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1st US edition cover
published by Doubleday[1]
Jacket illustration by Edward Gorey

Lucky Jim is an academic satire written by Kingsley Amis, first published in 1954 by Victor Gollancz. It was Amis's first published novel, and won the Somerset Maugham Award for fiction. Set sometime around 1950, Lucky Jim follows the exploits of the eponymous James (Jim) Dixon, a reluctant Medieval history lecturer at an unnamed provincial English university (inspired in part by the University of Leicester). The novel uses a precise and seemingly plain-spoken narrative voice.

Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[2]



Jim Dixon is not particularly dedicated to his job as a Medieval history lecturer at a provincial university in the North of England. Having made a bad first impression in the history department, he is concerned about being fired at the end of his first year, and seeks to hold his position by maintaining good relations with his superior, the tedious Professor Welch - an often absent-minded and unbearably pompous dilettante. He also attempts, without success, to get an article he has written on the economic ramifications of medieval shipbuilding methods published in an obscure academic journal, in order to enhance his meager professional standing.

Dixon is largely without the tact and prudence expected in provincial bourgeois society - character traits displayed by his difficulty in accepting the pretensions of Welch and others. Dixon has contempt for just about everyone around him, including his unbearable on-again off-again "girlfriend" Margaret Peel (a fellow, but senior, lecturer), who is recovering from a botched suicide attempt, having apparently swallowed a potentially lethal dose of sleeping pills. Via a mixture of emotional blackmail and appeal to Dixon's sense of duty and pity, she manages to keep Dixon in a rather ambiguous and sexless relationship he would rather not be in. Welch's "arty" endeavors present several opportunities for Dixon to advance his standing amongst his colleagues and superiors, but these go horribly astray. Along the way Dixon meets the good-looking Christine Callaghan, a young Londoner who is dating Professor Welch's son Bertrand - an amateur painter whose pomposity particularly infuriates Dixon - and after a bad start, comes to find out she has just as little patience for the world of artists and connoisseurs. Although Christine and Dixon do not hit it off particularly well at first, the two begin to be attracted to each other; this becomes an undercurrent for Dixon's further contempt toward Bertrand. Bertrand, a social climber, is using his connection with Christine to reach her wealthy and well-connected Scottish uncle, who is reportedly seeking an assistant in London.

The novel reaches its climax in Dixon's lecture on "Merrie England," which goes horribly wrong as Dixon, attempting to calm his nerves with a little too much alcohol, uncontrollably begins to mock Welch and everything else that he hates; he finally goes into convulsions and passes out. Welch, of course, fires Dixon.

However, Christine's uncle, who reveals a tacit respect for Dixon's individuality and attitude towards pretension, offers Dixon the coveted assistant job in London that pays much better than his lecturing position. Dixon finally has the last laugh, as Christine finds out Bertrand was also pursuing an affair with the wife of one of Dixon's former colleagues; she decides to pursue her relationship with Dixon. At the end of the book, Dixon and Christine bump into the Welches on the street; Jim cannot help walking right up to them, with Christine on his arm, and exploding in laughter at how ridiculous they truly are.

Film adaptations

Christine (Sharon Acker) and Jim (Ian Carmichael) in a cab, in the 1957 movie adaptation.

In the 1957 British movie version directed by John Boulting, Jim Dixon was played by Ian Carmichael. In the made-for-TV remake of 2003 directed by Robin Shepperd, the role was taken over by Stephen Tompkinson.


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