Take a Girl Like You
|Take a Girl Like You|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
Take a Girl Like You is a comic novel by Kingsley Amis. Set in the 1950s, it follows the progress of twenty-year-old Jenny Bunn, as she moves from her family home in the North of England to a London suburb to teach primary school children. Jenny is a traditional Northern working-class girl whose striking good looks are in sharp contrast to her prosaic upbringing, and to her strong belief that a girl should preserve her virginity until her wedding night. Because of her attractiveness, Jenny's views on virginity and marriage cause conflicts. The novel centres on the (increasingly desperate and cruel) attempts of Patrick Standish, a 30-year old schoolmaster at the local grammar school, to seduce Jenny, against a backdrop of his skirmishes with his school authorities and with the shabby, suburban middle class milieu in which the novel is set.
Take a Girl Like You was Kingsley Amis's fourth novel. Published in 1960, it is set in the recent past of the 1950s. The 'ingredients' of the novel are similar to those in Amis's previous three works, yet this novel displays a shift in focus and pattern, and a development of themes. There is an anti-hero—Patrick Standish—who, like the eponymous hero of Lucky Jim, is at odds with academic authority. In this novel, however, these difficulties and differences form the backdrop. The main story focuses on Patrick's increasingly morally dubious efforts to seduce Jenny. Much of the novel's comic element stems from Amis' presentation of naive Jenny's observations of the strange, southern petit-bourgeois world she has entered.
The novel opens with Jenny Bunn's arrival at her lodging-house. She's a young, strikingly beautiful, provincial Northern woman who has moved to a London suburb to take her first teaching job. Jenny has rented a room in the home of a middle-aged couple, Dick and Martha Thompson. Dick Thompson is apparently some sort of an auctioneer and his wife Martha Thompson is bored, cynical, and openly suspicious of attractive young Jenny. The Thompsons' other lodger, Anna, is apparently French.
Jenny soon meets Patrick Standish, an acquaintance of the Thompsons, who is immediately attracted to her. Patrick takes Jenny on a date to what seems to her to be a fashionable, upmarket Italian restaurant, but which Amis makes clear is a classless suburban pseudo-Italianate place. Impressed, Jenny lets Patrick take her back to the house he shares with Graham, an unattractive Scottish schoolmaster. Heavy petting ensues and Patrick assumes that Jenny will sleep with him, but instead she rebuffs him and explains that she intends to remain a virgin until she is married. The rest of the novel concerns itself with Patrick's attempts to seduce Jenny (and his first efforts at sexual fidelity), and with Jenny's attempts to fend off his attentions and those of many others who are attracted to her. Eventually, Patrick gives Jenny an ultimatum: either she goes to bed with him or the relationship is over. Jenny finds herself unable to comply and they part. However, at a party given by the flashy and dubious Julian Ormerod (occupation unclear), Patrick takes advantage of an inebriated and defenceless Jenny in a guest bedroom. When she realises what has happened, Jenny is furious and tells Patrick she never wants to see him again; later the same day she decides to accept what she believes is her "destiny" and they reunite.
Amis's style, in common with that of other mid-twentieth century writers, but in contrast to that of writers like James, Woolf and Joyce, has been described as "neo-realist". Rabinovitz writes of these neo-realist writers that:
"Their styles are plain, their time-sequences are chronological, and they make no use of myth, symbol or stream-of-consciousness inner narratives."
To bring the world of the novel as close as possible to the physical world of the reader, Amis takes great care to describe in great detail, in what appear to be a series of entirely incidental details, physical details: the minutia of the lodging house, for example, are meticulously (and humorously) described 
"[The kitchen] door had another little brass knocker on it, this time representing a religious-looking person on a donkey. The room was a long narrow one that ended with a further door and a large, oblong, buff-coloured stove. A medium-sized woman with reddish hair and a purple dress was doing something to the stove but stopped when they came in."
The plot of Take a Girl Like You also follows traditional realistic conventions and has been compared to the plot of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, published in 1748. Like Jenny Bunn, Richardson's Clarissa is young, beautiful and virtuous, and attempts to defend her virginity whilst providing an opportunity for the next assault.
It was made into a film in 1970, directed by Jonathan Miller from an adaptation by George Melly. It starred Hayley Mills, Oliver Reed, Sheila Hancock, Ronald Lacey, John Bird, Noel Harrison, Aimi MacDonald and Penelope Keith. A three part television series adapted by Andrew Davies was made in 2000.
- Rubin Rabinovitz The Reaction Against Experimentation in the English Novel, 1950– 1960, p. 9.
- Rubin Rabinovitz The Reaction Against Experimentation in the English Novel, 1950– 1960, pp. 43–4
- Farce and Society: The Range of Kingsley Amis, R. B. Parker, Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Autumn, 1961), pp. 27–38