Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

The Pilgrimages of David Lodge

Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

The Pilgrimages of David Lodge

Article excerpt

   ... a tourist is half a pilgrim, if a pilgrim is half a tourist.

   --Turner and Turner 20

   ... most of the greater pilgrimages have become seedbeds of the
   literature of "high culture:'

   --Turner and Turner 23

   What are they hoping for? I don't think most of them could tell you
   if you asked them. Some adventure, some encounter, some miraculous
   transformation of their ordinary lives.

   --Lodge, Therapy 214

In spite of the decline of organized religion in much of the western world, the concept of pilgrimage is alive and well, if by pilgrimage one means a purposeful journey, undertaken with some sense of homage or veneration, to a place that is set apart as special by the consensus of a specific community. Some traditional religious pilgrimages still flourish, such as that to Compostela in Spain, while people travel to many other sites with some of the attitudes and expectations of pilgrims: places associated with a writer or popular culture icon (Wordsworth's Lake District, the Oxford of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, Jim Morrison's grave in Paris) or places that feature in a literary work, or film, or, frequently, in a film made from a literary work. Oxford, a multilayered cultural site, has among its many associations the fact that it is the location of the Inspector Morse series of TV movies, based on detective novels by the Oxford resident Colin Dexter. (l) The phenomenal success of Dan Brown's 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code created at least briefly a new pilgrim's way, retracing the journey of the novel's characters. And of course Castle Howard in Yorkshire owes much of its fame to the fact that it was used to represent the fictitious Brideshead in the celebrated miniseries made from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. I will return later in this essay to the question of how far such postmodern tourism can be seen to have anything in common with the religious pilgrimage of early or medieval Christianity.

The many versions of pilgrimage in contemporary society have been a recurrent focus in the novels of David Lodge, who is both a Roman Catholic and a keen observer of postmodern culture. (2) In this essay, I will trace his use of the motif of pilgrimage, from his presentation of traditional Catholic religious journeys in several of his novels to much more metaphorical extensions of the concept. I have allowed the term to be used flexibly because a significant theme in Lodge's fiction is the liberating effect of travel, and like many writers--notably Henry James, with whom he has an important intertextual relationship (3)--he often uses a journey to represent a metaphorical journey within the self. One of the places where Lodge signals the significance of this cluster of associations in his imaginative world is at the beginning of Small World, the celebration and satire of academic life, and especially of conference going, that was instrumental in establishing Lodge's North American popularity in the 1980s. He begins the Prologue to Small World with a modern English paraphrase of one of the most famous openings in English literature:

   When April with its sweet showers has pierced the drought of March
   to the root, and bathed every vein of earth with that liquid by
   whose power the flowers are engendered; when the zephyr, too, with
   its dulcet breath, has breathed life into the tender new shoots in
   every copse and on every heath, and the young sun has run half his
   course in the sign of the Rare, and the little birds that sleep all
   night with their eyes open give song (so Nature prompts them in
   their hearts), then, as the poet Geoffrey Chaucer observed many
   years ago, folk long to go on pilgrimages. Only, these days,
   professional people call them conferences. (1)

However, the motif of pilgrimage is not especially important in the text of this novel as a whole, except insofar as the idea of pilgrimage can be assimilated to that of the romance quest; motifs from Arthurian literature are much more significant. …

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