Lucky Jim | Study Guide

Kingsley Amis

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Lucky Jim | Chapter 1 | Summary



Lucky Jim begins with James Dixon, the protagonist, in conversation with Professor Ned Welch, his supervisor in the history department of a provincial British college. Professor Welch is discussing his recent concert. He played the recorder and sang, and Evan Johns performed on oboe with him. Welch does not seem to notice whether Dixon is listening to him talk.

The professor has "decisive power over [Dixon's] future," which is why Dixon is listening to his boorish conversation. While the two walk, Dixon makes the first of many "faces"—his silent responses to the unending torture of his life.

The professor mentions Dixon's fellow lecturer and friend Margaret Peel. She is recovering from a suicide attempt she made several weeks earlier; Dixon hasn't seen her since. Recalling Margaret's shaky state of mind, Dixon realizes he feels a certain responsibility for her though he doesn't want to.

Welch drives Dixon to his home, eight miles from campus, and asks him about the progress of his article, "The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485." Welch continues chattering, inviting Dixon to his house for the next weekend for "one or two little shows, little bits of music and that." Dixon agrees, wondering how he will possibly survive. His employment is contingent upon Welch's good graces. Welch also asks him to deliver the lecture for the college Open Week. His suggested topic is "Merrie England."


The majority of Lucky Jim's concerns and plot twists are set up in Chapter 1. The primary relationship between Welch and Dixon: boor and servile-yet-despising sycophant. Margaret Peel and her mental health is also a topic for which Dixon feels what comes to be his customary combination of disgust and concern. Welch invites Dixon to the musicale weekend, which will be the start of the younger man's cascade of self-imposed disaster. His continued employment in the college history department comes up with Welch, and he agrees to deliver a lecture on "Merrie England" that will become the novel's climax. Throughout the novel, any mention of "Merrie England" is both a comic trope and a millstone around Dixon's neck. There is nothing "Merrie" about this England, and in Dixon's mind—and, it might be deduced, Amis's—there never was.

This chapter also sets up Amis's complex comic tone for the novel. Dixon is horrified by nearly everything Welch says. He's also horrified by nearly everyone else he encounters; he's none too happy with his own listless efforts at success, either. Amis expresses this feeling with effusive language and almost terrible linguistic joy, as when Dixon thinks his shipbuilding article's title perfectly captures its "niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems."

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