C. S. Lewis
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Jim Dixon is a lecturer in medieval history and author of The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485. ‘It was a perfect title, in that it crystallised the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it…’ Jim hates his job, and the stuffy, bourgeois atmosphere of his redbrick university. He longs to be in London, but there is no prospect of escape or career advancement. In a series of disasters, he has accidentally injured the professor of English, drunkenly set fire to the bedclothes at his department head’s house, and become unhappily entangled with a neurotic colleague, Margaret. But Jim’s luck is about to turn …
First published in 1954, Lucky Jim went on to inspire many imitators, and remains one of the funniest novels of the 20th century. It explores the goldfish bowl of a provincial university and its appalling denizens: Professor Welch (‘No other professor in Great Britain, he thought, set such store by being called Professor’); the ‘bearded pacifist’ Bertrand, and Michie, the inconveniently well-informed PhD student.
With this, his first book, Kingsley Amis introduced a new tone to English prose: educated yet classless, down-to-earth and delighting in skewering meaningless phrases such as: ‘if you’ll pardon the expression’ (‘Why shouldn’t they pardon the expression? Dixon thought. Why?’). Jim’s suppressed frustration with the society around him is gloriously extreme – for example his desire ‘to tie Welch up in his chair and beat him about the head and shoulders with a bottle until he disclosed why, without being French himself, he’d given his sons French names.’ This Folio Society edition is brilliantly illustrated by A. Richard Allen and introduced by John Sutherland, who quite rightly points out that, ‘Half a century on, new readers still split their sides ... One has to think hard to come up with a novel funnier than Lucky Jim.’