Kingsley Amis Essay - Amis, Kingsley (Vol. 1)

Amis, Kingsley (Vol. 1)

Amis, Kingsley 1922–

Amis, British satirical novelist, has often been considered a member of the "Angry Young Men" group. He also writes light-hearted and intellectual poetry. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 11-12.)

Amis' public, as opposed to his critical, reputation may be termed a fluke. It is dependent on Lucky Jim, a type of the educated young man who does not aspire to be a "gentleman." Because this attitude has become more and more widespread in England and is perhaps the beginning of a different sort of cultural allegiance for the university-educated, Jim has become a myth….

Obviously the plot, assuming it can be abstracted, cannot alone account for the interest one feels in Lucky Jim. Lucky Jim has other virtues: the characterizations are extremely good, the dialogue is natural, the narrative pacing is excellent, and Jim himself is not only a wonderfully funny character, he is almost archetypal….

Lucky Jim, That Uncertain Feeling, and I Like It Here are very well executed, and of course they are very funny. They do not however have at their center any very profound searching out of psychological or philosophical principles. Nor do they really take a stand on the social conflict between classes. Another way of putting this is to say that the novels seem not to evolve or grow from a premise or a thesis. Amis has a great flair for the zany and the outrageous. There is social satire too, much of it brilliantly done. Even so, one feels that something is missing. What Amis actually does in these novels is to take off the affectations of the genteel and the pretentious. But it is not enough that Jim Dixon and John Lewis and Garnet Bowen burlesque the university world, the small town "bourgeoisie," or travel snobs. These novels imply alternative values, and it is these that are insufficiently explored.

William Van O'Connor, "Kingsley Amis: That Uncertain Feeling," in his The New University Wits and the End of Modernism (© 1963 by Southern Illinois University Press; reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press; "Crosscurrents/Modern Critiques" Series), Southern Illinois University Press, 1963, pp. 75-102.

Lucky Jim still seems to me the funniest first novel since Decline and Fall. Its immediate success was much more than a literary one. In the popular press Lucky Jim himself was very quickly being used as a readily understandable symbol, while among the young he became a figure to be identified with in much the same way, though admittedly to a less degree, as Holden Caulfield was for the young in the United States. As scores of first novels published in Britain since show, he was an archetypal figure, the hero of a generation in the everlasting battle between the generations….

Lucky Jim strikes one now as very much a young man's novel. It is obviously not a realistic novel in any sense; it is much more the comic expression of a young man's fears of what he may find when he goes out into the relatively unknown world of work and of his sense of inadequacy in the face of that world. It scarcely prepared one for what was to come, for though at the centre of every Amis novel there is a young man recognizably akin to Lucky Jim, the Amis man as he might be called, he has been increasingly explored in depth.

Walter Allen, in his The Modern Novel (© 1964 by Walter Allen; published by E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. and used with their permission), Dutton, 1964, pp. 280-81.

Lucky Jim never promised anything more than unmitigated pleasure and insight, and these it keeps on delivering. The book was not promise but fulfillment, a commodity we confront too seldom to know how to behave when it is achieved. This seems to be true particularly when the achievement is comic. Have we forgotten how to take humor straight? Unable to exit laughing, the contemporary reader looks over his shoulder for Something More. The trouble is that by now he knows how to find it. So Amis' prodigious gifts were regarded from the first as instrumental, a kit for exploring social problems, and fairly restricted social problems at that….

While the Amis hero is likely to be anti-intellectual, he is always cerebral. Unlike the Romantic hero who feels when everyone else is busy thinking and knowing, he sees when everyone else is busy feeling and pretending to think. It is what he sees that drives him to rage. But the rage is itself a function of his insight. Instead of being blinded by rage, Amis' characters are able to see clearly by its light. Anger is an instrument of revelation. And of self-revelation.

Ralph Caplan, "Kingsley Amis" (© 1965 by Southern Illinois University Press; reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press), in Contemporary British Novelists, edited by Charles Shapiro, Southern Illinois University Press, 1965, pp. 3-15.

The most popular anti-hero of our time has been, without doubt, Jim Dixon in Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim—an astonishing best-seller of the middle nineteen fifties. Amis caught the public mood of post-war restiveness in a book which, though socially significant, was, and still is, extremely funny…. Although we are intended to be on Dixon's side, we are also intended to laugh at him, to pity his ignorance. There is a certain ambivalence in Lucky Jim which is to be found also in Amis's other novels. The author, like his anti-heroes, is against culture because culture has the wrong associations…. At the same time he cannot hide the fact of his bookishness and musicality, and the Amis protagonist always earns his living by purveying culture (as teacher, librarian, journalist or publisher)….

If Amis belongs to any tradition at all, it is to the venerable line of English nonconformism to which Defoe and Fielding belong. Take a Girl Like You presents a really 'good' middle-class girl whose virtue is assailed but remains impregnable. One Fat Englishman shows Roger Micheldene, a gluttonous, lecherous, mean-minded British publisher visiting America. Roger is the whole dance of the Seven Deadly Sins rolled into one detestable bladder of lard; Amis the novelist of detached wit is also Amis the moralist, rarely judging but always giving plenty of scope to a comic nemesis. In Amis, people do not hop into bed lightly with each other; if they do—as John Lewis does in That Uncertain Feeling—they always suffer for it. Micheldene can do it, as he can snub, over-eat, pontificate, because he is the villain rather than the anti-hero. Dixon, Bowen and Lewis are, being so very much against humbug, really very much for middle-class virtue.

Anthony Burgess, in his The Novel Now: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction (reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.; © 1967 by Anthony Burgess), Norton, 1967, pp. 141-43.

[Girl, 20] is blessed with precious new flashes of the sort of genuine vintage humour that once convinced Amis's more ardent fans that he could raise more than a giggle or two from compiling a telephone directory. All of which makes it sadder that his caustic commentary on the present social scene should so frequently degenerate into a kind of 'Disgustedly yours'-type tirade against those who do not happen to share his particular taste and prejudice. At the same time, one is compelled to admit that the book is never less than racily entertaining and hugely encouraging to those of us who fervently believe that, far from trying to bridge the generation gap, we should be doing our utmost to extend it into a yawning chasm.

Frank McGuinness, "Yawning Chasms," in London Magazine, December, 1971–January, 1972, pp. 159-62.