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Regarded by many as the finest and funniest comic novel of the twentieth century Lucky Jim remains as trenchant withering and eloquently misanthropic as when it first scandalized readers in 1954 This is the story of Jim Dixon a hapless lecturer in medieval history at a provincial university who knows better than most that “there was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones” Kingsley Amis’s scabrous debut leads the reader through a gallery of emphatically English bores cranks frauds and neurotics with whom Dixon must contend in one way or another in order to hold on to his cushy academic perch and win the girl of his fancyMore than just a merciless satire of cloistered college life and stuffy postwar manners Lucky Jim is an attack on the forces of boredom whatever form they may take and a work of art that at once distills and extends an entire tradition of English comic writing from Fielding and Dickens through Wodehouse and Waugh As Christopher Hitchens has written “If you can picture Bertie or Jeeves being capable of actual malice and simultaneously imagine Evelyn Waugh forgetting about original sin you have the combination of innocence and experience that makes this short romp so imperishable”

10 thoughts on “Lucky Jim

  1. says:

    Jim Dixon's reflection on old man Welch the chair of the History Department at the provincial college where the novel is set How had he become Professor of History even at a place like this? By published works? No By extra good teaching? No in italics― Kingsley Amis Lucky JimBritish literary critic and novelist David Lodge notes how those of his generation who came of age in England in the 1950s men and women mostly from lower middle income families having their first real taste of educational and professional opportunity felt than a little unease with the attitudes and values of the prevailing cultural and social establishment Novels like Lucky Jim really spoke to them young Jim Dixon enters the world of academia and polite society and detests all the airs posturing snootiness arrogance and pretense Judging from the reviews and essays penned by British readers in the last few years this Kingsley Amis novel continues to speak with powerAs an American the novel also spoke to me with power however the power and also the humor is signature British – subtle and understated Well subtle and understated when it is not being Monty Pythonesque that is For examples we need only turn to the first pages The opening scene has Dixon strolling the campus with Professor Welch chair of the history department the man who will approve or disapprove Dixon’s continuing within the department beyond the current term Welsh is fussing over a local reporter’s write up of a concert where he Welsh played the recorder accompanied by piano The newspaper said “flute and piano” Welch pedantically details the difference between a flute and a recorder as if he is David Munrow as if his recorder playing and the concert amounted to a historical event in the world of twentieth century performance Hey Welch – nobody gives a fig And a recorder is a fipple flute so the reporter’s mistake is hardly a monumental blunderDixon and Welch continue walking together across the lawn in front of a college building “To look at but not only to look at they resembled some kind of variety act Welch tall and weedy with limp whitening hair Dixon on the short side fair and round faced with an unusual breadth of shoulder that had never been accompanied by any special physical strength or skill” In addition to providing the reader with telling physical detail likening the two men to a variety act initiates a recurrent theme carried throughout the novel very much in keeping with English society nearly everyone moves and speaks as if they are acting on a stage in other words acculturated to play a prescribed set role Incidentally I’ve heard than once how the British are such natural actors and actresses since they are trained to act beginning as children And this play acting really heightens the humor especially as Jim Dixon seethes with rage as he follows the script and fueled by alcohol seethes with even rage as he rebels against the whole stage production Very British very funnyAh rebellion Jim Dixon is a rebel with a cause his cause being life free of hypocrisy and stupidity But alas much of his rebellion is a silent rebellion We are treated to Jim’s running commentary of what he would like to say and like to do as in after listening to of Welch’s prattle “He pretended to himself that he’d pick up his professor round the waist squeeze the furry grey blue waistcoat against him to expel the breath run heavily with him up the steps along the corridor to the Staff Cloakroom and plunge the too small feet in their capless shoes into a lavatory basin pulling the plug once twice and again stuffing the mouth with toilet paper” Again a bit later Jim hops in the car next to Welch as the professor drives home from the college and Welch presses him on the prospects of his history article being published Dixon’s reply is cut short when Welch nearly causes a multi vehicle crash “Dixon thought on the whole glad at this escape felt at the same time that the conversation would have been appropriately rounded off by Welch’s death” And this is only for starters – many are the zinger launched at the world of academe No wonder Amis received a rather cool reception from the English faculty at Cambridge in the years following the publication of Lucky JimThe humor escalates as Jim Dixon finds himself in a number of increasingly farcical and compromising situations usually brought on in part by his own prankster antics and drinking at such events as a stay including obligatory singing at the home of the Welches a college sponsored dance and finally delivering a required public history lecture to a full house Actually the events prior to and during Jim’s grand finale lecture are the stuff of Monty Python All told the exquisite timing of Amis’ language and the string of outrageous quagmires Jim must face make for one comic novelHowever it must be noted the humor cuts deeper than the comic British novels of writers like P G Wodehouse A prime example is Jim’s skirmish with Welch’s son Bertrand a self styled amateur artist Events and emotions move apace until Dixon has developed his own relationship with Bertrand’s girlfriend Christine Bertrand becomes progressively infuriated at this unwanted development and at one point snarls into Dixon’s face “Just get this straight in your so called mind When I see something I want I go for it I don’t allow people of your sort to stand in my way That’s what you’re leaving out of account I’m having Christine because it’s my right Do you understand that? If I’m after something I don’t care what I do to make sure that I get it” Oh my goodness a member of the wealthy privileged class portrayed as a viscous condescending power hungry scum Lastly what would a novel by Kingsley Amis be without young ladies? Lucky Jim features two such ladies Margaret and the above mentioned Christine Margaret teaches history at the college is rather plain and uses emotional blackmail to tighten her grip on menfolk Christine is both attractive and connected to an uncle in high places To find out just how far Margaret will go with her blackmail and how lucky Jim Dixon will be with Christine and her uncle you will have to read this comic jewel for yourselfKingsley Amis in 1954 age 32 year of publication of Lucky JimJim upon waking up with a hangover Would anyone doubt Kingsley Amis mined his own first hand experience? Dixon was alive again Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way not for him the slow gracious wandering from the halls of sleep but a summary forcible ejection He lay sprawled too wicked to move spewed up like a broken spider crab on the tarry shingle of morning The light did him harm but not as much as looking at things did he resolved having done it once never to move his eyeballs again A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night and then as its mausoleum During the night too he'd somehow been on a cross country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police He felt bad”