"Kingsley Amis" by Lucky Jim

Sin duda una de las novelas más divertidas de la literatura en inglés del siglo pasado, las tribulaciones de un profesor de universidad le sirven a Amis para realizar una sátira de la sociedad británica al completo.

Toby Saul

Bandera UK
Sarah Davison

Speaker (UK accent)

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When Lucky Jim was published, Britain was in a tricky situation. The Second World War had been won, but the country was declining as a world power. The empire – or what was left of it – was disintegrating and it was obvious that whatever happened in the escalating Cold War, it would be the United States, not the United Kingdom, that made the important decisions. 

change will come

Culturally, England was still years away from the momentous changes of the sixties, but perhaps there was something in the air, an intimation of loosening social customs that would characterise the following decade. Into this society of simultaneous decay and rebirth comes Jim Dixon, a man too young to have fought in the war, but who will be a little too old to enjoy the libertinism of the sexual revolution.

Amis

drink away frustration

Dixon has managed to get a job as a lecturer in medieval history at a university; the only problems being that the university is third-rate and Dixon is almost as bored by the subject as his students. He has a girlfriend of sorts, Margaret, but she is eccentric, occasionally suicidal and uninterested in having sex with him. To cope with his frustration and combat his irritation with life, Dixon turns to a very traditional habit: alcohol. His efforts to get enough of it, to pay for it and find congenial surroundings in which to drink it, form the central struggle of his existence. Unfortunately, there are times when he is successful.

“The local pubs, unlike the city pubs […] stayed open till ten-thirty in the summer […] His gratitude had been inexpressible in words; only further calls at the bar could repay the happy debt. As a result he'd spent more than he could afford and drunk more than he ought, and yet he felt nothing but satisfaction and peace.”

“Los pubs locales, al contrario que los bares de la ciudad […] abrían hasta las diez y media en verano […] Su gratitud no podía expresarse con palabras. De hecho, llegó enseguida a la conclusión de que solo podía saldar tan gozosa deuda pidiendo más cerveza. Así que acabó pasando allí más tiempo de la cuenta y emborrachándose más de lo debido, embargado de un sentimiento de satisfaccción y paz”. 

a sadistic weekend 

One of the most painful collisions between Dixon’s ambitions – both amorous and in his career – and his taste for booze  comes at a weekend of musical recitals in the country house of a fellow Professor Welch. If a sadist had wanted to invent a torture specifically designed to extract the maximum amount of boredom and discomfort from Jim Dixon, he could not have done better than a weekend of musical recitals at the country house of the ghastly colleague. But Dixon’s job depends on attending. Yet the plan doesn’t work out. His alcohol intake ensures a weekend of, among other things, acute personal embarrassment. Kingsley Amis had many talents as a novelist, and one of them receives an exemplary outing here: the description of a hangover

“Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again.”

“Dixon había vuelto a la vida. Sin embargo, no abandonó los dominios del sueño tras un lento y grácil vagar sino tras una expulsión brusca y breve, recobrando la conciencia de modo repentino, casi sin darse cuenta. Se encontró a sí mismo despatarrado sobre la cama, demasiado cansado para realizar ningún movimiento, como un centollo muerto arrastrado por las olas sobre los guijarros alquitranados de la mañana. La luz le importunaba, pero no tanto como para impedir fijar la mirada en los objetos que le rodeaban. Después de varios intentos, decidió no volver a mover los ojos nunca más”. 

a beautiful sight 

Dixon has to endure much that is unpleasant during his weekend in the country, nothing more so than making the acquaintance of Professor Welch’s son, Bertrand. Bertrand is an artist of questionable talent, but bottomless self-regard. He does, however, have a girlfriend. Her name is Christine and while she is far too beautiful for Dixon, he feels that he must be better for her than the odious Bertrand. Dixon’s first sight of Christine, at a party, makes quite an impression:  

“Her manner to him so far that evening had been not even cold; it had been simply non-existent, had made him feel that, contrary to the evidence of his senses, he wasn’t really there at all. But, worse than this, she was looking her best this evening […] Dixon caught her eye, and although it held nothing for him, he wanted to cast himself down behind the protective wall of skirts and trousers, or, better, pull the collar of his dinner-jacket over his head and run out into the street.”

“La joven no se había mostrado fría con él durante la velada; en realidad, no se había mostrado de ninguna manera. Era como si, en contra de lo que evidenciaban sus sentidos, él no existiera. Pero la encontró más guapa que nunca; y eso fue lo peor […] Dixon la miró a los ojos y, aunque estos no parecían esconder ningún mensaje dirigido a él, quiso agacharse y camuflarse entre la coraza protectora de las faldas y los pantalones de los bailarines o, mejor aún, cubrirse la cara con el cuello de su americana y salir trotando a la calle”.

a love story 

The book continues through many more drink-sodden adventures, to chart the unlikely pursuit of Christine by Dixon. For all the satire on post-war England, the cast of grotesque characters and the rivers of booze, it turns out that Dixon’s story is a love story. What makes Lucky Jim such a great British novel is that through some of the sharpest comedy in the English language, Jim Dixon, of all people, emerges as a romantic hero.   

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