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Lucky Jim | Study Guide

Kingsley Amis

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Lucky Jim | Chapter 17 | Summary



It is the next morning, and, over his breakfast, Dixon thinks about how he really must finish his "Merrie England" talk. At this point he has written 11 1/2 minutes of an hour-long lecture. Even with "another minute for water-drinking, coughing, and page-turning," he is still in a dreadful state. With a flash of insight, he decides he will spend 20 minutes on medieval music—never mind his seething hatred of madrigals and recorders.

Atkinson and Beesley also come down to the breakfast room. It turns out they are all eagerly awaiting the post and Dixon's prank letter to Johns. When Johns enters, sits down to eat, and reads his letter, the other three watch like delighted schoolboys. They tease him until he finally responds to Dixon, "Two can play at that game. You'll see."

The weather is fine, and Beesley and Dixon stroll up to the college together. While walking, they discuss grade inflation; because the provincial universities have so many students on Education Authority grants, there is no good way to fail people who don't deserve to pass. The system is rigged. Dixon longs to live and work in London, but it is such a fantasy he tells himself to "shut up" before expressing his desire to his friend.

In the Common Room, Beesley finds a notice in a journal and shows it to Dixon: Dr. L.S. Caton has just received an appointment as "Chair of History of Commerce, University of Tucumán, Argentina." Caton is the editor who accepted Dixon's shipbuilding article, so this is a worrisome development. Having his article published is Dixon's sole academic accomplishment. If Caton is no longer editor, does this mean Dixon's article will never see the light of day? Outside the library, Dixon runs into Professor Welch, who "recognize[s] him almost at once." He asks Dixon to take on a rather large research task, and Dixon has to assent as usual. His future lies in the professor's shaky hands.


This chapter is mostly business with more details about the wretched academic reality of Dixon's life and the university system in general. (Again, this predicament happens today. Adjuncts don't know if they'll be rehired from year to year; professors inflate student grades to reduce complaints and boost their own employability. It's a mess.) There is also the matter of Dixon's torment of Johns: "Two can play at that game. You'll see."

The discussion of Education Authority grants is a rare political moment in Lucky Jim. Beesley and Dixon's opinion of the students who cannot fail seems to foretell Amis's later conservatism. Either the Academy should be open to all, or it shouldn't. What does Dixon really think? The reader never knows, and the subject never comes up again.

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