Read Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis Free Online
Book Title: Lucky Jim|
The author of the book: Kingsley Amis
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Reader ratings: 6.2
Edition: Penguin Books, Australia
Date of issue: June 28th 2010
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 826 KB
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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 Jim
British 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 more 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 power.
As 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 blunder.
Dixon 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 more 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 more rage as he rebels against the whole stage production. Very British; very funny.
Ah, 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 more 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 Jim!
The 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 novel.
However, 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 more 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 yourself.
Kingsley Amis in 1954, age 32, year of publication of Lucky Jim
Jim 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.”
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Read information about the authorSir Kingsley William Amis, CBE, was an English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. He wrote more than twenty novels, three collections of poetry, short stories, radio and television scripts, and books of social and literary criticism. He fathered the English novelist Martin Amis.
Kingsley Amis was born in Clapham, Wandsworth, Couty of London (now South London), England, the son of William Robert Amis, a mustard manufacturer's clerk. He began his education at the City of London School, and went up to St. John's College, Oxford April 1941 to read English; it was there that he met Philip Larkin, with whom he formed the most important friendship of his life. After only a year, he was called up for Army service in July 1942. After serving in the Royal Corps of Signals in the Second World War, Amis returned to Oxford in October 1945 to complete his degree. Although he worked hard and got a first in English in 1947, he had by then decided to give much of his time to writing.
Pen names: Robert Markham & William Tanner
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