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David Lodge

"Art must entertain, or give delight"

David Lodge

Born in South London in 1935, Professor David Lodge is a graduate of University College London and is Emeritus Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham where he taught from 1960 until 1987, when he retired to write full time. He lives in Birmingham.
His novels include The Picturegoers, The British Museum is falling down, How far can you go? Paradise News, Therapy. Lodge is the master of the academic romance, going back to Changing Places (1975), his first book in a trilogy of campus novels, followed by Small World (1984) and Nice Work (1988) that completes the story.
David Lodge is the author of numerous works of literary criticism, mainly about the English and American novel, and literary theory. His most recent book, Consciousness and the Novel (2002), explores the representation of human consciousness in fiction, and includes essays on Charles Dickens, Henry James and John Updike.
He is a successful playwright and screenwriter, and has adapted both his own work and other writers' novels for television. His work has appeared in some two dozen languages.

Thinks… is an amazing and interesting book. It is a comedy of manners set in a provincial (imaginary) University of Gloucester. Its core is a romantic duet between Ralph Messenger and Helen Reed. Ralph Messenger, a scientist, is the director of a laboratory on cognitive science. Helen Reed is a recently widowed novelist who arrives on the campus to teach creative writing.
Ralph is doing an experiment in stream of consciousness journal entries - simply saying aloud into his recorder what his thoughts are, and Helen is keeping a detailed journal to keep her writing skills active between novels. If you expect that Ralph and Helen will soon get together, you are right. Their relationship is set within a web of complex professional and family connections, most of which focus on variations of adultery.
What is most remarkable about Lodge, is that he manages to be so funny while talking about serious ideas seriously. As in much of his work, the comic plot is used to explore philosophical questions, in this case about the nature of consciousness and the problem of knowing others' minds. Nobody can really know another's thoughts. From this passage we learn the origin of the book's title:
'Imagine what the Richmond's dinner party would have been like, if everyone had had those bubbles over their heads that you get in kids' comics, with "Thinks . . ." inside them.'
A reader might wonder to what extent is Lodge´s character portrayed in Morris Zapp, Philip Swallow or Ralph Messenger. Messenger resembles Zapp in a way - he is a womanizer, married with two children, a kind of posh family, works at the university and during the 6-month-period you follow Messenger struggles, he changes into a different man. Messenger is a deep thinker and you suddenly find yourself influenced, drawn into the game and you start thinking about the things you might have never been, things quite common in one´s life but depicted in a comic manner. They are the things we do not usually observe or realize. Towards the end, Messenger is more human, or more thoughtful as a result of diagnosing a lump on his liver - a bit selfish but at least true - that is the way people act.

There are two women around him now - his wife Carrie and Helen. Carrie is an American so her lifestyle is completely different from Helen´s .Lodge perfectly managed to present the qualities of an American woman thanks to his own experience in the U.S. You might like more her than Helen. Carrie is a careful mother and wife, easy-going, sociable, fun-loving and at the same time having her own secrets. Helen seems to lack courage, she is hesitant, sensitive, rigorous, believes in conventions. Yet everyone has a secret. Helen learns that her dead husband Martin had had an affair with one of her students by reading the student´s novel-in-progress. Ralph, involved with a Czech grad student who is trying to blackmail him, is regularly unfaithful to Carrie. Another scientist is addicted to on-line child pornography. A major theme in the novel is just how the main protagonists are able to deceive one another. Like Helen, we can be two people at once. This is our glory, and the source of our deepest sadness.

The novel is organized in a curious manner, which requires a bit of investigating to catch on to. You get to hear Ralph's view of what he's planning to do, followed by Helen's view of what she's planning to do, followed by a narration of what happened, followed next by Ralph's and then Helen's view of what happened. As soon as you become involved in the story you can´t put the book down. You not only have delight from reading of its own but also from the way the author plays with your attention. But reading is not the right word - because you feel you listen to, you reveal, participate. You listen to Ralph, you read Helen´s diary as if it was a secret and you might be caught anytime - it is really exciting.
Helen´s diary depicts the plot in a traditional 1st person narrative. Ralph´s dictating to a Voicemaster is more speculating, in a way of stream of consciousness.
"Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind
in the order in which they fall."
There are also students´ manuscripts, e-mails - Ralph´s with spelling mistakes, of course - notice the subjects! (my proposal, your proposal - on and on it goes).
Then there is a 3rd person omniscient narrator that retells what is going on. However old-fashioned it may sound, at least you feel it is more objective.
And then there are those time loops which draw you backwards and forwards in time as if time never existed. There is no time in your consciousness. Anyway, even if most modern novels are about consciousness, Ralph isn´t interested in them. He only appreciates Ulysses - early chapters are remarkable, but then he seemed to get distracted by stylistic games and crosswords puzzles.

Ralph often expresses his critical opinions about real writers - what makes you believe Ralph is a real person, e.g. Virginia Woolf is too genteel, too poetic. All her characters sound like V.Woolf.
It was A. Huxley who said that man is eternally alone. Try as we might, we simply cannot get into another's mind. We never truly know just what is going on there. And, however much we might try, we can never, not truly, let someone else into ours.
Without giving away the story, a series of events push Messenger and Helen to reconcile with the distinctness of being human.

"Certainly my novels are full of irony, both dramatic irony, and rhetorical irony, which is associated with comedy and satire. But you are right that there is also a softer, more emotionally tender (and some of my critics would say, sentimental) aspect to my work. I don’t see any contradiction in this. One of my great artistic heroes is Dickens who is both ironic and emotional to the point of sentimentality in different aspects of his work. I would not reject the description “considerate comic novelist”. “Compassionate” might be a better word."

"How you end a story crucially affects the impression it leaves on the reader about the implied author’s attitude to life. I am fascinated by this question of endings, and have written about it in several critical essays. As modern literary novelists go, I think I am more drawn than most to the old-fashioned “happy ending”, and have sometimes been criticised for it, though you don’t seem to agree. I tend to leave my characters in an open-ended situation, but a hopeful one, with the major problems they have confronted in the story resolved.
"Traditional romance as a genre tends to just pile on the surprises without bothering to make them convincing. The realistic novel tries to make them seem part of the representation of the real."
"I think you can tell I am a teacher and critic in my novels, because I am careful to give the readers all the information and clues they need to follow and understand my meaning. Some critics think I try too hard to control the reader’s response. It is not for me to say. I certainly see writing as essentially communication, as a rhetorical activity. And in the highest sense I think art must entertain, or give delight."

British museum is falling down (1965)
Changing places (1975)
Ginger, you’re barmy (1962)
How far can you go? (1980) [U.S. title Souls and bodies]
Nice work (1988)
Out of the shelter (1970)
Small world: an academic romance (1984)
Paradise news (1991)

The picturegoers (1960)
Therapy (1995)
Thinks (2001)
Literary criticism by David Lodge
After Bakhtin: essays on fiction and criticism (1990)
The art of fiction (1992)
Language and fiction (1966)
The modes of modern writing (1977)
The novelist at the crossroads (1971)
The practice of writing (1996)
Working with structuralism (1981)
Write on: occasional essays 65-85 (1986)

Ammann. Daniel, David Lodge and the Art-and-Reality Novel, Heidelberg. Winter. 1991 (includes bibliography)
Bergonzi, Bernard, Lodge, David, Northcote House Educational Publishers, 1995
Lambertsson Bjork, Eva, Campus Clowns and the Canon. David Lodge’s Campus Fiction, Umea. University of Umea. 1993 (includes bibliography)
Mandle. W F, Prescription and Pluralism. John Henry Newman, David Lodge and the Idea of a University, Belconnen, ACT., University of Canberra, 1990

Lodge - www.contemporarywriters.com
Lodge - doyletics.com
Lodge - www.endeavor.med.nyu.edu
Lodge - literalmind.com
Morace, R.A., The Dialogic Novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge, Southern Illinois University Press -

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