Larkin and Lucky Jim

In the interview I mentioned, Larkin is asked about his connection with Kingsley Amis, and in particular with Amis' early and hilarious academic spoof Lucky Jim (which I've just reread for about the fifth time). Apparently the novel is thought to be based on Larkin's experience as much as Amis', and Larkin certainly read drafts and made suggestions.

I first read this novel on my first trip to England, in the week following my first academic conference. The resemblance of some of the eccentric, bewildered and priggish caricatures in the book to some of the scholars I had just met was startling. I was about two years into my PhD at that stage, and Dixon's experiences struck forcibly home. His compound of unease and contempt was familiar, likewise his sense that real and worthwhile academic work was no doubt being carried on somewhere by someone, but certainly not by him or anyone he knew.

Throughout my varied and unglamorous academic career, I've cherished this novel and returned to it often for reassurance and private sneering. I think it has a special resonance for anyone in (or out) of academic circles, but I'm sure its comedy has a more universal appeal. I still chuckle over sentences like this:

“Dixon had been expecting a silver-bells laugh from Margaret to follow this remark, but it was still hard to bear when it came.” 

“Where was he going to find this supplementary pabulum? The only answer to this question seemed to be Yes, that's right, where?” 

The real joy of the book is in Dixon's inner monologue, and the contrast between how he acts and how he wants to act. While engaged in pleasant back-and-forth with his imbecile boss, here's what's going on in his mind:

“He pretended to himself that he'd pick up his professor round the waist, squeeze the furry grey-blue waistcoat against him to expel the breath, run heavily with him up the steps, along the corridor to the Staff Cloakroom, and plunge the too-small feet in their capless shoes into a lavatory basin, pulling the plug once, twice, and again, stuffing the mouth with toilet-paper. Thinking of this, he smiled dreamily...”