Take a Girl Like You

by Kingsley Amis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 927

Chance and opportunity affect the romantic misadventures of the young lovers depicted in Take a Girl Like You: after other combinations are tried and found wanting, the attachments that remain seem to be the best of an uncertain bargain. Along the way, varying erotic expectations produce a tug of war that is alternately poignant and comic. Jenny Bunn, an attractive young schoolteacher, is adapting to the tedious routine of instructing and disciplining her charges when a new and outwardly exciting man appears. Although he originally asks to see Anna le Page, a French girl who is staying with her, Patrick Standish takes a fancy to Jenny and offers to take her for a drive in a vintage sports car. He asks her to dinner at a fine local restaurant; they leave just as Patrick’s friends enter. He brushes aside their banter about his newly discovered love interest. Still under his spell, Jenny accompanies him back to his house, but she resists his further advances. He pleads with her and declaims against conceptions of old-fashioned womanly virtue; she, however, is not to be had so easily. After a prolonged discussion, and a verbal standoff, they agree at least to meet again.

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Complications arise when others are drawn into the imbroglio. When Jenny tries to confide in Anna, the French girl scoffs at notions of maidenhood and unabashedly begins to kiss her. Although not exactly leering, Patrick’s friends begin to take an interest in Jenny; she, in turn, reluctantly begins to conclude that she can expect no better from them. Julian Ormerod, the most dashing and flamboyant of the men, hosts a luncheon party for target shooting and social drinking; at this gathering, those involved actually become more suspicious of the others. When she meets him alone, Jenny is put off by the pedantic, roundabout discourse of Patrick’s friend Graham McClintoch. Still, reconciliation on the main front is not yet in the offing When Patrick seeks out Jenny at her room and offers to apologize for his attempt to take liberties with her earlier, she dismisses his explanations and roundly rebuffs him. He, in turn, upbraids her for a coyness which, he predicts, will only land her in worse predicaments with men later in life.

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This dilemma only takes on larger dimensions as Jenny continues to meet with Patrick but fends off his ronantic-erotic overtures. She will not let herself be seduced; his professions of deepening love, however, seem to have struck a resonant chord. His efforts come somewhat closer to consummation after a date in a jazz bar. When they go home, she feels fairly intoxicated from his kissing; she will go no further, but they part without recriminations Anna later reveals physical designs upon her friend, and Jenny recoils from her in horror.

Hoping that her heart will grow fonder in his absence and that time will breach the impasse with Jenny, Patrick departs for London; he arranges some diversions and others arise of themselves. With Julian, he goes to burlesque show; they are disappointed with the amateurish, sophomoric performers. Julian introduces Patrick to Joan, one of several female friend he has kept in tow. Separated from her husband, she lives with another girl in an elegant apartment. Although she is by far the most physically attractive the women Patrick meets, Joan has a disconcertingly matter-of-fact approach to sex: She hardly says more than a few words at a time, undresses nonchalantly when she is alone with him, and lies back until he has finished with her; then she takes a bath and leaves him. When he meets Julian again, Pat rick is invited to their family’s estate. After some fleeting small talk, and some rather substantial drinking, Patrick is haunted by a confession on the part of Lord Edgerstoune, Julian’s father. The older man, now about seventy wistfully maintains, quite openly, that the sexual spark has nearly burned out in him altogether. Forebodings are conjured up in Patrick that age or incapacity eventually may overtake him before he has fully exercised his physical potential.

Other interludes feature cricket matches: In the first of these, one team wins after a ball strikes a batter on the head and then dislodges his wicket. Patrick encourages Graham’s interest in the sport, hoping to divert the other man from his pursuit and courtship of Jenny. Another complication is disposed of forthwith when Sheila Torkington, who has been having an affair with an oafish acquaintance of Patrick, tearfully implores his assistance; he acquires false papers and arranges an appointment for her to visit an abortionist. Still preoccupied with Jenny, Patrick seeks her out again when the right opportunity arises. During a madcap, drink-sodden party at the Edgerstounes’, their situation is resolved in a way neither had anticipated. Frenetic revelry and assorted pranks take place all around Jenny; after copious helpings of a gin-and-cognac punch, she takes refuge in an upstairs bedroom in one wing of the house. Patrick finds her there and begins fondling and caressing her; when she makes no effort at resistance, he at last has intercourse with her. The next morning, she hears Julian and Patrick discussing the propriety of this seduction; the aftereffects of alcohol briefly make her violently ill. When Patrick returns to her, he presents her with a lovely pair of earrings; they are a token, not of his marital intent—this matter is left open at the end—but of his esteem. Once she has crossed the threshold of sexual experience, it seems, life will go on anew.

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