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Laughing in the 50s: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

First book published by Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim is regarded as one of the best comic books of all times. Well, times have changed, but this incredibly witty book, published in 1954, has still got it.

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The first book published by Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim is regarded as one of the best comic books of all times.
Well, times have changed, but this incredibly witty book, published in 1954, has still got it.

James “Jim” Dixon is a lecturer at a provincial English university, trapped between an unbearable boss (Professor Welch) and a relationship with an emotionally unstable co-worker, Margaret. Concerned about his position at the university, Jim can’t stand the hypocrisy behind the academic institution. His conflict, inner and private at first, later escalates from passive-aggressive pranks to a public dimension. 

Dixon’s character is unlikeable not only to other characters in the novel but also to many readers, just as Ignatius J. Reilly in A confederacy of Dunces is. The comparison stops here, since they are two completely different people, but to readers who don’t understand them, they are basically the same. Truth is, it takes a witty person to understand a witty book, in which much is implied and understated. Not to mention how scandalous this book must have been in the Fifties, when habits were changing fast, after WWII. People like Dixon, making their way up from the middle-lower class, were also the expression of a new attitude and behaviour colliding with societal rules.

He looks at life with an irreverent eye, and this is how he comments on the topic of his lecture, the Middle Ages:

The hydrogen bomb, the South African Government, Chiang Kai-Shek, Senator McCarthy himself, would then seem a light price to pay for no longer being in the Middle Ages”.

 

 Ian Charmichael as James Dixon in the 1957 film version of the novel, Lucky Jim - © 1957 Charter Film

Ian Charmichael as James Dixon
in the 1957 film version of the novel, Lucky Jim – © 1957 Charter Film

 

The rhythm of narration is old-fashioned, even slow in comparison with the comedic books we are used to nowadays. One has to adjust to it.
The narrator’s voice is focalized on Dixon, and, in fact, the comedy originates from his thoughts and considerations:

It was one of those days when he felt quite convinced of his impending expulsion from academic life. What would he do afterwards? Teach in school? Oh dear no. Go to London and get a job in an office. What job? Whose office?
Shut up”.

 

 


Lucky Jim book - UberAuraAuthor: Kingsley Amis
ISBN: 9780141182599
Year: 1954
Pages:
272

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