(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

At the age of fifty-nine, Jake Richardson has become concerned about his lack of ability or desire to perform sexually. His family physician refers him to a psychologist named Proinsias Rosenberg, who begins therapy using a number of techniques collectively called “inceptive regrouping” and an apparatus known as a “nocturnal mensurator.” Jake is instructed to complete a questionnaire on his aberrant sexual proclivities, to use pornographic magazines for the purposes of masturbation, to write out a sexual fantasy, and to engage his wife in petting sessions described as “non-genital sensate focusing.” The therapy fails. Reading through the questionnaire, Jake realizes that he has no aberrant sexual desires, although he is careful to give answers which will not identify him as a prig. The modern pornography he buys is too explicit for his taste and effectively decreases rather than increases his sexual desires. The fantasy he concocts in six drafts of literary effort is transparently disingenuous. Finally, the “sensate focusing session” with Brenda seems to be merely a series of mechanical operations which Jake sneeringly calls “a feel-up by numbers.”

Rosenberg sends Jake to a psychiatric hospital which runs an experimental sexual therapy program. There, Jake is subjected to further humiliations. Naked from his shirttails to his socks, he sits before an audience of male and female medical students while the female doctor in charge of the program shows him a series of pornographic pictures and measures his sexual response. The experiment yields no new insights into his problem, but Jake’s embarrassment at having his genitals exposed in public convinces Rosenberg that Jake is inhibited by the guilt and shame conferred by his “puritanical upbringing.” In yet another psychiatric...

(The entire section is 740 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In Jake’s Thing, much more is going on with Jake Richardson than his loss of sexual control; the society in which he lives, the London and the Oxford of 1978, has also moved, subtly but surely, out of his range of understanding and/or desire, and Jake has responded by becoming bitter and cynical. A fifty-nine-year-old Oxford don, neither his career nor his other activities stimulate much interest in him, so that his desires—social, professional, emotional—have become as stultified as his sexual ones. Perhaps it is not coincidental that Jake’s impotence comes at a time when Comyas College is debating the question of admitting women to its hallowed, previously all-male-inhabited halls. Jake, who is fighting for his psychic life on several fronts, inadvertently exposes his deep hostility to the project during a college meeting, where his colleagues had expected him to “speak for the ladies.” At the end of his travail, and after nearly three hundred pages of unrelenting exposure to the incompetence and stupidity of professional therapists and the institutions that sustain them, Jake’s desire for sex is gone, his dislike for women has intensified, and he decides that he would just as soon remain impotent.

Like Jim Dixon, Jake Richardson is an academic misfit who likes to drink, has a keen eye for hypocrites and phoneys, writes articles that bore even himself, copes with ferocious inner monologues on his own prejudices and irrational likes and dislikes, has a rollicking sense of fun, plays practical jokes, enjoys puns and wordplay, and talks to himself in voices that parody types whom he has encountered in books, television, films, the army, and the academy. Like Jim, he suffers from the undesired attentions of a neurotic woman who stages a fake suicide attempt. Both characters manage to reconcile inner thoughts and outer statements in a public denunciation of a cause, delivered while they are drunk.

Many of the comic set pieces in Jake’s Thing are reminiscent of some of the classic scenes in Lucky Jim, in that they serve to set the protagonist’s role as an outsider to the contemporary...

(The entire section is 880 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Gardner, Philip. Kingsley Amis, 1981.

Plimpton, George, ed. Writers at Work: The “Paris Review” Interviews, 1981.

Pritchett, V. S. “Upmanship,” in The New York Review of Books. LXXX (May 17, 1979), pp. 12-13.

Wilson, Keith. “Jim, Jake, and the Years Between: The Will to

Stasis in the Contemporary British Novel,” in Ariel. XIII (January, 1982), pp. 55-69.