Professors with sex on the brain

December 18, 1998

A Pilgrim's progress report

Small World opens on the fictional Rummidge campus, hosting the dreary University Teachers of English Language and Literature conference. Persse McGarrigle, having just completed his dissertation, encounters raven-haired beauty Angelica Pabst: "tall and graceful, with a full womanly figure, and a dark, creamy complexion".

His giddy pursuit of the elusive Angelica round the international conference circuit draws him to the gathering that is the Big Daddy of them all: the MLA.

His quest is just one of many, as Rummidge's Philip Swallow and his alter ego, the flamboyant American Morris Zapp, cut through the novel, along with a rich cast of itinerant academics.

The novel is funny and striking for its deftly interwoven plot threads and its blend of satire and literary allusion. First published in 1984, set in the closing days of the sexual revolution, it is pleasurably dated by the assumption that professors of literature have more sex on the brain than Freud. Lodge, as an English professor, is allowed the kind of merciless parody of his colleagues that no outsider could have got away with.

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