Lucky Jim | Study Guide

Kingsley Amis

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Lucky Jim | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Everyone is at the Welches' house for the arty weekend. Mrs. Welch appears and is even more boorish and priggish than her husband. The company is singing madrigals, and Dixon has not been able to tell his hosts he cannot read music. His history department colleague Cecil Goldsmith has been drowning out Dixon's uncertain vocal efforts.

Dixon looks at Margaret and almost wishes he loved her. Johns is hoping Dixon's lack of musical ability will embarrass him utterly. Just in time to save him from a solo, the "pacifist painting Bertrand" appears. Dixon hates him on sight. "Bertrand's girl" makes her entrance. Dixon does not yet know who she is, but he feels an immediate attraction to her as she is blonde and simply dressed with a small waist and an air of not trying too hard.

There is a mix-up regarding the girl's identity. Bertrand's previous girlfriend was a ballet student, and Dixon assumes this woman is she. However, that girlfriend is now thrown over for this one. Everyone is very embarrassed and attempts to make the mix-up reflect badly on Dixon rather than on Bertrand, who may be a womanizer and impolite in not introducing her to the entire party upon their entrance. The girl finally introduces herself as Christine Callaghan.

Margaret notices everything: Dixon's lousy madrigal performance, his social gaffe, and his attention to Christine. When Dixon dissembles about Christine's attractiveness, Margaret laughs her phony "silver bells" laugh, and Dixon knows he needs to be careful of Margaret's feelings.

Meanwhile, Dixon and Margaret determine Christine is there possibly because her uncle, Julius Gore-Urquhart, a "rich devotee of the arts," has a summer home nearby, and Bertrand Welch would like an appointment as his secretary. When Dixon discovers the party doesn't have any alcohol on offer, he sneaks off to the pub.

Analysis

Amis's humor is at its most deliciously wicked here, like English author P.G. Wodehouse gone rude. "A soporific droning filled the air" during the singing, and Dixon has "a bad setback ... in some Brahms rubbish." Dixon is embarrassed in his current environment but not ashamed at his lack of skill at the recorder and madrigal singing. This is a crucial emotional difference. Embarrassment is a fundamental element of the British character and humor. As writer Kate Fox explains in her book Watching the English (2014), "Most British comedy is essentially about embarrassment." Shame, however, is a different beast. Why should Dixon feel ashamed he cannot do something that is fundamentally embarrassing? Instead, he feels proud. Only idiots such as Welch and Johns would actually enjoy playing a tootling little medieval pipe.

As biting as Amis's social commentary may be, his views on the sexes are more complex. Dixon sees Bertrand's girlfriend, Christine, as "an irresistible attack" on his own "habits, standards, and ambitions." Women like Christine "were never on view except as the property of men like Bertrand," while "the huge class that contained Margaret was destined to provide [Dixon's] own womenfolk."

Christine's need to introduce herself is beyond the British norms. That Bertrand's rudeness is taken for granted by his parents indicates he is both spoiled and considers himself "above" Dixon and the other provincials at the house party.

This chapter also contains a rare discourse on social inequalities. Dixon and Bertrand are discussing the government's spending policy. When Bertrand opposes the "soak the rich" approach, Dixon responds with vague socialism. He says, "If one man's got ten buns and another's got two," and someone needs to give up a bun, "then surely you take it from the man with ten buns."

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