Lucky Jim Summary

Kingsley Amis

Lucky Jim

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Lucky Jim Summary

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Lucky Jim is a 1954 work of comedic fiction by Kingsley Amis. It chronicles various exploits by the eponymous protagonist, James (“Jim”) Dixon, a disillusioned lecturer in medieval history at an unnamed lesser-known university in the English Midlands. When Dixon feels that his position at the university is threatened, he strives to assert his value, stumbling comedically through different social blunders. The novel was listed in the publication TIME 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005, and has been critically lauded for being one of the funniest books ever published in the English language.

The novel begins at the end of an academic year at Dixon’s red brick university in England. He has just recently been hired, and due to a number of perceived social missteps, he fears that the end of the year might be the end of his probationary position in the history department. Dixon wants to keep up a good relationship and image with his colleagues and receive a permanent post. He resolves to strike up a friendship with his oblivious head of the history department, Professor Welch. In order to do so, he first must secure the successful publication of his first academic article. Upon investigating its status, he learns that the editor who was supposed to review it had translated it into Italian and published it under his own authorship.

At the same time, Dixon has issues with a woman named Margaret Peel, with whom he has had a tumultuous relationship. Margaret is another lecturer at the university who is in recovery from a failed attempt to commit suicide after leaving a difficult relationship with another man. Margaret emotionally manipulates Dixon, blackmailing him by exploiting his pity for her and his sense of responsibility, keeping him confused about their status and sexually unfulfilled. When she goes to live at Professor Welch’s house, Dixon puts on a musical weekend in order to create an opportunity to impress his colleagues and raise his status. The plot is unsuccessful, ending when a drunk Dixon accidentally sets a bed on fire by dropping a lighted cigarette on the sheets.

That same weekend, Dixon meets another woman named Christine Callaghan. She is young, hails from London, and is the most recent girlfriend of Bertrand, Professor Welch’s son. Dixon despises Bertrand for his incorrigible pretentiousness. After some initial awkwardness that almost derails his attempt to make friends with Christine, Dixon realizes that she is much less pretentious than he initially assumed, and becomes attracted to her.

Dixon grows closer to Christine over the coming days. This irritates Bertrand, who is trying to use her to get a job recommendation from her well-respected Scottish uncle. On the night of the university’s yearly dance, Dixon extricates Christine from a situation where Bertrand is bothering her, and goes home with her in a taxi. They kiss and plan a date for another time, though Christine confides that she feels guilty for seeing Dixon without Bertrand’s knowledge. She also admits that she feels uneasy about Dixon’s ongoing relationship with Margaret. They decide not to pursue a relationship with each other. Bertrand then incites Dixon’s rage with some snide comments, and they brawl in the yard.

The plot reaches a climax during a hilarious public lecture that Dixon delivers on the subject of “Merrie England.” He tries to calm himself down by drinking a lot beforehand, and tops off a circuitous and histrionic performance with a lecture about the university’s culture of pretentiousness, after which he passes out in the lecture hall. Welch privately meets with Dixon and informs him that his job will not be extended. However, Christine’s uncle offers Dixon a highly respected job of working as his assistant in London. Dixon then meets Margaret’s ex-boyfriend who tells him that they were never engaged as she said. They compare their narratives and realize that Margaret faked her suicide attempt to elicit pity from her peers.

At the end of the novel, Dixon feels finally free of Margaret, and goes to say farewell to Christine upon her request as she departs for London. She tells him that she is leaving Bertrand after learning that he is having a long affair with the wife of one of Dixon’s former university colleagues. They decide to travel together to London, and enrage the Welches, passing by them on the road.