Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Lucky Jim (copy)

I booked a trip across the pond this week during arm-chair travel. A delightful three days were spent in early 1950’s Leicester, England, at a university one mile south of London. My tour guide for the event was none other than James Dixon, the bumbling hero of Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.

In this neo-classic, Dixon is a WWII veteran who lucks into a career as Instructor of History at an unnamed university south of London. He is profusely unqualified to teach and hopes others will not notice. It is bad when students use words he recognizes, but remains unaware of definitions. For instance, the word scholasticism, he thinks it might be a good idea to “look up” since he drops it into many conversations with students and faculty alike.

One of the things he is expected to accomplish in his first year is a published article. His, The Economic Effect of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485 is a complete bore and editors revel in writing his rejection letters.

Since, this avenue is looking bleak he decides to run plan B where he charms Professor Welsh, head of the history department, into becoming great friends. At the beginning of the book we find Dixon, tripping over his words to please Welsh. He listens actively as Welsh orates, but internally he makes faces at the pompous wind-bag.

It is this stroll from one building to another, when Welsh ask him a favor. Would he speak on behalf of the history department at College Open Week possibly along the lines of his favorite subject Medieval History? Dixon is quick to say, “Yes, Professor.” Unfortunately, Welsh assigns the subject; something on “Merrie England” will be perfect since it is academic, but then again, not.

Dixon is at a loss. He wrote the article but now finds he has become the college’s expert on the Middle Ages. A subject he finds just as boring as his article, leads to another problem. How long can he pretend to be even remotely interested in history, too?

Lucky Jim is a comedy of errors as Dixon stumbles again-and-again socially and professionally only to come out on top in the end. Readers are left bemused as he squeaks through unbelievable situations to emerge smelling like a rose.
Note: The cover art is by Edward Gorey!