First US edition
|Cover artist||Edward Gorey|
Victor Gollancz (UK)
Lucky Jim is a novel by Kingsley Amis, first published in 1954 by Victor Gollancz. It was Amis's first novel and won the 1955 Somerset Maugham Award for fiction. The novel follows the exploits of the eponymous James (Jim) Dixon, a reluctant lecturer at an unnamed provincial English university.
It is supposed that Amis arrived at Dixon's surname from 12 Dixon Drive, Leicester, the address of Philip Larkin from 1948 to 1950, while he was a librarian at the university there. Lucky Jim is dedicated to Larkin, who helped to inspire the main character and contributed significantly to the structure of the novel.
Jim Dixon is a lecturer in medieval history at a red brick university in the English Midlands. He has made an unsure start and, towards the end of the academic year, is concerned about losing his probationary position in the department. In his attempt to be awarded a permanent post he tries to maintain a good relationship with his absent-minded head of department, Professor Welch. To establish his credentials he must also ensure the publication of his first scholarly article, but he eventually discovers that the editor to whom he submitted it has translated it into Italian and passed it off as his own.
Dixon struggles with an on-again off-again "girlfriend", Margaret Peel, a fellow lecturer who is recovering from a failed suicide attempt in the wake of a broken relationship with another man. Margaret employs emotional blackmail to appeal to Dixon's sense of duty and pity while keeping him in an ambiguous and sexless limbo. While she is staying with Professor Welch, he holds a musical weekend that seems to offer an opportunity for Dixon to advance his standing among his colleagues. The attempt goes wrong, however, and the drunken Dixon drops a lighted cigarette on the bed, burning a hole in the sheets.
During the same weekend Dixon meets Christine Callaghan, a young Londoner and the latest girlfriend of Professor Welch's son, Bertrand, an amateur painter whose affectedness particularly infuriates Dixon. After a bad start Dixon realises that he is attracted to Christine, who is far less pretentious than she initially appears.
Dixon's growing closeness to Christine upsets Bertrand, who is using her to reach her well-connected Scottish uncle and get a job from him. Then Dixon rescues Christine from the university's annual dance after Bertrand treats her offhandedly, and takes her home in a taxi. The pair kiss and make a date for later, but Christine admits that she feels guilty about seeing Dixon behind Bertrand's back and about Dixon's supposed relationship with Margaret. The two decide not to see each other again, but when Bertrand calls on Dixon to "warn him off the grass" he cannot resist the temptation to quarrel with Bertrand, until they fight.
The novel reaches its climax during Dixon's public lecture on "Merrie England". Having attempted to calm his nerves by drinking too much, he caps his uncertain performance by denouncing the university culture of arty pretentiousness and passes out. Welch lets Dixon know privately that his employment will not be extended, but Christine's uncle offers Dixon the coveted job of assisting him in London. Later Dixon meets Margaret's ex-boyfriend, who reveals that he had not been her fiancé, as she had claimed. Comparing notes, the two realise that the suicide attempt was faked as a piece of neurotic emotional blackmail.
Feeling free of Margaret at last, Dixon responds to Christine's phoned request to see her off as she leaves for London. There he learns from her that she is leaving Bertrand after being told that he was having an affair with the wife of one of Dixon's former colleagues. They decide to leave for London together, and then walk off arm in arm, outraging the Welches as they pass on the street.
Film and television adaptations
In the 1957 British movie version directed by John Boulting, Jim Dixon was played by Ian Carmichael. In the made-for-TV remake of 2003 directed by Robin Shepperd, the role was taken by Stephen Tompkinson.
- Letters to Monica, p. 447 Faber 2010
- Rossen, Janice. 1998. "Philip Larkin and Lucky Jim". Journal of Modern Literature 22 (1). Indiana University Press: 147–64.
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- "The Further Adventures of Lucky Jim". imdb.com. BBC. Retrieved 15 November 2017.