Like Cervantes before him, Lodge generates comic tension by pitting banal facts of life against the urge to transform them magically. And, again like Cervantes, Lodge creates irony by situating his versions of the knight's chivalric adventures in a series of settings that are obviously uncongenial to romance. For the enchanted forests, gardens, and castles of Malory and Spenser, he substitutes the often sterile world of academic conferences: modern universities and hotels. McGarrigle embarks on the traditional quest to win the love of a beautiful and mysterious woman who assumes for him the sacred importance of the Holy Grail, but he is an unheroic professor of literature, not a knight in armor like his namesake Sir Percival. That modern life is without the magical significance that McGarrigle would find is precisely the point of such an ironic substitution. The intent here is satiric. Lodge mounts a critique both of the barrenness of contemporary existence and of the naivete of those who would quixotically gild over it. At the same time, the parody is never so corrosive that it prevents the emergence of the traditional pleasures of romance. Lodge and the reader are able to have their cake and eat it too. (48)



The epistemological stumbling block is that Small World is an echo chamber of voices from other literary works, none of which is original. After this fashion, Angelica herself is derivative, a blatantly literary stereotype whose name is taken from Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. The novel makes explicit that she and her twin sister, the promiscuous Lily, are also modelled on the two naked maidens bathing in the fountain whom Guyon encounters in The Faerie Queene when he enters the Bower of Bliss (258). The chaste Angelica corresponds to the one who "her selfe low  ducked in the flood, I Abash't that her a straunger did avise," while Lily's name is suggested by the description of the other maiden, who ''. · . . rather higher did arise, I And her two lily paps aloft displayed" (2.12.66). The point to be stressed, then, is that Angelica symbolizes, not a reality beyond artifice, as McGarrigle hopes, but the all-encompassing reach of a textuality that can never be transcended. This is the significance of the birthmarks in the shape of inverted commas which Angelica and Lily bear on their thighs. Even the most secret and desired of meanings are, so to speak, in quotation marks, or, as Roland Barthes puts it in S/Z, "deja lu.”(50)


Frederick M. Holmes, “The Reader as Discoverer M David Lodge's Small World,” Critique 32 (1990): 47-57