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Lucky Jim | Study Guide

Kingsley Amis

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Lucky Jim | Chapter 20 | Summary



"Merrie England" is Dixon's fate and fortune. If he succeeds in this lecture, he will probably secure his job for the following year. If not he's done for; he's made too many other missteps. As Dixon moves around his room imitating an ape, Bertrand bursts in and accuses Dixon of not staying away from Christine.

Bertrand perches on the arm of Dixon's chair and explains his life plan: "It's distinctly on the cards that I might marry Christine in a couple of years or so." He seems to think Dixon's continued meetings with Christine will only hurt her, and he expects Dixon to follow his orders and "keep off the grass." Responding with uncharacteristic strength and honesty, Dixon says Christine's relationship with him is not a distraction for her; Bertrand is the distraction.

Bertrand responds with ire and arrogance, saying, "I don't allow people of your sort to stand in my way." Finally, after Dixon calls him a "Byronic tail-chaser," they fight. To wit: Dixon puts his glasses in his pocket, Bertrand accidentally lands a punch on Dixon's cheekbone, and Dixon responds by hitting him "very hard indeed on the larger and more convoluted of his ears." A china figurine falls off the mantle, Bertrand does not get off the floor, and Michie—the unctuous student—unexpectedly enters the room. As Bertrand leaves, Michie tells Dixon he will be the only student in Dixon's "special subject" class next term and says he's very much looking forward to Dixon's "Merrie England" lecture that night. Dixon decides to head up to Atkinson's room for some whiskey.


Though Dixon has "given up his interest" in Christine, he still wants to antagonize Bertrand. What follows is a humorous fight scene, with each man accidentally landing a single punch and scrabbling on a carpet. Who will ultimately win the heart of the delightful Christine?

This fight is a British social caste revolution in miniature, pitting the lower-middle-class Dixon against the upper-middle-class Bertrand. Both men are too removed from the world of physical labor to actually fight effectively, but Bertrand is literally softer, with less skin in the game, than Dixon. Dixon wants to rise; his anger and power have motivation. When Bertrand repeatedly tells him to "keep off the grass" that is Christine, it becomes practically a freedom fight.

Let us pause, as well, on the insult "Byronic tail-chaser." Lord Byron (1788–1824) was a Romantic poet famous for his verse, his larger-than-life persona—he wore capes and walked on the moors—and his circle of bohemian, opium-imbibing friends. In other words, he was the progenitor of the "brooding artist" stereotype. Dixon's insult, therefore, carries a special weight: both he and Bertrand are sufficiently intelligent and aware to know that Bertrand's "louche lover" persona is unoriginal and a cliché of itself. Dixon probably wishes he had the kind of funding to become Byronic himself, except such behavior would be terribly embarrassing.

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