Postwar Academic Fiction: Satire, Ethics, Community

By Kenneth Womack | Go to book overview

3
Negotiating the University Community: Lucky Jim and the Politics of Academe

“It was one of those days when he felt quite convinced of his impending expulsion from academic life. What would he do afterwards? Teach in a school? Oh dear no. Go to London and get a job in an office. What job? Whose office? Shut up.”

– Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim

In addition to its widely acknowledged place as the quintessential campus novel of the twentieth century, Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim (1954) illustrates the peculiar dilemmas endured by young scholars in their efforts to achieve selfhood and find acceptance within the larger academic community. Often characterized as an unabashedly comic novel, Lucky Jim in fact offers a moral landscape that confronts the novel's protagonist, Jim Dixon, with a variety of ethical predicaments. For this reason, a few astute critics such as John McDermott refer to Amis as a “serious comic novelist” (1). As I will demonstrate in this chapter, Amis utilizes the métier of comedy in the novel as a means for delivering his judgments regarding the problematic moral state of academic life during the remarkably fractious era in which his novel first appeared. His satiric attacks on the university community find their targets, moreover, in those privileged individuals who endeavor to maintain the academic status quo in their favor through the exploitation of junior colleagues, and, ultimately, through the threat of expulsion from the seemingly sacred groves of campus life. As Amis's novel so stridently reveals,

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