The British Museum Is Falling Down
- Duffin, Jacalyn
- Date of entry: Aug-28-2002
It is 1965. Graduate student, Adam Appleby (the name is significant), twenty-five years old and father of three, is terrified that his wife, Barbara, is pregnant again. He loves her and is faithful, but their commitment to Catholicism turns their sex life into a furtive obsession, encumbered with calendars, thermometers, and guilt.
This day in his life, like all others, is spent in the British Museum, researching an interminable thesis on 'the long sentence' in minor English writers. But Adam cannot concentrate for frustration, anxiety (over Barbara's delayed period), and financial despair. When a young descendant of a minor writer tries to seduce him in exchange for a steamy manuscript that could easily make his career, Adam discovers a shocking willingness to compromise on his principles.
One of Lodge's earliest comic ventures, this short novel delights not only for its clever satire and preposterous situations, but also for its literary sophistication and penetrating insight into the motives and behaviors of academics. Walter-Mitty-like, Adam keeps breaking into reverie along the lines of "what if . . . ", appropriate to both the moment and the literary forms that he studies. Temptation to use birth control mimics temptation to sex; lust for literary success mimics temptation to sin (through sex, infidelity, or birth control). An nine-page, stream-of-conscious Epilogue rehearses the dilemma from Barbara's perspective--in one sentence.
As Lodge describes in an engaging "Afterword" of 1980 (pp. 163-174), the book was written in 1964-65 while on fellowship leave in America with his wife and two children in tow. He deliberately set out to convey to non-Christians and others the dilemma of devout Catholic couples at that poignant moment in the history of religion and of medicine. After the advent of the birth control pill and before the results of Vatican II, good and lapsed Catholics alike began to reconsider their choices and to entertain hopes for a future with stress-free sexual and emotional expression. Those hopes were later dashed by Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, upholding the traditional prohibition against birth control.