A Literary and Catholic Discourse on David Lodge's novels "The British Museum is Falling Down" and "How far can you go?"

Pre-University Paper, 2020

34 Pages, Grade: 1



Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Biographical Overview
2.1 David Lodge as a “Catholic author”
2.2 Brief overview of the novels “The British Museum is Falling Down” and “How far can you go?”

3 Aspects of the novel “The British Museum is Falling Down”
3.1 Realism
3.2 Intertextuality and Parody
3.3 Catholic Aspects

4 Aspects of the novel “How far can you go?”
4.1 Realism
4.2 Intertextuality
4.3 Catholic Aspects

5 Comparison of “The British Museum is Falling Down” and “How far can you go?”

6 Conclusion

7 Bibliography


The art of literature has many faces. One of it is David Lodge, a British author and literary critic. With his literary work he explores society and culture as well as religion. It is the aim of this pre-academic work to analyse and compare two of his earlier novels: The British Museum is Falling Down (1965) and How far can you go? (1980).

As a first step, the biographical background of David Lodge with a special focus on faith is examined. Moreover, it is clarified why he can be called a “Catholic novelist”. It is depicted how he has developed as a “Catholic novelist”.

Secondly, this work concentrates on the analysis of the two novels. Aspects of The British Museum is Falling Down, which are central to Lodge’s literature, are analysed. Notably: Realism, Intertextuality and Catholic aspects. Furthermore, the same crucial aspects of How far can you go? are analysed, focusing on Catholic context.

As a final step, the two novels are compared in a literary and Catholic context. Considering the elaborated aspects of the two novels ideas are established of how Catholic society has developed and how it has rebelled against the Church over the time.

List of Abbreviations

e.g. exempli gratia; “for example”

i.e. id est; “that is”; “in other words”

etc. et cetera; “and the rest”

1 Introduction

David Lodge got my attention first during class when my English teacher made a digression into literature with the novel The British Museum is Falling Down, which truly fascinated me. After reading more novels of David Lodge, I have decided to write my pre-academic work about two of his novels, namely The British Museum is Falling Down (1968) and How far can you go? (1980) that are all about Catholicism mixed with funny occasions and literary features which make it a treat to read and to analyse.

When I started research on the two novels, I came across of a thesis from Judith Terezija Pimperl with the title “David Lodge as a Catholic Novelist”1, which she wrote at the University of Vienna. My pre-academic work is primarily inspired by her thesis. Therefore, I would like to pay tribute and honour to Judith Terezija Pimperl for inspiring me with her well-founded and detailed work.

First of all, it is essential to examine David Lodge’s background and to clarify what makes him a “Catholic novelist”. We take a closer look on his Catholic background and how his attitude towards Catholicism developed over the time. Then, this work looks on the key aspects of Lodge’s literature and presents concrete examples from the two novels in two main chapters. For instance, the literature of David Lodge is fundamentally characterised by Realism. It can be seen in the form of realistic descriptions of locations, but also through autobiographical elements. Beyond that, Intertextuality plays a major role in Lodge’s works what makes it especially interesting for literary critics to analyse his works. It is necessary to first define Intertextuality and then present examples of his literature. Lastly, cultural and Catholic themes are omnipresent in Lodge’s fiction. For example, daily issues and faith questions, while the second novel How far can you go? intervenes more deeply in this subject.

Because of the novel’s similarities in approach and themes they are finally compared in a literary and Catholic context. The general components of novel writing of David Lodge are presented. Then the subject turns to the more profound question of this work of how the Catholic society has developed and how it is presented in Lodge’s novels with various examples. At last the question: How far can you go? is discussed and additional ideas are presented.

2 Biographical Overview

This chapter deals with David Lodge as an author. It concentrates on his Catholic background and why he can be described as a “Catholic novelist” which are compiled in respect of the thesis “David Lodge as a Catholic novelist”2 by J. Pimperl that helps to clarify what a “Catholic novelist” constitutes. As the next step, the two novels The British Museum is Falling Down and How far can you go? are presented briefly.

David Lodge grew up in a traditional, lower-middle-class, Catholic family in London. He has had an extensive secondary and Catholic education after the Second World War as he states in his autobiographical book Quite a good time to be born 3.

Education has also brought him love as he met Mary, his future wife at the age of 18 at university. Their life as a married couple was challenging in terms of intimacy: They were both practising Catholics and subsequently only used the accepted Catholic birth control known as the “Safe Method” or “Rhythm”, which will be further explained in chapter 3.3. This practice has led them to two children in four years4. Moreover, David Lodge mentions in the Foreword of Quite a good time to be born:

“[Catholicism] from the 1960s onwards underwent a series of momentous changes and internal conflicts. [It] has stimulated my imagination as a novelist both before and since that upheaval.”5

Through changes in sexual teaching and controversies within the Church’s constitution, David Lodge as a Catholic and author became more critical towards the Church he portrays in his literature. This is clear from a statement he gave in an interview by Rong Ou of the Cambridge Studies Journal:

“Basically, if you read my novels in chronological order, it's obvious I was once quite an orthodox, believing, practicing Catholic, that's the education I had, and the fact that I married a Catholic also reinforced that. Intellectually, theologically I have completely changed since I was a young man. I no longer believe literally the doctrines.”6

His Catholic upbringing and education have shaped David Lodge, but by gaining experience and by observing discordances in the Church he grew more critical.

2.1 David Lodge as a “Catholic author”

As the Catholic background of David Lodge is evident, one has to ask oneself what makes him a “Catholic novelist” and what are the characteristics of a “Catholic author” and “Catholic literature”? J. Pimperl gives a detailed and well-founded explanation of the “Catholic novelist” with many examples, some of which are summarised in this work.

Bernd Engler, a literary scientist from Tübingen, poses the question whether Catholic literature requires the mediation of fictional realities by a narrator figure characterised as Catholic or the portrayal of Catholic figures, or does the treatment of specific patterns of action and themes, which are closely linked to the self-conception of the Catholic Church, suffice as a differentiating characteristic7.

Many experts have been trying to find solutions for this question, but this subject is more complicated than expected at first sight. For this reason, Albert Sonnenfeld, professor of comparative literature, states that the participation in Catholicism is from highest significance and additionally, the novelist uses the experience of his Catholic life for his literature8. Others name the conflict of the faithful with his belief as essential for Catholic literature9.

However, with the success of authors like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh in the 1940s and 1950s, the Catholic theme got more attention, though they wrote in a more secular position as other authors before10. Their “Catholic literature” contributed to a more comprehensive understanding in the field of religious structures and teachings of the Church11.

According to David Lodge, he was significantly influenced by Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh who motivated him to write out of his experience. His literature relates to “everyday problems of practising Catholics in our modern and agnostic world”, and he also states in an Interview with Haffenden:

“Catholicism happens to be the ideological milieu I grew up in, that I know and write out of.”12

Moreover, one has to understand the actual position of David Lodge towards faith and towards Catholicism to analyse and understand his literature:

“I'm fascinated by religion but I observe the gradual waning of supernatural belief in the western world. I cannot approve the fanatical and fundamentalist religions that take literally their holy books' sayings which are in fact open to infinite interpretation.”13

This quote shows the feeling and position, from which David Lodge writes his works that are often satirical and comical. Thus, the author calls himself an “agnostic Catholic” as Graham Greene did before. However, his works are significantly different in approaching the Catholic themes as David Lodge includes more daily issues of Catholics.

Now it can be seen how David Lodge developed as a “Catholic novelist”, though there does not exist a clear definition for this term, his success and background, as well as his treatment of the Catholic theme in his literature manifest that he can be truly and well-deservedly count among the group of “Catholic novelists”.

2.2 Brief overview of the novels “The British Museum is Falling Down” and “How far can you go?”

In this subchapter, the two novels The British Museum is Falling Down and How far can you go? are summarised and the main subjects are named.

The first novel, which is analysed in this work, is The British Museum is Falling Down (1965). The main subject of this novel derived from Catholicism is birth control. It steps away from an affirmative position concerning the doctrines of the Catholic religion. David Lodge leads the protagonist through his day in which he comes across many things he knows from his knowledge of literature. The reader is able to recognise elements of parody and pastiche which are placed in a very comic scenery. Daydreaming, the protagonist tries to manage his academic life with his family life and marriage under the supervision of the Catholic Church. Besides the sense of comic, his daily issues that are often a matter of religion are making him crazy. Nevertheless, the novel does not question the Church ultimately. In the end, the protagonist manages his life without discussing the contraception issue any closer by the onset of his wife’s menstruation14.

The second novel How far can you go? (1980) covers a broader range of characters and shows many faces of Catholicism. David Lodges appeals to the whole world in this novel and shows the changes of Catholicism after the Second Vatican Council. The plot of the novel takes place between the 1950s to the 1970s and Lodge develops his characters within this time. “He presents ordinary people in an ordinary context with ordinary problems.”15

They face problems in the manner of sex, contraception, general changes in the Catholic Church, changes in the belief of God, the fear of hell and how disorientation and sadness removed them more and more from the Church.

This novel has a social-historical approach and attempts to satirize the problems of the characters in some passages.

However, one additional but essential information concerning both novels is of highest importance for the contextual understanding. As David Lodge writes in his Afterword to the novel The British Museum is Falling Down which he added in 1980:

“I would like to remind readers of this reissue of The British Museum is Falling Down that it was first published in 1965, some three years before Humanae Vitae. The relationship between the two novels [ The British Museum is Falling Down and How far can you go? ], and the differences between them, can hardly be understood without bearing this […] fact in mind.”16

Further explanation of the religious context will follow in the next chapters.

3 Aspects of the novel “The British Museum is Falling Down”

The following chapter analyses aspects of the first comic novel of David Lodge The British Museum is Falling Down. It structures in two main clauses. Firstly, the literary analysis, focusing on Realism, Intertextuality and Parody. Secondly, the central Catholic aspects of the novel are discussed.

The novel was first published in 1965, which means in the context of the Second Vatican Council in Rome. In this Council, the global social and scientific changes were discussed in accordance with the Roman Catholic faith. People practising the doctrine of Catholicism hoped enormously for a more liberal and open Church, especially for their troubles concerning birth-control, as the invention of the anti-baby pill raised the interest of Catholic couples.

However, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), Pope Paul VI states that there will not be any change concerning contraception contrary to the opinion of the “Pontifical Commission”.

The novel The British Museum is Falling Down addresses exactly this hope. It portrays it through a married couple: Adam and Barbara Appleby. In a 24-hour story Adam’s daily life seems to overwhelm him as the pressure of a possible pregnant wife and a fourth child. In addition, his stressful academic life nearly leads him to adultery. However, at the end, the novel has a happy ending, but the actual issues of the protagonists are not solved.

3.1 Realism

“[Realism is] the representation of experience in a manner which approximates closely to descriptions of similar experiences in non-literary texts of the same culture.”17

This quote depicts David Lodge’s concept of Realism in his fiction. It allows us to research places, buildings, streets, events, situations and religious topics in his novels as Realism is an essential element in his works.

The first proper example - for there are many to mention - is when Adam drives to the British Museum in the morning and David Lodge begins to describe London and its streets in detail:

He writes that “Adam drove noisily down Great Russell Street and, […] swerved through the gates of the British Museum.”18 Great Russel Street exists in reality and leads to the gates of the British Museum, which Lodge describes later on: “[T]he Museum wore an autumnal aspect as if built of petrified fog. The gilt statuary reclining above the bulging pillars provided the only gleam of colour.”19 The fog plays a central role in this 24-hour story of Adam Appleby. It follows him throughout the novel e.g. when he wants to meet Virginia to get the unpublished manuscripts from Egbert Merrymarsh, the fog creates a mysterious atmosphere. Due to the daylong mist, David Lodge could here refer to the famous Pear soup fog which occurred numerous times in London in the 19th and especially the 20th century because of the progress of industrialisation. Another explanation would be the allusion to the cliché of bad weather in London and Great Britain but more significantly would be the reason that David Lodge added the fog to emphasise Adam’s feelings and worries about the potential pregnancy of his wife and unsuccessful academic career.

Moreover, the “gilt statuary” is an in reality existing element of the British Museum and so, David Lodge continues to describe the Museum’s inside in a rather poetic way:

“[He] entered the huge womb of the Reading Room. Across the floor, dispersed along the radiating desks, the scholars curled, foetus -like, over their books.”20

“[The Reading Room] was like […] a brain or a nervous system, and the foreshortened people moving about in irregular clusters were like blood corpuscles or molecules. This huge domed Reading Room was the cortex of the English-speaking races, he thought, with a certain awe. The memory of everything they had thought or imagined was stored here.”21 (emphasis added by the author)

The word choice in the first passage, which can be related to the body of a pregnant woman, allows the connection to the fear of Adam that Barbara could be pregnant for the fourth time. In the second passage, David Lodge goes one step further and describes the Reading Room as the “brain of the English-speaking race”. Nevertheless, the realistic description of the Museum makes the narrator appear very authentic. At the same time, it reveals information about the author’s world he lives in and what the British Museum means to him as the centre setting of this novel.

In another way, Realism appears in a discussion at the postgraduate sherry party, which J. Pimperl mentions as well, when Adam explains the connection of Realism and the novelist:

“Before the novel emerged [...], narrative literature dealt only with the extraordinary or the allegorical. [...] There was no risk of confusing that sort of thing with life.”22 Novels, on the other hand, describe ordinary people23 “doing just the sort of things you did yourself.”24 In this dispute, Adam reveals one central idea of this novel which is the realistic representation of the daily, Catholic life concerning sexuality like Adam and Barbara.

David Lodge himself has the mindset that an author must write from his or her experience and surrounding to guarantee his propriety. Obviously, Lodge grew up in a Catholic milieu in London and therefore writes based on these formative experiences.

3.2 Intertextuality and Parody

Another principle of David Lodge’s novels is Intertextuality and consequently a narrative device, which he often uses, namely parody. More precisely, Lodge’s idea of Intertextuality goes hand in hand with the theory of dialogism of Mikhail Bakhtin. First of all, one has to define what is actually meant by Intertextuality and subsequently dialogism and parody.

Intertextuality is a fundamental idea of literary theory and there are many approaches in implementing and defining it. In this work, an explanation that fits Lodge’s understanding is stated.

At a basic plane, Intertextuality means that no text exists in a vacuum. All writings are intertexts to the extent that they allude to, reuse and draw from other previous writings. Julia Kristeva, a French critic and philosopher, offers an explanation of Intertextuality: The meaning of a text is not conveyed simply between writer and reader. Instead, the reader has to recognise that the text is a “mosaic of quotations” of previous read texts and by understanding these intertextual elements the work makes sense. Thus, the meaning is communicated on “horizontal and vertical axes”25:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Texts which follow“26

Nevertheless, a text can also be intertextual without the author realising it. Thus, every author is influenced by what he or her has experienced, read and already written. As a consequence, the reader is the last instance in interpreting the text and “every reader has one’s own system of associations and interpretations, so the translation depends a lot on the subjective elements”27 whether one can or cannot decode the intertextual parts in a text.

Moreover, Lodge derives his theory of Intertextuality from the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin who declared a theory on dialogism. Dialogism means the use of dialogue, not only in the sense of communication between characters but also in the sense of an author’s dialogue with different pieces of literature and authors. For instance, “dialogic interaction between words, between styles, between languages, […] between character(s) and author, between novel and the reader, […] between the text and his intertext.”28

As a consequence, there is always a different meaning of a word for different readers and authors. David Lodge himself is fascinated about Bakhtin’s theory of literary discourse. Therefore, he studied Bakhtin’s ideas in his work After Bakhtin and explains in it the term “doubly-oriented speech”: “[T]hat is speech which not only refers to something in the world but refers to another speech act by another addresser.”29 The “doubly-oriented speech” can be divided in four groups: stylization, parody, skaz and dialogue. Skaz is Russian for oral narration or speech30.

In the novel The British Museum is Falling Down, David Lodge uses parody extensively as each chapter parodies or alludes famous authors. David Lodge mentions in his Afterword that there are several passages where he mimics other author’s writing styles and their themes, for example, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. With this information it is easier to find out the actual parodied passages.

For instance, it has to be noticed that a few of the parodies occur while Adam is daydreaming, so one can see that literature has completely occupied his life. Moreover, the daydreaming itself is also an intertextual element because it can be related to the novel The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 31 (1939) of James Thurber where Walter Mitty has daydreams, similar to Adam, which have a serious comic effect. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty got famous with its film adaptation in 1947 starring Danny Kaye who was very popular at this time32. In 2013 a new version of the comic film appeared starring Ben Stiller.

More precisely, The British Museum is Falling Down is very similar in certain passages to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Similarities are, for example, the writing style, the usage of a narrative technique called “Stream of Consciousness”, mundane Realism and the one-day story. As we look more closely to the parody, David Lodge gives the reader a hint as the parody starts with: “Mrs. Dalloway’s clock boomed out the half hour”33, which a Woolf reader recognises instantly because “the ringing clock” is a guiding theme in Mrs. Dalloway. At that point, David Lodge uses the narrative method “Stream of Consciousness” to reveal Adam’s thoughts and nonetheless to describe the situation:

“It partook, he thought, shifting his weight in the saddle, of metempsychosis, the way his humble life fell into moulds prepared by literature. Or was it, he wondered, picking his nose, the result of closely studying the sentence structure of the English novelists? One had resigned oneself to having no private language any more, but one had clung wistfully to the illusion of a personal property of events. A find and fruitless illusion, it seemed, for here, inevitably came the limousine, with its Very Important Personage, or Personages, dimly visible in the interior. The policeman saluted, and the crowd pressed forward, murmuring ‘Philip’, ‘Tony’, ‘Margaret’, ‘Prince Andrew’.”34

This quote of Lodge’s novel reflects the writing style of Virginia Woolf. Moreover, the reference to the “Very Important Personage” connects to the novel of Virginia Woolf as the “The Royal Family” passes by but in Lodge’s novel these are “The Beatles”.

In addition, Adam has a déjà-vu when he sees Mrs. Dalloway in the crowd and describes her as “an old, old lady, white-haired and wrinkled, dressed in sober black and elastic-sided boots, stood nobly erect, as if she thought someone really important had passed. In her right hand she held a speaking trumpet, which she raised to her ear”, exactly as she is portrayed in Woolf’s novel. Adam gets a shock as he “murmured ´Clarissa!´”35 the old Lady turns around and is “grown into an old woman.“36


1 Pimperl, Judith Terezija: David Lodge as a Catholic Novelist. Wien, 2008.

2 Pimperl, 2008

3 cf. Lodge, David: Quite a good time to be born. A Memoir: 1935-1975. Harvill Secker London, 2015. Foreword

4 Cooke, Rachel: Nice Work. Interview with David Lodge. The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. 20. April 2008 URL: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/apr/20/fiction.davidlodge [15. 12.2019]

5 Lodge, 2015, Foreword

6 Ou, Rong: An Interview with David Lodge at Cambridge. In: Cambridge Studies Journal Volume 5, No. 2-3, 2010. p. 134

7 cf. Engler, Bernd: Zwischen Dogma und Säkularer Welt: Zur Erzählliteratur Englischsprachiger Katholischer Autoren im 20. Jahrhundert. F. Schöningh. Paderborn, 1991. p. 9

8 cf. ibid. p. 10

9 cf. ibid. p. 13

10 cf. Pimperl, Judith Terezija: David Lodge as a Catholic Novelist. Wien, 2008. p. 3f

11 cf. ibid. p. 5

12 Haffenden, John: Novelists in Interview. London: Methuen, 1985. p. 152

13 Ou, 2010, p. 135f.

14 cf. Pimperl, 2008, p. 9

15 ibid. p. 9 f.

16 Lodge, David: The British Museum is Falling Down. Vintage U.K. Random House London, 2011. p. 168 (Afterword)

17 Lodge, David: Modes of Modern Writing. Metaphor, Metonymy and the Typology of Mode in Modern Literature. Arnold, London 1983. p. 25

18 Lodge, 2011, p. 29

19 ibid. p. 29

20 ibid. p. 40

21 ibid. p. 92

22 ibid. p.120

23 cf. Pimperl, 2008, p. 47

24 Lodge, 2011, p. 120

25 cf. Zurcher, Andrew and Lyne, Raphael: AS Byatt. Byatt: Intertextuality. 2020. Camebridge Authors. URL: https://www.english.cam.ac.uk/cambridgeauthors/byatt-intertextuality/ [06.01.2020]

26 Zurcher, Andrew and Lyne, Raphael, 2020

27 Olgovskaya, Evgeniya: Intertextuality. In: Academia.edu URL: https://www.academia.edu/3651115/Intertextuality [29.12.2019]

28 cf. Morace, Robert A.: The Dialogic Novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. p. 5

29 Lodge, David: After Bakhtin. Essays on Fiction and Criticism. London. Routledge, 1990. p. 33

30 cf. Pimperl, 2008, p. 50

31 Thurber, James: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Harcourt, 1939

32 cf. Griffiths, Richard: Pen and the Cross: Catholicism and English Literature 1850 – 2000. Continuum International Publishing Group. London, 2010. p. 232

33 Lodge, 2011, p. 27

34 ibid. p. 27 f.

35 ibid. p. 28

36 ibid. p. 28

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A Literary and Catholic Discourse on David Lodge's novels "The British Museum is Falling Down" and "How far can you go?"
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David Lodge, Catholicism, Sexuality, Society, Realism, Intertextuality, Catholic novelist
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Anonymous, 2020, A Literary and Catholic Discourse on David Lodge's novels "The British Museum is Falling Down" and "How far can you go?", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/904774


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