The Shadows of History: The “Condition of England” in Nice Work

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2002





Publication Title

Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction


David Lodge’s comic novel Nice Work is a deft analysis of two cultures simultaneously inhabiting that space known colloquially as contemporary Britain. Set in 1986, designated “Industry Year” by Margaret Thatcher’s government, the novel’s plot revolves around conflicts between Victor Wilcox and Dr. Robyn Penrose. Lodge uses the concept of a shadowing arrangement in which representatives of town and gown meet and interact to examine a clash of mindsets. The inevitable conflict between university and industry is itself a synecdoche for far broader antagonisms within British culture as a whole. At an even higher level, Lodge uses the shadowing arrangement as a more general metaphor for a dialogue between “Condition of England” history and his own text. Thus Dr. Penrose, a temporary lecturer in English literature, is appointed University of Rummidge Faculty of Arts Industry Year Shadow and “attached” to Mr. Wilcox, managing director of J. Pringle & Sons, a small and troubled part of the Engineering and Foundry Division of Midland Amalgamated. Robyn’s appointment is made on the basis of two criteria: first, she is the most likely to agree to the project because she is the most junior member of the department and desperate to have her appointment made permanent; second, she is the faculty member most knowledgeable about the nuts and bolts of manufacturing because she has published The Industrious Muse: Narrativity and Contradiction in the Industrial Novel, a critical work that received “enthusiastic if sparse reviews” (30).


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