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Kingsley Amis: Lucky Jim

Muriel Spark has said that she considers Kingsley Amis the most over-rated author (she’s wrong – it’s Ayn Rand) and said of Lucky Jim that it presented a lowering influence on our way of humourous thinking. The wit and throwaway irony that appears in even the most serious British literature suffers badly from the haw-haw approach to the petty misfortunes and pretensions of the world. Of course poor old Muriel does not have much of a sense of humour. Malcolm Bradbury, on the other hand, said that it is a remarkably funny book. Bradbury, though, recognised that its innovation lay not in its form but its spirit, tone and voice.

Lucky Jim is Jim Dixon, a history lecturer in a provincial university who, frankly, does not fit with the intellectual atmosphere of the history department. Jim, like Amis, is proudly anti-intellectual and is clearly in the wrong job (something he successfully rectifies by the end of the novel). He despises history, classical music, literary soirées and everything else that goes with academia. Indeed, he is really still a student, as sex, booze and wild parties are more in his line. As we see everything from Jim’s point of view, we of course identify with his anti-intellectualism and scorn the academic pretensions of his colleagues and superiors. He tries, in vain, to fit in with them but he cannot do so. His downfall is his lecture on Merrie England which, he concludes, is about the most un-Merrie period in our history. Unfortunately, just as he is saying these lines, he collapses, drunk. But, of course, he goes off to win the girl and the better job.

It was made into a not very good film and, then, amazingly, remade into another not very good film.

Publishing history

First published 1953 by Victor Gollancz