Sunday, July 2, 2023

unlucky Jim

This will only be funny if you've read Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, but I thought it plenty amusing. It's from a novel called The Runes Have Been Cast by Robert Irwin, which I was reading for my "Inklings in fiction" bibliography: Tolkien makes a cameo appearance, and other Inklings are mentioned.

Anyway, this is a conversation between an English and a History don - shouldn't be hard to figure which is which - at a provincial university in the UK, circa 1962.
Quentin pointed to a novel that was in Jaimie's other hand. It was called Lucky Jim and it was by a man called Kingsley Amis.
'What did you make of it?' asked Quentin. 'I read it a few weeks ago and I was quite shocked by it.'
'I am only halfway through it and so far I haven't been shocked by anything in it. What is so shocking?'
'No, I suppose not shocking, just terribly sad and the title so misleading. It is called Lucky Jim but perhaps that is intended to be ironic, for the Jim character had started work on what might well have been a brilliant thesis. Let me see ...' He started riffling the pages. 'Yes, here it is, The Economic Influence of the Development of Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485. Most promising, and surely a brilliant academic career awaited this Jim, but then the young fool throws it all up. I can see that there are jokes in the book, but the underlying story is really quite tragic. A most promising future thrown over for a woman. It is, like so many novels, something written by a smart Alec who has no respect for academic goals or civilised values.'
Jaimie was looking at Quentin with incredulity. It was as if he had blundered into a conversation with a Martian. But Quentin did not notice and continued, 'The late fifteenth century was an exciting time for shipbuilders. More contacts were developing between mediterranean and northern designers and carpenters. Also open sea navigation was becoming more normal. Maritime trade had expanded considerably and with it the tonnage of the ships, but at the same time shortage of labour enforced certain constraints on the dockyards. By the end of the fifteenth century the rig of a ship proclaimed that its master craftsmen no longer owed anything to the Middle Ages. Jim's chosen period is the age of the gun-carrying ship, a presage of modernity. It is a thrilling subject and this Jim throws it all away for some pints of beer and a few fucks. By the end he is a ruined man - but, I'm sorry, I should not have given the ending away.'
'Not at all," Jaimie was polite. 'You have put the novel in an interesting perspective.'

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