Lucky Jim | Study Guide

Kingsley Amis

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Lucky Jim | Chapter 23 | Summary

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Summary

Beesley and Dixon discuss how and why the "Merrie England" lecture went so terribly wrong. They agree: it was the drink. As they walk together to the college, Dixon anticipates the many reasons Welch will not renew his contract: the speech, Bertrand, Margaret. Sure enough, Welch has left a note in his mailbox, explaining "he would be unable to recommend Dixon's retention on the Staff."

Wondering what to do with himself, Dixon plans to write to the headmaster of his former school; he can teach history there. In the meantime, he peruses a journal on the table. It is from an Italian historical society, but he recognizes the name of the author, L.S. Caton, and the content is his article. Yes, the editor of the journal he thought would publish his work plagiarized it.

He doesn't really care anymore. Instead, he decides to torture Johns, the irritating oboist who, Dixon realizes, told the Welches about his various wrongdoings, including that he'd been seeing Christine. In retaliation, he burns insurance policies he finds on Johns's desk.

Perhaps he'll still be able to see Christine. His hometown is near hers; maybe they can see each other once a week or so, at least during vacation.

As Dixon leaves the college for what will be the last time, he remembers he's supposed to have lunch with Margaret's ex-boyfriend Catchpole. He heads back to his rooming house. Mrs. Cutler says a gentleman is calling him on the telephone, and he asks her to take a message. The caller turns out to be Julius Gore-Urquhart.

"Got the sack, have you?" he asks Dixon, going on to ask him his plans. Dixon mentions "going in for schoolteaching." Gore-Urquhart responds, shockingly, by offering him a job. "Five hundred a year. You'll have to start at once, on Monday. It'll mean living in London. You accept?"

Yes, it is the job Bertrand was so eager to get, as Gore-Urquhart's personal secretary. It seems Dixon hasn't "got the qualifications" but he also hasn't got the "disqualifications ... and that's much rarer." Dixon is overjoyed as he walks to meet Catchpole—until he remembers Bertrand might have lost the job but he still has Christine.

Analysis

The job with Gore-Urquhart is truly a bolt from the blue for Dixon. Finally, someone recognizes he is good for something: calling out the insincerity and hypocrisy of others. The 1960s are on their way, and Kingsley Amis, of all people, has predicted the freedoms massing in the wings. Hypocrisy, phoniness, the vision and ethos of "Merrie England" will finally be in the past. Dixon doesn't have to return home, the failed prodigal son. He will go to London, the Promised Land.

In an essay called "Laughter's to Be Taken Seriously" for the New York Times Book Review in 1957, Amis referred to satire as "fiction that attacks vice and folly as manifested in the individual," and said "the social climb and the economic rat-race" are ripe for such takedowns. This is a wake-up call, as Amis practically begs serious readers to take humorous fiction as literature. Lucky Jim means something more than its hero would want to admit. In a false and facile world, laughter—whether via drunken pratfall or recorder-inspired pranking—is a life force, a necessity.

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