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NICE WORK spans the winter term at Rummidge University, playfully modeled after Lodges own

Birmingham, in the English Midlands. In observance of officially proclaimed Industrial Year, Robyn
Penrose, a temporary lecturer specializing in feminist theory and the nineteenth century English
industrial novel, is assigned to spend one day a week observing a senior manager at a manufacturing
plant. She spends her Wednesdays at the low-tech factory of an engineering firm run by forty-fiveyear-old Vic Wilcox. Robyn, a feminist intellectual more comfortable with irony than iron works,
and Vic, a proletarian who has worked himself into affluence, could hardly be more different in
background and attitude. Yet, inevitably, despite Vics wife and Robyns boyfriend, the two become
romantically involved and learn to see the world through each others eyes.
Lodge provides an informative excursion into the daily activities of workers at an industrial plant
and department of English. His two main characters provide an entertaining dialectic between
abstract and concrete, female and male, theory and praxis, and he offers the sentimental optimism
that the two can be reconciled. Lodges characteristic technique is to crosscut between the parallel
and contrasting lives of an academic and a businessman, and his recurring plot, here as elsewhere, is
that of changing places. The main characters of CHANGING PLACES resurface in NICE WORK in
cameo roles. It is a novel that merits its title. Nice Work is the third of Lodges novels to explore the
fictional landscape of Rummidge, a city of words modeled on the authors native Birmingham, in the
English Midlands. Half of Changing Places takes place in Rummidge (a great dark smudge sounds
like Rummidge, says one character, seeing the city from the air and for the first time). Changing
Places is a novel of two cities (Rummidge and Berkeley, California) of two cultures (English and
American), of two languages, each nominally English; it is a problematic novel, to adopt one of
Lodge 5 eminently sensible literary coinages, written by a novelist at the crossroads, facing the
possibilities and limitations of fiction writing in a postrealist age. With only its first pages set in the
academic backwater of the University of Rummidge, Small World proves a vastly more expansive
work, an academic romance, a decidedly carnivalesque novel, having as many parallel and often
intersecting plots as the world has air routes in the era of the global campus.

Nice Work, set entirely in Rummidge in Englands rust belt, seems a far more circumscribed novel.
The narrowness is, however, somewhat deceptive, for in Lodges fiction place is never as important
as pacewhich is to say, not merely the speed of the action but especially the simultaneously
diachronic and synchronic sequence of the narration. In Nice Work the focus may be tighter, the
geographical and narrative range narrower, but the dialogic relations run deeper and appear (the
humor notwithstanding) more troubling. In retrospect, the geographical expansiveness of Changing
Places and more especially of Small World betrays a certain narrowness of scope, a degree of

inbreeding, insulated as these novels are from the pressures of the nonacademic world. In Nice
Work, Lodge narrows the narrative range in a way that allows him to explore more fully the
increasing separation and monologic insularity of discourse and ideology not only within the
academy but alsoperhaps more importantbetween the academy and the business world, between
intellect and industry, male and female, feminists and phallocentrists, theorists and humanists,
mainstream and margin, Anglo and alien, old and new, North and South, the bleakness of David
Lodges Birmingham and the prosperity of Margaret Thatchers London.
The book describes encounters between Robyn Penrose, a feminist university teacher specialising in
the industrial novel and women's writing, and Vic Wilcox, the manager of an engineering firm. The
relationship that develops between the unlikely pair reveals the weaknesses in each character.
Robyn's academic position is precarious because of budget cuts. Vic has to deal with industrial
politics at his firm.
The plot is a pastiche of the industrial novel genre, particularly referencing North and South by
Elizabeth Gaskell. This gentle ribbing acts to undermine the postmodern and feminist position of
Robyn, who accepts the hand of fate despite ridiculing its role as the sole restorative capable (in the
minds of authors of industrial novels) of elevating the female to a serious social position. Robyn
acquires insight into the pragmatic ethos whose encroachment on university culture she resents and
Vic learns to appreciate the symbolic or semiotic dimension of his environment and discovers a
romanticism within himself that he had previously despised in his everyday life.
The story is set in the fictional city of Rummidge, a grey and dismal fictionalised Birmingham. It is
part of the same series as the novels Changing Places, Small World, and Thinks ... (though strangely
the latter makes reference to the "University of Birmingham" - suggesting that Birmingham is
distinct from Rummidge even in the fictional world). In Nice Work, Philip Swallow is still head of
the English Department from Small World and thus is Robyn Penrose's boss. Morris Zapp makes a
cameo appearance in the last part of Nice Work, to add a plot twist where he tries to arrange for
Robyn to have a job interview at his American university, Euphoric State (a fictionalized UC
Berkeley), in order to stop his ex-wife from being a candidate for an open faculty position. Robyn
Penrose makes a cameo appearance in Thinks
ice Work is set around the unlikely relationship between Victor Wilcox, Managing Director of a
struggling engineering plant, and Dr Robyn Penrose, a lecturer of English literature theory at
Rummidge University. Robyn and Vic meet through a PR scheme designed to bring the Industry and
the University closer at the time when both the Industry and the University are threatened by the
emerging monster of financial services industries; at the time when making real things is going out

of fashion and ex-English lecturers compete with barrow-boy yuppies at City merchant banks just
before the Big Bang.
Yes, we are talking Thatcher's 80's here and the historical and social realities are always there,
explained clearly enough for those who don't remember or were not told.
The story is, of course, the classic, topical - let's call it 'Crocodile Dundee' - scheme, where two
people from two different social spheres meet and go from more or less despising each other to
developing understanding and more. This vehicle of a story is used to present the reader with the
main two characters and a host of others. Those characters are superbly drawn, typical without being
boring, vivid without becoming caricatures.
Doctor Robyn Penrose, a daughter of a lecturer and a lover of a lecturer; thoroughly liberated and
independent; follower of feminism and a passionate devotee of semiotic materialism. Robyn is
confident, but not vain, stylish but not coquettish. Refreshingly, her intellectual belief that love is a
textual construct does not fall apart under the force of real-life passion of a real-life phallic male. Her
academic background, her intellectual backbone are not proven to be false and we do not discover
that, underneath, she was really an emotional cripple.
Each of the character is a figure standing for a social group, for a world from which he or she comes
from: down-to-earth, practical industry and the ivory towers of the academia. Their work habits and
dress habits, their values and their mores; their prejudices and annoyances differ and clash; and
observing this clash is rather funny.
But of course Nice Work is not just a comedy of character and social mores. It is an "issue" novel
and the main issue discussed and debated by and in the book regards the role and the form of
university in the world of (disappearing) factories and (seemingly unstoppable) financial services.
The contrast between a Managing Director's Office and a Lecture Hall is only one of the many
explored in the book. In one instance the grim realities of Rummidge as a whole are put against the
well-dressed, well-heeled and refreshed by the sea-breeze comfort of the seaside university town
where Robyn's parents live. In another we have the opportunity to compare Rummidge to Frankfurt,
shiny and clean, modern and efficient.
The Nice Work of the title refers mostly to Robyn's work and I have to say that, to my satisfaction,
the University seems to come out of this ideological confrontation quite victorious. After piling the
critique on the elitist set-up, the irrelevancies of theory, the mores, habits, prejudices and occasional
utter stupidity of the academics the last word is given to young Dr Penrose, the human and humane
but also competent and committed face of the academia and her shaken but still strong belief in the

values represented by the University. I have to say that I passionately share this belief and am greatly
saddened by the currently in vogue attempts to re-present and re-formulate academic institutions as
some high-level vocational courses. The debate is in some ways more relevant now that it was in the
80s.
All this serious stuff shouldn't shadow the fact that Nice Work is a very funny book indeed, not in a
laugh-out-loud funny but rather smirk-with-delight funny kind of way.
On top of this, Lodge plays with the language, plays with the characters, plays with the social
stereotype and (of course!) engages in a very post-modernist play with literary theory. The whole
novel is, in fact, such a big game as it is self-referential to the extreme.
'Industrial novels', known in their time as 'conditions of England novels' are mentioned in one of
Robyn's University lectures: "They are novels in which the main characters debate typical social and
economic issues as well as fall in and out of love, marry and have children, pursue careers (...) and
do all the other things that characters do in a more conventional novel." These novels are where Dr
Penrose's expertise lies and she happens to actually be a character in such a novel. Nice Work is
quite obviously a 'condition of England novel' for the 80s. However much Lodge likes to take the
mickey out of post-structuralism and literary theory, he himself engages in a most delicious, postmodernist, inter-textual game.
The way that sections describing Robyn's side of the story are presented differs subtly from the way
Vic's story is told. His part is traditional, realistic, 'like novels should be'; while Robyn's side is more
ironic, full of author's comments, reminding of digressional poem.
The way that the book concludes is also straight from the "industrial novel". The solution to all the
characters' worries comes deux ex machina, the only way the 19th century writers could find to
resolve the conflicts described in their books. This resolution is described in the best realist tradition,
moving and satisfying as in a proper realistic novel; so those reading on one of the more literal levels
will not be disappointed.
All in all, Nice Work is a surprisingly complex novel that can be perfectly well enjoyed on any level:
as a comedy of characters, as a social satire, as an "issue novel" and as a literary game. The issues it
explores (Industry, Academia and Finance) are still as current as they were in the 80's; sadly so.
It does not have a terribly compelling plot, but the characters are brilliant and actually grow on you,
the jokes are funny and the argument is pervasive.
7.3 Nice Work

The novel Nice Work deals with the clash that arises from the scheme designed between the
Rummidge University and a local engineering company. A young lecturer is to become a shadow of
a Managing Director in the company. Their characters and ideas are at the beginning deliberately
diametrically opposed as well as industry and university are representing different ideas. The shadow
scheme, nevertheless, fulfills its purpose only on the personal level as Lambertsson Bjrk points out.
She also claims that the friendship and respect of the main characters became possible only because
both Robyn and Vic appear to redefine their own contexts in the course of the novel, and at the
same time gain greater knowledge of the others community (Lambertsson Bjrk 109).
The novel being part of the trilogy, David Lodge employs here elements very similar to those that he
used in the previous novels. He criticizes, as I have mentioned earlier, the cuts of the government of
Margaret Thatcher in the university funding. He also ridicules both Robyn Penrose and Vic Wilcox,
but he seems, according to Lambertsson Bjrk, to favor Victor (115). She says that the
characterization of Vic Wilcox is vivid and sympathetic (Lambertsson Bjrk 115). She argues that
the favourism is to be seen from the description of the character that Lodge gives us. In the case of
Vic the reader is presented with a complete character. Robyn, on the other hand, remains only a
type, a crude caricature of a liberated woman (Lambertson Bjrk 115).
Both characters could be compared to the main characters of the trilogy. Robyn has some character
traits similar to Phillip in the previous novels; we could say that they both care about other people.
As an example may serve Robyns care about the future of Danny Ram, one of the workers in the
foundry. At the opposite end stands cruel Vic Wilcox, who cares about nothing but business; it is the
same case as Morris Zapp who is also interested in nothing more than his scholarly achievements. In
addition, we can also find a parallel between the character of Vic and the author. They both say that
their work is all they can do well and the list of things that they have never done is remarkably
similar. Eva Lambertsson Bjrk claims that the author in answer to the question of why he writes,
Lodge claims that he does so because it is the only thing he os really good at and that it is now too
late to start over again with something else (50). Her claim is supported by David Lodges
statement: I shall probably never learn, now, to ski or to windsurf or to play a musical instrument or
to speak a foreign language fluently (Write On 76). In addition Lambertsson Bjrk points out that
Vic Wilcox works in the position he does because it is the only thing that he is good at and that it is
too late to learn anything else (50). Vic Wilcox explicitly states the things he has never done; the first
few things are noticeably similar to the things that David Lodge has never experienced:
Ive never skied, Ive never surfed. Ive never learned to play a musical instrument, or speak a
foreign language, or sail a boat, or ride a horse. Ive never climbed a mountain or pitched a tent or

caught a fish. Ive never seen Niagara Falls or been up the Eiffel Tower or visited the Pyramids. Ive
never . . . I could go on and on. (Nice Work 255).
So neither Vic Wilcox nor David Lodge has never skied, surfed or windsurfed, they have never
learnt how to play a musical instrument and they have never learnt to speak a foreign language
fluently. Otherwise Vic Wilcox does not seem to be autobiographical. He is a businessman
representing the industry and Lodge represents the academe. In this respect, Lodge is obviously
much closer to Robyn Penrose.