Lucky Jim | Study Guide

Kingsley Amis

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Lucky Jim | Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

Dixon explains his Bertrand-inflicted black eye as a shaving accident. It is the pregame reception before the "Merrie England" lecture. Drinking another sherry, which follows "the previous three sherries and the half-dozen measures of Bill Atkinson's whiskey," Dixon "in a sense, but only in a sense" starts to worry a bit less about his lecture.

Everyone he has ever known seems to be in attendance. Amis lists the entire novel's cast of characters, from the Goldsmiths to the local composer. Julius Gore-Urquhart is there as well as a guest of the Welch family; Bertrand is still hoping to become his secretary. Gore-Urquhart and Dixon talk about how the latter man doesn't enjoy teaching history, and this lecture was Professor Welch's idea. "I'm the boredom-detector," he informs the older man. "If only I could get hold of a millionaire ... he could send me on ahead into dinners and cocktail-parties ... and then by looking at me he'd be able to read off the boredom-coefficient of any gathering." "I recognize a fellow sufferer," Gore-Urquhart responds.

Next Dixon sees Christine and Bertrand. She is friendly; he is hostile. Luckily, Carol Goldsmith leads Bertrand away, and Christine and Dixon talk. He tells her he fought over (or for) her, and he won. She is impressed but tries to hide it. When Bertrand reappears, he tells Dixon to start looking for another job. At this worst possible moment, Margaret appears to accuse Dixon of enjoying Christine's company. Just as the lecture is about to begin, Gore-Urquhart reappears, with a flask "neat Scotch whisky." Dixon drinks.

As Dixon walks to the lectern, he sees the hall is packed. Students are in the balcony seats, and dignitaries and faculty and all of his nightmares are seated on the floor.

Analysis

The time for "Merrie England" has finally arrived. Dixon is very drunk. What could possibly go wrong? One of Amis's great writerly gifts is his ability to get all of his characters into a room together, each with their own set of grievances and tics, and then let them interact. Once Dixon begins to lecture, the reader will need to see the reaction of every single character in the room. For a writer, this is beyond a hat trick; it is the equivalent of a battle scene in a big budget action movie. The moving parts are complicated.

The lecture itself has a function in Lucky Jim. If Dixon succeeds in delivering this talk, then he may not have a choice in terms of staying at the college, continuing with Margaret, and settling into a Welch-like existence. However, if he fails at the lecture, then his world may just open up—or the ground will swallow him. One or the other.

Dixon's character, though based on that of Philip Larkin, seems to have quite a bit of Amis in him. In an article for the New York Times, the writer Charles McGrath explains, "From childhood on, Kingsley also suffered from claustrophobia and panic attacks. He never learned to drive and was afraid to fly or even to be alone at night." This notion might explain his brilliance at writing about Dixon's social anxiety and his intense need to drink himself nearly unconscious before being able to step in front of such a large group of people.

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