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Jake's Thing Summary

(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 forum, a group therapy workshop which Jake attends with Brenda, he is again asked to remove his clothes in public. He reluctantly complies with the request but declines to attend subsequent sessions. Brenda stays on, however, to receive therapy for her compulsive overeating.

When Jake returns to Oxford for the summer term, he finds his college overrun with angry women protesting against its sexist admission policy. The protesters verbally abuse him, send him a plastic phallus inscribed with the perplexing word “Wanker,” and maliciously annotate the library copy of an article he wrote. Ironically, the moment he decides he probably is an anti-feminist at heart, the college Master asks him to advocate the protesters’ position in debate at the next college council meeting. Despite his personal bias, he does an admirable job in the debate until he is challenged about his true feelings. Jake shocks the council by launching into a chauvinistic diatribe which concludes with the recommendation that women students “bugger off back to Somerville, LMH, St Hugh’s and St Hilda’s where they began and stay there.”

Jake’s outburst is partially the result of a hangover from the previous night’s debauch. Jake met his former mistress, Eve, for dinner, drank too much wine, and later went to bed with her. To make things worse, after the college council meeting, Jake arrives back at his room to find another woman waiting for him. Kelly Gambeson, a member of the therapy workshop, has tracked Jake to his quarters at Oxford intending to seduce him. When Jake rebuffs her, she throws a frightening tantrum of the sort she earlier displayed in the one workshop session he attended. Although alarmed by Kelly’s behavior, Jake feels for her a “genuine interest as opposed to the testosterone-fed substitute that had graced his sometime dealings with Eve,” and when she later invites him to attend a weekend outing with the therapy group, he accepts. During the weekend, Kelly stages a drug-assisted suicide attempt in a manner calculated to cause minimum harm to herself and maximum guilt in Jake. Her plan goes awry, however, when Jake fails to keep a...

(The entire section is 1,672 words.)