le 8 septembre 2013
In the course of looking over the campus novels I have recently re-read Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. This is an early example of that genre, having been published in 1954 shortly after CP Snow's The Masters. However, its light-heartedness separates it from Snow's work and mark it as a forerunner of the more humorous and irreverent campus novels of the late 1950s to the 1970s such as Malcolm Bradbury's Eating People is Wrong and The History Man and David Lodge's Changing Places, as well as Mary Smetley's recent novel Lorenzostein: A Bizarre Tale of the Depravity of a Young Academic.
Jim Dixon, the protagonist, is a young lecturer in history in an unspecified English university in the Midlands in the early 1950s. Dixon is a relaxed sort who being put off by the cant and pretensions of his academic colleagues tends to mimic and deprecate them to himself. Much of the humour and the most endearing parts of the novel revolve around this aspect of Dixon's response to his academic setting.
Fearing that his contract will not be renewed, Dixon bows to pressure from his pompous departmental chair, Professor Welch, and agrees to give the end-of-the-term lecture on the topic "Merrie England." Unfortunately, he becomes drunk at the reception and inadvertently mimics the voice of Professor Welch, mocks him, and then passes out. He loses his job, but later wins the heart of the fair lass he has been pursuing, which is a minor plot element in the greater farce of Dixon's attitudes and behaviour. The other equally enduring episode in the novel is when Dixon becomes drunk at a party at Professor Welch's house, falls asleep while smoking, and burns his host's bedclothes.
In re-reading Lucky Jim I found the story line to be rather thin. However, the redeeming aspect of this novel is the portrayal of Jim Dixon as the straightforward and irreverent academic who is repulsed by the cant and pretension of his stuffy academic environment, and who cannot get himself to fit in no matter how hard he tries. His concealed hostility to it all and his bungling attempts to do what he thinks is required of him provide most of the humour. With this re-reading I was struck with how the character of the protagonist, Jim Dixon, resonated with that of Lorenzostein, the protagonist in Mary Smetley's recent novel of that name. It was interesting to see how a more contemporary treatment of the theme of not fitting into academia and of rebellion against cant and pretension was worked out.