First US edition
|Cover artist||Edward Gorey|
Victor Gollancz (UK)
Lucky Jim is a novel by Kingsley Amis, published in 1954 by Victor Gollancz. It was Amis' 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 inspire the main character and who contributed significantly to the structure of the novel.
Jim Dixon is a medieval history lecturer 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 tenure, he tries to maintain a good relationship with his absent-minded head of department, Professor Welch. He must also, to establish his credentials, ensure the publication of his first scholarly article but eventually discovers that the editor to whom he submitted it has translated the article 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 be an opportunity for Dixon to advance his standing amongst his colleagues. The attempt goes wrong, however, and the drunken Dixon drops a lighted cigarette on the bed, burning a hole in the sheets. Also during the 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 he is attracted to Christine, who is far less pretentious than she initially appeared.
Dixon's growing closeness to Christine upsets Bertrand, who is using her to reach her well-connected Scottish uncle and gain a job with him. Then Dixon rescues Christine from the university's annual dance after Bertrand treats her offhandedly, taking her home in a taxi. The pair kiss and make a date for later, but during it Christine admits that she feels guilty about seeing Dixon behind Bertrand's back and because of 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 finally passes out. Welch lets Dixon know privately that his employment will not be extended, but also as a result Christine's uncle offers Dixon the coveted job of his assistant 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 but not before passing the Welches on the street and leaving them outraged as the two walk off arm in arm.
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.