Study Guide

The World According to Garp Chapter 5

By John Irving

Chapter 5

In the City Where Marcus Aurelius Died

  • Gar and Jenny head to Vienna that summer. They stay at various "pensions" (a.k.a. small motels) before choosing an apartment in the "sophisticated, cosmopolitan part of Vienna" (5.3).
  • Jenny spends most of her time writing at home, while Garp follows Tinch's advice to "absorb" (5.17) his surroundings. He has hardcore writer's block, except where letters to Helen are concerned.
  • There's just one problem with Jenny's work: She's a crummy writer, so while her life story is interesting, she doesn't know how to convey it to readers.
  • Meanwhile, Garp has started work on a short story about a man who inspects and grades pensions—but in the end, "it was easier to write to Helen" (5.26).
  • Garp feels isolated in Vienna, partly because there are few kids his age around, and partly because he's jealous of Jenny's prodigious writing.
  • He gets inspiration one day when he sees a traveling circus (complete with a motorcycle-riding bear) at the railroad station. He wants to fit these wacky characters in his story—but how?
  • By winter, Jenny has completed over six hundred pages of her manuscript. Holy smokes, right? As for Garp, he still hasn't started his story yet and Helen has stopped writing him back.
  • Garp finally makes a breakthrough during a visit to the Vienna museum. That day, there's a special exhibit featuring the "writer's room" (5.38) of Austrian author Franz Grillparzer.
  • After his museum day, Garp picks up "The Poor Fiddler" by Grillparzer and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Garp hates Grillparzer's writing, and this disdain gives him the confidence to start writing in earnest.
  • One night, Garp and Jenny are walking behind three women when Jenny points at one of the women's coat and tells Garp that she wants one.
  • But Garp knows something Jenny doesn't: the three women are prostitutes, which is legal in Vienna. When they see Jenny and Garp, they immediately assume that Jenny is one of their coworkers on the job.
  • When she finds this out, Jenny decides that she wants something else—she wants them to tell her about "lust" (5.96).
  • After some confusion—and some haggling—Garp convinces one of them to join them at a nearby coffee shop. She doesn't have any answers for Jenny's limitless questions, however.
  • Before leaving, Jenny gives Garp some money to buy his own session with the woman. Embarrassed, Garp declines, but it's not as if he hasn't visited the working ladies before.
  • The next day, Garp goes back to the corner and hires one of the girls they met the previous night. Her name is Charlotte, and it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship—Garp becomes a long-term client and the two become close.
  • Finally, Garp gets to work on his story, now titled "The Pension Grillparzer."
  • The story follows a man who works for the "Austrian Tourist Bureau" (5.146) and rates hotels (or pensions) using the letter grading scale. His family—his wife and two sons, Robo and the unnamed narrator—always tag along.
  • Their merry band is joined by Johanna, their grandmother. She's mad cranky, yo—plus, word on the street is that their next hotel is infested with bears. Eek.
  • They arrive at the Pension Grillparzer, a "Class C pension that wanted to be a B" (5.194), and meet Herr Theobald, the owner.
  • Unfortunately, there are only two rooms available and they're on opposite sides of the building, so Johanna will be staying alone next to the bathroom while everyone else crowds in a room on the other wing.
  • In the lobby, they meet a singer and an odd Hungarian who is said to "tell dreams" (5.223).
  • The odd man recites to Johanna a dream of a husband and wife lying together in a castle while an army of ghost soldiers clatters about outside; the husband eventually dies of a respiratory illness.
  • Johanna slaps him in the face and storms off. Mom tells Theobald that her father (Johanna's husband) actually had died of a respiratory disease.
  • That night, the kids hear a bike in the hallway… and then they see a pair of hands walking outside their door. Spooky.
  • Suddenly, Johanna screams from across the pension. They rush over, and she tells them that she heard "whispers" (5.236) and "a wheel" (5.238).
  • Johanna then tells them that she had the same exact dream that the mystic described earlier. She's creeped out, to say the least.
  • Johanna ends up staying with the boys while their parents stay in the room next to the bathroom. The boys sneak out to pee, but they stop in their tracks when they see paws beneath the stall door.
  • They run into their parents' room, but are quickly caught in a makeshift trap—their parents thought they were intruders.
  • The scuffle knocks the bear's unicycle over, and the bear seems upset until a woman emerges from a room and leads him away.
  • That's as far as Garp got. It's not bad, but he still needs an ending.