phase of this research will be concerned with the examination of the traditional concept of Realism in literature and Lodge’s specific view of this concept. Realist ingredients present in the selected passages from Nice Work will be analysed following Hamon’s theoretical tenets (1982). Halliday and Hasan will also be used in this phase mostly to analyze modes of ordering, logical cohesion and coherence (Halliday 1991). Repetition, antonymy and a clear use of reference will be considered so as to see whether the text is cohesive or not. Then, the use of proper and common names will be studied, in order to delve into the referential function of language in realist fiction.

The second phase will comprise the study of metafiction, such as the intrusive narrator and devices for “breaking frame”, and the study of transtextuality mainly intertexuality, metatextuality, paratextuality and hypertextuality, as Genette calls them, present in the chosen excerpts of the story to unveil the subversion of the principles of Realism.


4.1. Realist features

Realism is an aesthetic mode which emerged from the mid- to late 19 th century as a reaction against Romanticism. It creates the effect of the representation of the concrete, the immediate and the individual in their social environment .The realist mode was influenced not only by the impact of the political and social changes of the 18 th and 19th centuries but also by the industrial and scientific progress that characterized Modernity. The attempt, however, to depict reality as something fixed and language as a transparent medium is fraught with contradictions because one has to use words and words are not reality but its arbitrary signifiers. Structuralists and poststructuralists have variously proposed that mimesis or the aesthetic effect of Realism is produced by using signs, codes and conventions as in all literary mode. Signs are “culturally constructed and if these signs are used in any form of representation such representation will be tinted with the way that these signs see the world” (Furst 1992). As a consequence, Realism is as much a construct as any other form of literature and not as transparent as it strives to define itself. Indeed, “El efecto de la realidad es efecto de texto y proposición ideológica. Tenemos lo real de un reflejo, no la realidad sino una imagen mental de la realidad sobredeterminada por un código sociocultural saturado de lugares comunes, estereotipos, connotaciones e intertextos” (Duchet 1971). In Nice Work, Lodge makes use of different devices such as reference, logical coherence and cohesion and minute description to create the realist effect, whilst all the time subverting and undermining them in order to show that naïve Realism is no longer possible in the 20th and 21st centuries.

4.1.1. Logical coherence and cohesion

Realism makes use of cohesion and coherence to produce meaning and to create the effect of verisimilitude. According to Halliday and Hasan (1976) a text is considered as a semantic unit of meaning. What makes any length of text meaningful and coherent is texture.

Ruquaia Hasan defines texture "as the property of connectedness"(1990:70).Texture is the foundation for unity and semantic interdependence within the text. What is essential to the creation of texture is a set of semantic and lexico-grammatical patterns which are defined in terms of cohesion. The concept of cohesion is a semantic one and it includes all the relations of meaning that exist within the text. Cohesive devices are like signposts that lead the reader on throughout the text. Cohesion refers to relations of meanings that exist within the text making the interpretation of one element possible by referring to another.

The term "cohesive Tie" is used by Hasan (1985: 90) to refer to one occurrence of a pair of cohesively related items. Cohesive ties link individual messages following each other in a text in different ways based on the nature of meaning relationship which are explained here. Whenever the relationship of two items depends on the situational identity of reference, i.e. both refer to an identical entity; the cohesive tie between them is known as "co-referentiality". The relation of co-referentiality is typically realized by the devices of reference, such as the pronominals like “he”, “she”, “it”, etc or by the use of definite article “the” or that of demonstratives “this”, “those”. In the other kind of meaning relation which is described as "co-classification" the things, processes or circumstances to which two items refer, belong to an identical class, but each end of the cohesive tie refers to a distinct member of this class. Co-classification is generally realized either by substitution or by ellipsis. The third type of cohesive ties which plays a pivotal role in the perception of semantic relations in text is "co-extension". “Co- extension” is a link which is built through some meaning relation between two linguistic items that are expressed. Co-extensional ties can be found between linguistic units, usually referred to as "content words" or " lexical items" which are within the same general field of meaning (Halliday and Hasan 1976).

Many passages taken from Nice Work display a variety of lexical chains that provide internal cohesion. Although the three semantic relations are important in this work only co-referentiality and co-extension will be analyzed in some excerpts of the novel to stand as paradigmatic examples of the functioning of the whole.

- Co-referentiality

In Nice Work, there are clear examples of co-referentiality. Every member of a chain refers to the same thing, event, attribute or relation. The following examples substantiate these claims:

Monday, January 13 th, 1986. Victor Wilcox lies awake,

In the dark bedroom, waiting for his quark alarm clock to

Bleep. It is set to do this at 6.45. How long he has to wait

He doesn’t know. (13)

Robyn rises somewhat later than Vic this dark

January Monday. Her alarm clock, a replica of an

old-fashioned instrument purchased from Habitat,

with an analogue dial and a little brass bell on the top,

rouses her froma deep sleep at 7.30. (41)

The chain “Vic” links up with “his” and “he” on page 12 and “Robyn” ties in with “her” and “she” on pages 39 to 41.These pages show examples of tight cohesion through this identity chain. Every member of the chain refers anaphorically to the same person, “Vic” or “Robyn”.

These particular chains are text exhaustive, that is to say, they run from the start to the end of the selected passage focusing on Vic and Robyn. Each occurrence of the pronominals “she” or “her” and of the possessive adjective “her” and possessive pronoun “hers” links anaphorically to all its predecessors up to and including the initial reference to Robyn and “his” and “he” to Vic. In its respect for tight internal cohesion, then, the text is highly metonymic and therefore well into the realist tradition.

- Co-extension

According to Hasan (1985), co-extension is the relationship between the lexical items that have a hand in the same semantic field. The sense relations are “synonymy”. “antonymy” and “hyponymy”, “meronyny” and “repetition”. Added to these instantial ties, Hasan creates “equivalence”, “naming” and “semblance”. The example quoted above shows a semantic relation of co-classification between “alarm clock”and the phrase “a replica of an old-fashioned instrument”, whereas “An analogue dial” and “a little brass bell” are co –meronyms of the co-extension lexical chain for “alarm clock”, which is the corresponding superordinate.

Furthermore, in the short description quoted above, it is impossible to disregard what Roland Barthes in “The Reality Effect” calls a superfluous “notation” in the branding of the “alarm clock,” which we are told was purchased in Habitat (the British equivalent of the department store Falabella in our city). Lodge may be including this insignificant detail, knowing only too well that this is just a “notation” and therefore irrelevant detail or it may be argued that it functions as yet another connotator of Robyn's middle class position much more to the point. However, the reference to Habitat would never pass unnoticed to a British person, as it is a well-known furniture store. My argument, however, is that this is one of those “summatory” details that add reality effect and fulfill the function of anchorage (Barthes); it brings in a whole world with it.

In S/Z, Roland Barthes proposes that Realism is a discourse constructed on the imposition of names (1989:192). Or, to put it differently, it is a discourse which avoids leaving gaps because the lack of names produces a deflation in the “realist illusion” (Ibid). Lodge himself has claimed that the importance of proper names lies in that they are generally given to people with a semantic intent (Lodge 1992). They are deictic and point to the context in order to contribute to the legibility of the text. In novels, names are never neutral and they always signify. As far as people’s names go, realist writers prefer worldly names with appropriate connotations. On the other hand, surnames are generally perceived as arbitrary. True to theory, Nice Work is overloaded with proper names which become points of anchorage that ensure the effect of the real. Vic Wilcox was chosen by David Lodge to suggest not only the idea of a rather common English name, but also to connote a rather aggressive and rough masculinity by associating Victor with the lexemes “will” and “cock” (Lodge 1992: 38). In the case of Robyn Penrose, the name can be related to the common nouns pen and rose for their contrasting connotations of literature and beauty. In addition, Robin or Robyn is used as a familiar form for Roberta, as we learn later on in the novel. This androgynous name (Robert/a) comically makes Vic expect a man called Robin to appear in the factory, when it is in fact the female Robyn who turns up (Lodge 1992:38).

Other names that appear in the novel are some geographical names such as Rummidge, Sussex, Cambridge and Melbourne. Rummidge is a fictional city, with imaginary factories and inhabitants situated where Birmingham is and Rummidge University is based on Birmingham University, where Lodge used to teach Modern English Literature.

Common Nouns, on the other hand, are used in order to cover all aspects of external phenomena. Realist writing shows what Hamon calls “horror por el vacío informativo” (Hamon 1982). So as to avoid any gaps, Realism heavily relies on idiolect, semantic chains, and “a linguistic mosaic”.Thus, in order to referentially describe

Vic ‘s world Nice Work introduces a greatnumber oflexemes related to the lexical fields factory/industry (superordinate term) and the co-meronyms “reset”, “retool”, “firm”, “to stop production”, “set ups”, and “technical manager” (co-meronyms) (see for example page 79) (Hasan 1985 ).Conversely, to mimetically recreate Robyn’s world, the terms that thread through the text are “metonymic message”, “semiotics”, “signs”, “metaphorical connotation” to mention just a few, all of which refer to her work as a university lecturer in creative writing (see for example pages 220-22).The superordinate lexemes “the university” and “the factory” help to evince the difference between the main characters' worlds: the university and the factory as they are depicted in the novel, and they also help to recreate the particular social context in which the plot of the novel unfolds – i.e the real world in which the characters are inserted.

According to Lois Tyson in Critical Theory Today (2006), Human beings try to understand the world through opposites or “binary opposition”. Greima, a structuralist, also considers that:

Human beings make meaning by structuring the world in terms of two kinds of opposed pairs: “A is the opposite of B” and “–A (the negation of A) is the opposite of –B (the negation of B).” In other words, we perceive every entity as having two aspects: its opposite (the opposite of love is hate) and its negation (the negation of love is the absence of love).”(Tyson, 2006)

An interesting “binary opposition” is expounded in the novel Nice Work between the two main characters – Robyn and Vic- and their places of work- the world of industry and the more sophisticated world of the university. So as to show this antithesis, antonymy will be discussed. According to Hasan and Halliday (1976:286), “antonymy” means that two lexical items have opposite experiential meanings. Antonymous words and expressions are observed in Nice Work which draw a contrasting picture between “Robyn” and “Vic” and their own worlds.

The filthy dirty industrial era “the wilderness of factories and warehouses and roads and roundabouts, scored with overgrown of railroad cuttings and obsolete canals like the lines on Mars, itself seemed a shadow land, the dark side of Rummidge, unknown to those who basked in the light of culture and learning at the University” is opposed to the green parks of the University premises. Although the contrast between the two premises shows the difference between both worlds, the most striking contrast is the characters’ feelings towards the university and the factory. ForRobyn the work at the university is“nice work,” full of “meaning”, and “rewarding”, “with decent conditions” and considers the universityas “the cathedral of the modern age” (127). On the other hand, for Vic the University is “a small city state, an academic Vatican”, that it is not able to motivate students to do “proper work” (29) and that it has “lax habits” andit is full of “Open –necked shirts and open-ended coffee –breaks” (344). Vic also finds it difficult to understand professors’ jobs when he says “But reading is the opposite of work”, “It’s what you do when you come home from work, to relax” (334) and Robyn explains to him that the university is a place where reading is work and what they produce is meaning.On the other side of the university is the factory. When Robyn arrives at “J. Pringle’s & Sons” to start her “Shadow Scheme” she refers to the factory as “the cultural heart of darkness” (141), and then she continues complaining about “The noise. The dirt. The mindless repetitive work. The everything. That men should have to put up with such brutalizing conditions.”(120) and that “Foundries are dirty places” and “What Wilcox called the machine shop had seemed like a prison and the foundry had seemed like hell” (121).

Interestingly, the lexeme “foundries” stands in a relation of instantial synonymity with “hell”, “dirty places” and the simile “like a prison”. The choice of such lexemes allegorizes how Robyn, a woman that belongs to the cultivated world of the Academy compares the foundry with hell. Furthermore, the narrator uses adjectives such as “silent”, “confused”, “battered” and “exhausted” and the phrases “lost for words”, and “uncertain of her argumentative ground” to describe how astounded Robyn was when she entered the foundry.

On the contrary, for Vic the foundry is good for the people because it provides jobs and “work” is an indispensable requirement for living. Moreover, Vic thinks that habits must be stronger in the factory because if not “People would take advantage” of the situation (344).

This divergence between both worlds shows the contextualization of characters, a trait that is a characteristic of Realism, a positivist tradition which sees personality as the result of the determining influence of the environment on characters. As a consequence, the realist establishes the link between character traits and qualities of the environment.


Another hallmark of the mimetic mode that typically signals the realist discourse is redundancy. Redundancy can be defined as a marked excess of information and an overwhelming confidence in the describability of the world (Hamon 1992:172). Realist discourse is often characterized by a super fluidity of detail and by the minute description of physiognomies reducing any potential gaps between the appearance of the characters and actual being (Dario Villanueva 1942). In Nice Work, for instance, Vic stands up in front of the mirror and depicts himself accurately:

He grips the washbasin, leans forward on locked arms, and scans the square face, pale under a forelock of lank brown hair, flecked with grey, the two vertical furrows in the brow like a clip holding the blunt nose in place, the straight –ruled line of mouth, the square –off jaw. (17)

The inclusion of details involves the presentation of objects or features as they make an impact on all the senses of the perceiver. The technique is also useful to indirectly describe the character to the reader. On pages 127 and 128 from Nice Work, there are also clear examples of this insistence on the senses and perception and a superabundance of details: “The air reeked”, “it was a place of extreme temperatures”, “the windows (were) nearly opaque with grime”, “this space rang with the most barbaric noise Robyn had ever experienced”, “all was noise, smoke, fumes and flames”, “hulks of obsolete machinery crouched, bleeding rust into their blankets of snow”, all of these details contribute to a notion of redundancy or superabundance of information.


A member of the fictional world in the tradition of Realism needs repeated description of his daily environment and his professional activity to be true to reality. Typical scenes with ritualized daily activities such as meals and religious ceremonies are common in realist texts. In Nice work, the narrator describes Robyn and Vic‘s daily activities and the place where these activities take place- the factory and the university. Vic‘s activities are described in minute detail from the moment he wakes up until he reaches the factory and starts working (see for example pages 13-48).Contrary to expectations, the present tense is used where in narrative the usual choice is the past simple.

The following are examples of Vic’s daily activities:

- “The alarm clock cheeps” (13).

- “Vic pees, a task requiring considerable care and accuracy since the toilet bowl is low-slung and tapered in shape” (13).

- “He wipes the tidemark of foam from his cheeks and fingers the shaven flesh appraisingly” (17).

- “The kettle boils. Vic makes a pot of strong tea, puts two slices of white bread in the toaster, and opens the louvers of the venetian blinds on the kitchen window to peer into the garden ”(19).

As regards Robyn, the narrator describes her daily activities in Chapter 2 where the narrative flow which relates Robyn's daily routine suddenly becomes interrupted by “asides” introduced by the intrusive narrator. In general, however, the historical present is used to describe Robyn‘s daily actions, while the past tense is used to signal a sudden shift to one “aside”. In fact, the use of the present gives the account greater immediacy. We can imagine the action as happening at the same time as we read:

(Robyn kicks off the duvet and gets out of bed… Is warmer”) (42-43)

The Sussex campus, with its tastefully harmonized buildings in the modernist – Palladian style, arranged in elegant perspective at the foot of the South Downs a few miles outside Brighton, was much admired by architects, but had a somewhat disorienting effect on the young people who came to study here. (43)

Nice Work relies on the reproduction of the ritualized daily activities and the excessive use of descriptive realia. It is only the “asides” to the reader that will grossly break with this convention (see next sections for “asides to the reader”). In “The Reality Effect”, Barthes posits how “the more a narrative becomes saturated with descriptions, the more it is concomitantly forced to multiply its empty thematic and its redundancies” (148).

Robyn arranges her notes on the lectern, waiting for latecomers to settle in their seats. The lecture theatre resonates like a drum with the chatter of a hundred –odd students, all talking at once, as if they have just been released from solitary confinement. (71-72)

Vilcox grunted and pushed open the door to let her through.” A foundry is where you melt iron or other metal and pour it into moulds to make castings. Then in the machine shop we mill and grind them and bore holes in them so that they can be assembled into more complex products, like engines. Are you with me? (122)

To sum up, much of the first part of the novel follows the conventions of realist fiction in its minute description of the spatio-temporal setting and by introducing the hero and heroine's worries on Monday morning. The constant mentioning of names to avoid leaving referential gaps as well as the use of redundancy and tight cohesion show that the novel Nice Work has many realist elements conforming to the canonical definition of the form.

In what follows, then, this thesis will delve into the disruptive elements of Realism in Nice Work.


As mentioned before, in his novel Nice Work David Lodge introduces metafiction and transtextuality in the form of intertextuality, metatextuality, hypertextuality (postmodern Parody) and paratextual elements that push the borders of the realist novel undermining the compositional principles of verisimilitude.


Metafiction means a literary work that draws attention to itself and the principles of its construction by using different kinds of techniques and narrative devices such as direct address to the reader, quotations, allusions, parody, irony and intertextuality among others (Waugh 1984).

According to Patricia Waugh, metafiction is “…a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. In providing a critique of their own methods of construction, such writings not only examine the fundamental structures of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictitiousness of the world outside the literary/fictional text (1984: 2).

By using metafictional elements, postmodern authors show the divergence

between reality and its linguistic construction ; they point out the fictionality of fiction, involving the reader in thecreation of meaning inthe literary (artistic) text and show the difference between the past and the present forms of art. Lodge, in his book The Art of Fiction (1992) supports the idea that “metafiction foregrounds the gap between art and life that conventional realism seeks to conceal” (207).

There, he also says that:

….metafictional discourse most commonly occurs in the form of “asides” in novels primarily focused on the traditional novelistic task of describing character and action. These passages acknowledge the artificiality of the conventions of realism even as they employ them ; they disarmcriticism by anticipating it; they flatter the reader by treating him or her as an intellectual equal, sophisticated enough not to be thrown by the admission that a work of fictionis a verbal construction rather than a slice of life.(207)

The reader is addressed several times in the first part of Chapter 2 of Nice Work to display the novel‘s condition of artifice. The most striking feature of Chapter 2 of Part One of Nice Work, is the stepping forward of an intrusive narrator. The intrusive authorial voice “distracts from realist illusion and reduces the emotional intensity of the experience being represented, by calling the attention to the act of narrating” (Lodge 1992).This is clearly evinced in Nice Work as the following excerpt from the novel shows:

And there, for the time being let us leave

Vic Wilcox, while we travel back

an hour or two in time, a few miles in space,

to meet a very different character.(39)

In the passage, the pronouns “we” and “us” invite the reader to take a strategic position next to the narrator. Along with these pronouns, the processes “leave “, “travel”,and “meet” suggest the indirect participation of the reader in the action anddisclose the act of narrating.

Another narratological device is the so called “breaking frame” (Lodge 1992:11) which is a device that brings to the fore a convention of realist fiction that would otherwise remain suppressed or bracketed off. Goffman (qtd in Goffman 21) introduces the concept of frames as follows:

When an individual in our Western society recognizes a particular event, he tends, whatever else he does, to imply in this response (and in effect employ) one or more frameworks or schemata of interpretation …[which]is seen as rendering what would otherwise be a meaningless aspect of the scene into something that is meaningful." In other words, frames answer the question “What is going on here?”(46)

Frames are used to interpret our experience. For instance, when the omniscient narrator begins describing Robyn’s morning; a minutia of details is given regarding her alarm clock, her waking up, her feelings and thoughts about what is to come later in the morning, and so on. This long detailed paragraph is suddenly disrupted by a direct question (Who is Charles?) which suddenly shifts the narrated depiction of Robyn‘s morning to the background and pushes to the foreground the intrusive narrator’s direct question, which is addressed to the reader. Thus, the realist frame of a descriptive passage (Robyn rises somewhat later than Vic...) is dislocated by an out-frame question (And who is Charles?) which completely shatters the realist illusion created by the previous paragraph. Hence with the sentence “I will tell you about Charles and other salient facts of her biography” (41) the narrator reveals himself completely and then he stays in the background for the rest of the novel providing the reader with the impression that the novel has been a mockery at the Victorian narrative instance. Besides, Lodge employs another form of breaking frame which is known as “brackets” by means of which a certain amount of information is planted amidst the text. The biographical aside is like a bracketed or parenthetical digression from the main plot, i.e., from the present tense of the main action here and now (“Robyn kicks off the duvet and gets out of bed...”.)(41-42) to the past tense of the biographical aside (“she was born and christened...). The Realist illusion is shattered here again because the shift in tenses (From the present of the here and now to the past tense of the biographical “Bracket”) is not smoothly done; it breaks abruptly with the syntagmatic flow of the description which forms part of the main story.


As mentioned before, Gerard Genette claims that the main issue of poetics is transtextuality, that is to say, “all that sets the text in a relationship, whether obvious or concealed, with other texts”(1997:1).

Although the five types of transtextual relations are important, in Nice Work only intertextuality, paratextuality, metatextuality andhypertextuality will be delved into because these are the most salient in the novel. Intertextuality

The relation text/intertext is present in Nice Work due to its persistent reference to other texts.This relationship is called transtextuality by Genette in Palimpstes (1962) and then intertextuality by a Bulgarian/French theorist Julia Kristeva (1980).

Intertextuality expresses a connection between the texts through various devices and techniques. In her view, “[A]ny text is constructed of a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another” (Kristeva 1980: 66). Julia Kristeva derives her theory of intertextuality from Michael Bakhtin’s idea of a “polyphonic novel” open to various voices and interpretations. She understands a literary text as part of other literary texts in the history of the literary tradition. As a consequence, the idea of authorship is undermined and it can be said that the text is not a product of one author, but exists within specific literary and cultural contexts and it is open to various understandings and interpretations. Direct reference, allusion, quotation plagiarism, collage and mosaics are the most common techniques to build intertextual networks of literary texts.

Intertextuality is a feature that texts have of being full of “snatches of other texts” that can be “demarcated” or “merged into”. Kristeva distinguishes two types of intertextuality, “horizontal” and “vertical” or what Fairclough calls: “manifest intertextuality” and “constitutive intertextuality”. On one hand, “horizontal” or “manifest intertextuality” consists of “direct discourse representation” in which parts of other texts are integrated into a text and generally are delimitated by certain devices as “quotation marks”. “Vertical” or “constitutive intertextuality”, on the other hand, refers to “the configuration of discourse conventions that go into production of the text” (Fairclough 1992: 104). The “constitutive intertextuality” is less explicit and less literal. Fairclough states that “a text may incorporate another text without the latter being explicitly cued:one can respond to another text in the way one words one‘s own text” (1992: 102).

For long stretches of text Nice Work seems to be a canonical realist novel but interspersed with these stretches Lodge introduces a myriad of intertextual elements in the text. In fact, in Nice Work Robyn Penrose claims as a metafictional mouthpiece, that novels” are not simple and to the point because “difficulty generates meaning” (Nice Work 333). In what follows, several intertextual devices will be analyzed as discursive devices that break with the syntagmatic flow of the main frame of the narrative and which thereby dislocate the realist illusion.

- Constitutive Intertextuality

According to Fairclough, “constitutive intertextuality” is about merging prior texts in new ones which may assimilate, contradict or ironically echoes them. As regards production, he also states that “an intertextual perspective stresses the historicity of text” (1992). David Lodge in his aim to reproduce the use of history “as a model of the realistic pole of representation” (Hutcheon: 15) introduces in Nice Work two well-known Victorian novels Hard Times (Dickens) and North and South (Gaskell), which are both referred to in different parts of the novel.

Hard Times is not only alluded to in the prefaces but is also mentioned in several references in Nice Work. First of all, Robyn deals with Dickens’ novel in her lectures and quotes an excerpt introducing a dull description of Coketown (Nice Work, 76). Secondly, Robyn explains the meaning of the following extract from her lecture: “the alienation of work under industrial capitalism can be overcome by an infusion of loving kindness and imaginative play represented by […] the circus( Nice Work, 77). Thus, Dickens’ allusion or Robyn’s allusion to Dickens migrates from the paratext (epigraph) to the text (Robyn’s lecture).The theme introduced by this quote (capitalism) can be applied to Robyn’s (the university) and Vic’s working life (the factory). Thirdly, she moves on to quote Mr Sleary (a character in Hard Times...) “You muth have us, Thquire” and “People mutht be amuthed” (Nice Work, 77) a section/ part of the quotation which the implied author uses as part of the epigraph for the third section of Nice Work.

The lexeme “muddle” appears in the novel several times and it can also be connected with Hard Times. Firstly, When Robyn flies to Frankfurt with Vic this phrase from Hard Times springs to her mind “ Tis aw a muddle’” (Nice Work, 270) at the moment she is thinking how important factories are. Secondly, she uses the word “muddle” again after reading Charles’s letter. In this letter, Charles explains to Robyn that he is going to change the course of his life and he is going to live with Debby. The first thought that comes to her mind is “You shit”, “You utter shit”, at the same time the narrator says “there were things in this letter which struck a nerve of reluctant assent, mixed up with things she found false and obnoxious. ’T was all a muddle.” (Nice Work, 315). Finally, the term “muddle” is used in Nice Work by Rupert Sutcliffe during a discussion about the department’s syllabus and Rupert says “the question is whether we have a system any more, or just a muddle. A muddle this document will only exacerbate” (Nice Work, 351).

In Nice Work, Lodge also included some references to North and South but the most important one is the striking resemblance in the plot- line between Nice Work andNorth and South. This extract is from North and South and prefaces chapter two

Mrs Thornton went on after a moment’s pause:

‘Do you know anything of Milton, Miss Hale; have you seen any of our factories? our magnificent warehouses?’

‘No”, said Margaret. “I have not seen anything of that description as yet.’

Then she felt that, by concealing her utter indifference to all such places, she was hardly speaking the truth; so she went on: “I dare say, papa would have taken me before now if I had cared. I really do not find much pleasure in going over manufactories.’(Gaskell)

This quotation shows how Margaret, like Robyn, feels utter dislike towards the world of the factory.

Another example of this similitude between the two female characters is how Margaret and Robyn start feeling affected by workers’ conditions. In the case of Margaret, she is forced to leave her home in the quiet rural south, and has to settle with her parents in the industrial town of Milton where she witnesses the harsh unrelenting world shaped by the industrial revolution and where employers and workers clash in the first organised strikes. Sympathetic to the poor whose courage and tenacity admires, Margaret clashes with John Thornton , a cotton mill manufacturer who belongs to the new riches and whose scornful attitude to workers Margaret disdains. On the other hand, when Robyn visits Pringle & Sons and she wants to help Danny Ram she also feels completely moved by workers’ conditions and says:

He was the noble savage, the Negro in chains, the archetype of exploited humanity, quintessential victim of the capitalist-Imperialist –industrial system. It was as much as she could do to restrain herself from rushing forward to grasp his hand in a gesture of sympathy and solidarity. (133)

The citation below from North and South is used in the epigraph of Chapter 4 where Vic and Robyn start to get to know each other and to understand each other’s jobs. The quote introduces key words related to capitalism and the world of the factory, which links up with Lodge’s chapter by anticipating Vic‘s own explanation of his work at the factory.

‘I know so little about strikes, and rates of wages, and capital, and labour that I had better not talk to a political economist like you.’

‘Nay, the more reason,’ said he eagerly. ‘I shall be only too glad to explain to you all that may seemanomalous or mysterious to a stranger; especially at a time like this, when our doings are sure to be canvassed by every scribbler who can hold a pen.’

There is also a similarity between John Thornton (North and South) and Vic Wilcox (Nice Work). In both novels the male character is an advocate of capitalism. Both of them are managers of an important industrial company and eventually fall in love with an intelligent woman. Finally, they lose their jobs and it is the female character who lends him the money she has inherited to recover his social position. As Robyn says in Nice Work (83)all the Victorian novelist could offer as a solution to the problems of industrial capitalism were: a legacy, a marriage, emigration or death”.Although Nice Work is not a Victorian novel, the solution is also legacy as Robyn inherits money which she then gives to Vic to set up his own business.

To sum up, Nice Work has a lot of allusions to Hard Times and North and South as a “means of incorporating the past into the present(Hutcheon 118).

- Manifest Intertextuality

An intertextual element present in Nice Work is “the physical intrusion of newspaper clippings “(Hutcheon 89). They occur quite frequently in the first chapter where Vic’s daily routine is described and it is not only the content that is included but also the form is mimicked. For example, there is a piece of news written in capital letters taken from the Daily Mail:


This typographical reproduction works as a sort of collage because it does not bring into the text “an actual fragment of a real referent” but a “textualized representation” of it (Hutcheon 1989:88). This example depicts how the reader‘s linear reading is disrupted by the presence of a different typing on the same page subverting the conventions of Realism. This is also another way of calling attention to the text itself rather than to the referent.

Intertextuality is also present with the introduction of a memo that the university received informing about the shadowing:

From: The vice- Chancellor To: Deans of all Faculties


As you are no doubt aware, 1986 has been designated Industry Year by the government. The DES, through the UGC, have urged the CVCP to ensure that universities throughout the UK- (end of memo in the novel, incomplete as it is). (84)

The memo is then followed by a dialogue between Pamela and Phillip and then the rest of the memo is included. Thus, syntagmatic contiguity is thereby doubly disrupted by this device: firstly, the dialogue between Pamela and Philip is dislocated by the first part of the memo, and then the memo is disrupted by the comments from Pamela and Philip which in turn is interrupted again by their reading of the rest of the memo.

The last intertextual example is a letter (page 310-314) written by Charles to Robyn when he decides to go to live with Debbie to become a merchant banker:

My dear Robyn,

I have tried to phone you several times without success, and the secretary of your Department refuses for some reason to admit that she knows where you are, so I am writing to you- which is probably the best thing to do, anyway, in the circumstances. The telephone is an unsatisfactory medium for communicating anything important, allowing neither the genuine absence of writing nor the true presence of face-to –face conversation, but only a feeble compromise. A thesis topic there,perhaps? “Telephonic communication and affective alienation in modern fiction, with special reference to Evelyn Waugh, Ford Madox Ford, Henry Green…”

But I’ve finished with thesis topics. What I have to tell you is that I have determined upon a change of career. I’m going to become a merchant banker.

The introduction of the letter interrupts the previous description of Robyn’s commuting back home from the university. In terms of realist fiction, the letter is a well –known device for showing rather than telling. The artifice is used to better depict Charles’s own voice in abandoning her for Debbie. In fact, the letter and the memo do not belong to another, different text by another author but to the same fictional world.

All in all, these intertextual elements remind the reader of the fictiveness of the realist representation. Paratextuality

Postmodern novels focus on the processes of both the “production” and “reception of fictive historical writing” (Hutcheon 1989).This incorporation is done through metafictional paratextual conventions like footnotes, illustrations, subtitles, prefaces, epigraphs and so on. In fact, as Hutcheon asserts, paratextuality still remains a central way of textually certifying historical events.

Linda Hutcheon in her book The Politics of Postmodernism (1989) claims that “paratexts are conventions that histographic metafiction uses and abuses to show that they create forms and to assert its factuality.” She alsoaffirms that “This postmodern use of paratextualityas a formal mode of overt intertextuality both works within and subverts that apparatus of Realism still typical of the novel genre , even in its more fictional form”.

Nice Work is a reworking of the Victorian novel but within a new context (transcontextualization) and the paratextual elements are present in it to provide the reader the historical acknowledgement of the authors mentioned.

Nice Work is divided into six chapters and each of them has a quotation from a Victorian book which is one way in which Lodge pays homage to Victorian novels. According to Barbara Sramkova in her Seminar Paper “Elements of Parody in David Lodge’s Nice Work” (2005) “the mottos can be regarded as parodies on their own, when we accept the proposition that “the most literal quotation is already a kind of parody because of its “transtextualization”(2005:6) Sramkova, however, does not further connect this to the realist mode. In this thesis transcontextualization is one other technique or device that breaks with contiguity and that pushes the boundaries of the realist illusion.

In fact, this device is used throughout the novel; each chapter includes an epigraph from writers from the nineteenth century defying the novel‘s compositional processes. Although all the epigraphs are important only some of them will be quoted. The first citation is a clear reference to the industrial novel “Upon the midlands now the industrious muse doth fall, the shires which we the heart of England well may call which is a quote from the poem Poly –Olbion (1912) from Drayton.

The second example is an extract from Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Sybil; or The Two nations (1845):

‘Two nations; betweenwhom 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 breeding , and fed by different food, and ordered by different manners....’

‘You speak of –’said Egremont hesitantly.

This quotation with a more figurative meaning in Nice Work shows the different worlds of Robyn and Vic as well as the divergence between the world of the university and the world of the factory (Gutleber 2001).

Moreover, Lodge prefaces the chapters of Nice Work with excerpts from Victorian books that Robyn cites during her lectures on industrial novels. For instance, Shirley from Charlotte Bronte in chapter one:

If you think...that anything like a romance is preparing for you, reader, you were never more mistaken. Do you anticipate sentiment, and poetry and reverie? Do you expect passion, and stimulus and melodrama? Calm your expectations reduce them to a lowly standard. Something real, cool and“sordid lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morning, when

all who have work wake with the consciousness that they must rise and betake themselves thereto.

In the first excerpt, after the characters are minutely introduced and they get ready to go to work, the reader is warned not to expect “anything like a romance” as it is only Monday morning. In terms of form, the literary citation already introduces the device of the intrusive narrator (“for you, reader…Do you anticipate sentiment…? etc.).In terms of thematic content, the citation sarcastically comments on Vic and Robyn’s dull or monotonous daily routine.

In chapters three and five, there are epigraphs from Hard Times, Charles Dickens. “People muth be amuthed they can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working.They an’t made for it.” This quotation is used in chapter three where Vic and Robyn’s spare time is described. Dickens’ words set a balance between work and pleasure and focus on the importance of everyone’s personal life. The quotation of Chapter five reads as follows:

‘Some persons hold’, he pursued, still hesitating, ‘that there is wisdom of the Head, and that there is wisdom of the Heart. I have not supposed it so; but, as I have said, I mistrust myself now. I have supposed the head to be all-sufficient. It may not be all-sufficient; how can I venture this morning to say it is!’

The quote is again from Hard Times and introduces the chapter where Vic experiences a change rediscovering that emotions play a vital role in life too. The narrator also focuses on the fact that both intellect and emotions go hand in hand in people’s lives and that it is impossible to consider one more important thanthe other.

Chapter two and four are from North and South discussed in Constitutive intertextuality (see 30-32).

Finally, the final epigraph of Nice Work is again from Shirley:

The story is told. I think I now see the judicious reader putting on his spectacles to look for the moral. It would be an insult to his sagacity to offer directions. I only say, God speed him in the quest!

This quotation forces the intrusive narrator back on the stage. The text craves for a reader eager to find his or her own moral or attitude. It also signals the end or closure of the novel (The story is told).

As a conclusion, it can be said that the epigraphs that preface the novel Nice Work are direct quotations from well-known realist canonical works which try to anticipate the content of the chapters to the reader breaking again the illusion of verisimilitude. The epigraphs establish a metaphorical relation with the text they precede since they are chosen so that similarities and differences between them are highlighted .In this way the novel becomes multivocal, as it was mentioned before, and this is a feature of metaphor rather than metonymy or Realism. The paratextual devices analyzed above lend proof to Hutcheon’s claims as Lodge’s use of inter- and –para- texts works to abuse the realist apparatus of Nice Work. Genette says that “The epigraph in itself is a signal (intended as a sign) of culture, a password of intellectuality.While the author awaits hypothetical newspaper reviews, literary prizes, and other official recognitions, the epigraph is already, a bit, his consecration. With it, he chooses his peers and thus his place in the pantheon” Metatextuality

Metatextuality is the transtextual relationship that joins a commentary to “the text it comments upon (without necessarily citing it)” (Genette 1987).

As regards Nice Work, Robyn reads a lot; she reads Freud, Marx, Kafka and Kierkegaard. She subscribes to journals like Poetique and Tel quel when she studies her PhD. This education shapes Robyn and leads her to the habit of quoting theorists when she speaks. “She forced her mind through the labyrinthine sentences of Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida” (Nice Work, 46). While she is teaching she makes use of theories to explain different topics to her students. All her speech is interwoven with fragments alluding to one theory or another and all the time she is describing reality in theoretical terms.In fact, both the narrator and the character interpret action in the novel through literary works for example, when the narrator quotes D. H Lawrence as well as Saussure to illustrate that Robyn and Charles are more interested in thoughts and theories than in earthly matters like sex. What was left was sex in the head, as D.H. Lawrence called it. Lawrence had meant the phrase pejoratively, of course, but to Robyn and Charles D.H. Lawrence was a quaint, rather absurd figure, and his fierce polemics did not disturb them. Where else would the human subject have sex but in the head? Sexual desire was a play of signifiers, an infinite deferment and displacement of anticipated pleasure which the brute coupling of the signifieds temporarily interrupted (Nice Work, 56-57).

As the passage quoted shows, references to Saussure‘s linguistic model (“play of signifiers”) and to Derrida‘s linguistic sign (“an infinite deferment”) abound amid pedestrian descriptions of daily life matters (They are in bed). This fact is still another source of metatextuality and contributes to the introduction of different levels of literariness in the novel. This is a novel that establishes multiple links with other literary works, literary books, the media and documentsthrough its actions, its characters and the metafictional intent of its narrator:

There is no such thing as an author, that is to say, one who originates a work of fiction ab nihilo. Every text is a product of intertextuality, a tissue of allusions to and citations of other texts; and, in the famous words of Jacques Derrida (famous to people like Robyn, anyway), ‘il n’y a pas the hors-texte’, there is nothing outside the text. There are no origins, there is only production, and we produce our ‘selves’ in language. Not ‘you are what you eat’ but‘you are what you speak’ or, rather ‘you are what speaks you’, is the axiomatic basis of Robyn’s philosophy, which she would call, if required to give it a name ‘semiotic materialism’. (Nice Work, 40)

The excerpt clearly foregrounds the novel’s own compositional procedure: i.e. that metatextuality is a device which breaks with mimetic illusion since this implies a difference between text and the “outside of text”.

Literary theory becomes the subject of the conversation between Charles and Robyn one Sunday when they are together in her house talking seriously and they quote Lacan, and Saussure again in their conversation and they use the lexical terms metonymy, metaphor and synecdoche in their speech:

‘Any good?’ she inquired, nodding at his book.

‘Not bad. Quite good on the de-centring of the subject, actually. You remember that marvellous bit in Lacan? Charles read out a quotation: “’ I think where I am not, therefore I am where I think not… I am not, wherever I am the plaything of my thought; I think of what I am wherever I don’t think I am thinking .’”

‘Marvellous,’ Robyn agreed.

‘There’s quite a good discussion of it in here.’

‘Isn’t that where Lacan says something interesting about realism?’

‘Yes: “This two-faced mystery is linked to the fact that the truth can be evoked only in that dimension of alibi in which all ‘realism’ in creative works takes its virtue from metonymy.”

Robyn frowned. ‘What do you think it means, exactly? I mean, is “truth” being used ironically?’

‘Oh, I think so, yes. It’s implied by the word “alibi”, surely? There is no “truth”, in the absolute sense, no transcendental signified. Truth is just a rhetorical illusion, a tissue of metonymies and metaphors, as Nietzsche said. It all goes back to Nietzsche, really, as this chap points out.’(177)

Such a discussion draws attention to the compositional procedures behind all realist fiction. It also refers to the fundamental epistemic discussion that underwrites Realism. Hypertextuality -Parody

Framed within the theory of intertextuality, Hutcheon’s study on parody [1] is vital for the examination of the past which Nice Work tries to reconstruct. However, no study of parody is possible without mentioning again Gerard Genette, whose seminal work on parody in Palimpsests (1982, trans. English 1997) has had a massive influence on the critical scrutiny of how texts either imitate or include other texts. As it is well known, for Genette “any writing is rewriting; and literature is always in the second degree” (G. Prince, “Foreword” to Palimpsests, 1997: ix). Genette draws a fundamental distinction between textual imitation (pastiche, caricature, forgery) and transformation ( parody, travesty, transposition) and he considers that parody is a form of transposing, deforming, or simply modifying a text by diverting it to another context or object (1997:10-11).Thorough as Genette's taxonomy is, it does not however go as far as to consider within parody the forms of metafiction and self-reflexivity that Linda Hutcheon embraces in her own theory of parody. And thus Hutcheon's perspective will be examined in this thesis to sustain that parody can occur when whole elements of one work are lifted out of their context and reused, though not necessarily to be ridiculed.

In The Theory of Parody (1985), in fact, Linda Hutcheon postulates that the main objective of postmodern parody is not to ridicule a parodied author, style or genre but to emphasize the differences between the past and the present. She also claims that “Postmodern parody is both deconstructively critical and constructively creative, paradoxically making us aware of both the limits and the power of representation, in any medium” (Hutcheon 1991:228). Hutcheon further adds that as a form of ironic representation, “parody is doubly coded in political terms: it both legitimizes and subverts that which it parodies” and can in fact be used “as a self-reflexive technique that points to art as art, but also to art as inescapably bound to its aesthetic and even social past” (Hutcheon 1991:231). By rewriting, transforming and changing styles from the parodied works, postmodern parody offers an alternative vision of reality and history and a position of different social, ethnic and other minority groups which is not considered the “official version of reality or history” but a reconsideration of it.

Hutcheon's notion of parody as a self-reflexive technique that points to art as art is crucial for the study of Nice Work as there are several elements of parody which disrupt the illusion of Realism. One reason behind the prevalence of this recontextualizing type of parody in the 20th century, and in particular in Lodge's work, is that contemporary artists like him have sought to connect with the [literary] past while registering differences brought on by modernity. In what follows, then, parody as repetition with a difference will be studied.

- Parody as repetition with a difference (same circumstances and different attitudes)

The Victorian tradition in terms of love relations between women and men saw marriage as a way of sorting out the problems of industrial capitalism. As it is well known, in the Victorian Era women were seen, by the middle classes at least, as belonging to the house-bound sphere, and this stereotype required them to run the house, to make meals for their husband and to bring up their children. Women's rights were extremely restricted in this era, losing ownership of their wages, in the case they worked, and all of their physical property, excluding land. Thus, when a Victorian man and woman married, under the law, the law regarded the couple as one person. The husband was responsible for his wife and bound by law to protect her and the wife had to obey, placing him in control of all property, and to crown the whole, women themselves became “property” to their husbands, giving them rights to what their bodies produced: children, sex, and domestic labour.

Thus, marriage made women lose the right to acquiesce to sexual intercourse with her husband, giving him “ownership” over her body. Their mutual matrimonial consent therefore became a contract to give herself to her husband as he desired (see Wikipedia, “Marriage and the Home,” In: Women in the Victorian Era). In Nice Work, ironically, Robyn refuses Charles’ marriage proposal (380), which is parodically contrary to Victorian heroines’ attitudes. In that period marriage was one of the most precious aims in women’s life. No doubt, in tandem with contemporary times, and as a feminist, Robyn is opposed to marriage as a bourgeois institution, and she is willing to renounce her inheritance in favour of Vic’s business “Take it, she says ”. “Use it. I don’t want it (…)” (381), she said.

There is in Nice Work a parodic inversion of the “correct” or “appropriate” moral codes of Victorian Society. The Victorian era was considered a period of many contradictions such as a widespread cultivation of superficial appearance of sexual restraint and a strict social code of conduct with the prevalence of the social phenomena such as prostitution and child labour. As regards sex, women to be considered a prospective wife, they had to be virgins and to remain innocent and “free from any thoughts of love and sexuality” until they had received a proposal (Kane 97). Men, on the other hand, had the freedom to participate in premarital and extramarital sexual relationships. In Nice Work, while Robyn conforms to the contemporary feminist doxa, and seems to be interested in sex at an intellectual level; it is Vic who becomes infatuated and hopelessly romantic. Robyn, on the other hand, rejects and dismisses the concept of love in their relationship– considering their sexual encounter as “just a fuck. Nothing more or less”.These are very different codes from contemporary women unacceptable for Victorian times. It was impossible for a woman to express such feelings openly or even conceive of such a feeling.

Another clear example of a reversal of expectations that supports this idea is when Robyn and Vic are in Frankfurt at the hotel at the point of having sex since the woman is traditionally considered to be emotional and men rational.

Robyn’s mood is blithe. She feels mildly wanton, but not wicked. She sees herself not as seducing Vic but as putting him out of his misery.There is of course always a special excitement about the first time with a new partner. Her heart beats faster than if she were going to bed with Charles. But she is not anxious. She is in control. Perhaps she feels a certain sense of triumph at her conquest: the captain of industry at the feet of the feminist literary critic- a pleasing tableau (289).

As regards Robyn, the narrator uses the lexemes “blithe”, “wanton but not wicked” (285-291) as well as the phrases “she is in control” and “a certain sense of triumph” to show Robyn’s feelings. Here again there is a “parodic inversion of roles” because in Victorian times women used to be associated with passivity, emotion, submission and dependence and in the case of Robyn, she is the one who takes the reins of the situation.

For Vic the event is infinitely more momentous, his mood infinitely more perturbed. The prospect of going to bed with Robyn Penrose is the secret dream of weeks come true, yet there is something hallucinatory about the ease with his wish has been granted. He regards himself with wonderment led by hand by this handsome young woman towards her bedroom, as if his soul is stumbling along out of step behind his body (289).

Conversely, Vic, seems to be more involved in the situation, and the expressions “infinitely more momentous”, “hallucionary”, “wonderment” and “his soul out of step behind his body” would seem to depict how excited he feels as the dream of many weeks is about to come true.

Contrary to the Victorian doxa where according to which men had the capacity forreason, action, aggression, independence and self-interest, Vic seems to be the weaker sex andRobynseems to take advantage ofhis fragility.Robyn is the one in control of the situation and says “But I prefer to be on the top” and Vic is the one who shows that he is fragile and in love:“I love you “ he says , kissing her throat ,stroking her breasts, tracing the curve of her hip.”

In Nice Work, some metafictional parodic parallels are established at the level of thematic content by backgrounding some telling hints from Charles Dicken's Hard Times (1854). For example, Robyn in one of her lectures describes the industrial novel through an extract from this novel:

Mr Grandgrind in Hard Times embodies the spirit ofIndustrial Capitalism as Dickens saw it. His philosophy is utilitarian. He despises emotion and the imagination, and believes only in Facts. The novel shows, among other things, the disastrous effects of this philosophy on Mr. Grandgrind’s own children, Tom, who becomes a thief, and Louisa, who nearly becomes an adulteress, and on the lives of working people in the city of Coketown which is made in his image, a dreary placecontaining:Several streets all very like one another, inhabited by people equally like another , who went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same payments, to dothe same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and tomorrow and every day the counterpart of the last and the next (76-77).

Readers can easily notice at this point in Nice Work that Vic is similar to Mr. Grandgrind in his materialist vision of life and, though his family has not reached the same situation as Mr. Grandgrind’s, Vic’s expectations are not fulfilled in terms of his children’s careers. For example, Vic’s son does not study anymore and Sandra, his daughter, wants to be a hairdresser instead of studying a university career. In fact, it is not the kind of family that a hard- working man aspires to have.

Nice Work also has some resemblances with the book North and South from Elizabeth Gaskell. In The Novel in the Victorian Age, Robin Gilmour put emphasis on the idea that in North and South there is a conflict of values:

and this conflict of values is focused and developedin the turbulent relationships of Margaret and JohnThornton, an affair of sharp oppositions managed by Gaskell with a fine sense of the sexual piquancy that lies in the mutual attraction of two proud and powerful natures”(qtd. in Aida Diaz Build 53)

This conflict of sharp oppositions is also found in Nice Work because Vic and Robyn both have strong personalities and they defend their ideas fervently. Besides, the mutual understanding between the characters is a kind of solution between the two opposite worlds they represent.

Nice Work thus includes quotations from such Victorian novels as Hard Times and North and South to underscore “an imitation which endeavours to revise previous literary productions in the light of an entire new “enunciation discourse” a whole new context which transforms the essence of the target text and gives birth to a new bitextual synthesis”.The bitextual qualities of parody imply the presence of both “the foregrounded” or present work and a “backgrounded or antecedent text”. ( Hutcheon 1985). This suggests that the realist illusion is thereby disrupted by the many overt or explicit references to other well-known literary classics to which Lodge pays intertextual homage. Not only is the text doubled but also the socio-cultural realities they allude to.


In terms of the hypothesis purported by this thesis, certain narratological devices such as metafiction and forms of “breaking frame” and certain textual devices as intertextuality, metatextuality, paratextuality and parody would contribute to undermine in Nice Work the many mimetic principles of the realist illusion.

This thesis has shown how Nice Work is at times written in a style that to a certain extent complies with many realist conventions. Probably the most noticeable ones are the use of repetition, redundancy and the inclusion of ritualized activities. Characters, places and ritualized activities are depicted in full detail; including the so-called “superfluous notations” of the reality effect that only fulfill a “summatory” function in their descriptions. These “characters’ physical descriptions and their surrounding hallmarks become “trait–connoting”.Textual Cohesion is another successful reality–enhancing mechanism present in Nice Work with its tight use of co-referentiality and co-extension. The presence of antonyms shows the divergence between the world of University and the world of the factory as well as the different kinds of life Robyn and Vic lead. The use of names such as Vic, Robyn and Rummidge support the realist conventions because they help to create a realist illusion.

However, the extracts analyzed have also revealed the presence of other features that subvert the mimetic contiguity of canonical realist fiction. This has been the case of the intrusive narrator that abruptly interrupts the metonymic flow of the narrative as well as of the parenthetical “asides” to the reader, where sometimes a large chunk of information is planted amidst a description, thereby interrupting the narrative flow of the story in the present time.

In addition, the use of metafiction reveals the artificiality of the text as an artistic product, as the intertextual elements constantly remind the educated reader of the fictional character of the whole through the novel's acknowledgment of Victorian literary pieces. Paratextual elements are used as instances of “syntax of authority” (Susan Sniader Lanser 1999.) The epigraphs in the six chapters are a way that Lodge found to pay homage to Victorian novels and to bring the past into the novel. Last ,parody plays a minor role but yet, a significant one by showing that Nice Work, like many other postmodernist novels, tries to bring the past into the present with a slight sense of irony and a double coding, as Hutcheon would say, both of which recuperate the past and subverts it in one and the same movement. These devices break with mimesis and change the focus from the referent towards the work itself. Thus, the novel becomes self-referential.

Judging from all that has been said above, it can be claimed that Nice Work is built on realist traits, which it takes pleasure in debunking here and there. No savvy reader would be able to ignore the intrusive narrator, or how intertextuality and parody subvert the realist traits present in the novel. Therefore, the idea that language is transparent and that there is one- to one-correspondence is constantly debunked just as the reader begins to feel comfortable within the mimetic illusion. Linda Hutcheon has explained that postmodernism “uses “and “abuses” (12) at the same time, subverts and enhances the previous tradition. Under the light of this postulation Nice Work can be understood as a fine example of a new but revisited Realism.


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[1] Hutcheon stresses the notion that the etymological root of the term parody in Greek has two meanings. The prefix para may refer to the notion of “counter” or “against” (as in “to say or to sing in counterpoint) or it can also mean “along” or “beside” (as in to sing along somebody else), which for Hutcheon suggests “intimacy instead of a contrast” (1985: 32). It is this second meaning of the prefix that Hutcheon focuses on for it broadens the scope of parody, as it underscores that parody goes beyond the conventional ethos of ridicule to include, for instance, the “deferential ethos” (Ibid.: 57).

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"Nice Work" by David Lodge. Realism Revisited
A linguistic analysis
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Liliana Vidal (Author), 2014, "Nice Work" by David Lodge. Realism Revisited, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/334851


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