Saturday, August 11, 2007

Paternity

I'm distracted by some apprentice defects in David Lodge's third novel, The British Museum Is Falling Down (1965), but it's hard not to enjoy a book each of whose sections mimics the work of a well-known author, from Chapter 1's clear reference to the opening of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis to the epilogue's (and the plot's) use of Ulysses' closing soliloquy of Molly Bloom.

Also enjoyable is the protagonist Adam Appleby's penchant for comic soliloquy, generously reported by the third-person narrator. Adam and his wife are a married couple of the type I'm already quite familiar with from Lodge's later novels: a practicing Roman Catholic couple faithfully (but unsuccessfully) relying on the rhythm method. From one of Adam's soliloquies in which he imagines an entry for Catholicism, Roman "for a Martian encyclopaedia compiled after life on earth had been destroyed by atomic warfare":
...distributed fairly widely over the planet Earth in the twentieth century. As far as the Western Hemisphere is concerned, it appears to have been characterised by a complex system of sexual taboos and rituals. Intercourse between married partners was restricted to certain limited periods determined by the calendar and the body-temperature of the female. Martian archaeologists have learned to identify the domiciles of Roman Catholics by the presence of large numbers of complicated graphs, calendars, small booklets full of figures, and quantities of broken thermometers, evidence of the great importance attached to this code. Some scholars have argued that it was merely a method of limiting the number of offspring; but as it has been conclusively proved that the Roman Catholics produced more children on average than any other section of the community, this seems untenable. Other doctrines of the Roman Catholics included a belief in a Divine Redeemer and in a life after death. [p. 16]
"To Mrs. Green [their landlady]:
herself a widow with an only son, Adam's paternity of three young children, whom he could patently not afford to support, indicated an ungovernable sexual appetite of which [his wife] was the innocent victim. "Ooh, isn't Mr Appleby naughty?" had been her first response to [his wife's] nervous announcement of her third pregnancy; and subsequently Adam had had to endure from his landlady the kind of half-fascinated, half-fearful appraisal usually reserved for prize bulls. As he calculated that there could be few married men in Metropolitan London who enjoyed their marital rights as seldom as himself, he found this situation particularly trying....[p. 28]
Speaking of letter-A Adam, my declining short-term memory appreciates the mnemonic way that his wife and their children are named:
Adam's family lined up in alphabetical order to be kissed goodbye: Barbara, Clare, Dominic and Edward (seated). When the principle behind this nomenclature dawned on their friends they were likely to ask humorously whether Adam and Barbara intended working through the whole alphabet, a joke that seemed less and less funny to Adam and Barbara as time went on....[p. 25]
Perhaps you too have trouble keeping characters' names straight?

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