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Lucky Jim

Kingsley Amis


Chapters 21–22


Chapter 21

Dixon stands at the pre-lecture reception talking to the Principal, Gore-Urquhart, and Ned Welch. Gore-Urquhart suspiciously admires Dixon's eye, which is black where Bertrand punched him. Dixon has explained to the men that it happened by bumping his face on the side of his sink, and drinks many glasses of sherry on top of the whiskey he has had earlier in the evening. He nervously surveys the number of people attending the lecture, both from the college and from the town. Gore-Urquhart asks Dixon about his job and his commitment to it, and then they bond over the absurdity of the lecture event. Dixon also catches a glance exchanged between Gore-Urquhart and Carol Goldsmith across the room, but does not know what it might mean.

Dixon approaches Christine and Bertrand, and Carol intervenes and takes Bertrand away. Dixon tells Christine about his fight with Bertrand. Bertrand reappears and drags Christine away while warning Dixon that he will have Dixon fired. Margaret approaches Dixon and jibes him about his unrealized desire for Christine. Dixon is angry, and leaves for the bathroom without a word. Gore- Urquhart walks in the bathroom after Dixon to find Dixon making one of his signature face-contortions. Gore-Urquhart gives Dixon a large swig from his flask of whiskey. Dixon walks into the lecture hall feeling drunk.

Chapter 22

Dixon begins reading his lecture and unconsciously imitates Professor Welch in his intonation, to the delight of the students in the balcony. Realizing that something is wrong, Dixon makes a conscious effort to change his voice, and realizes after a while that he is now imitating the Principal. Half of the audience murmurs with alarm, while the other half, including Gore-Urquhart, are delighted. Dixon pauses for a minute to gather himself, then begins speaking again in a voice not his own. Realizing that his fate is sealed, Dixon changes his voice one last time to an exaggerated version of his childhood regional accent and inflects his tone with disgust for the subject at hand. The crowd becomes quite loud and Dixon reaches up to cover his ears. Atkinson and Dixon have made a plan earlier in the evening that Atkinson will attend the lecture and pretend to faint if Dixon scratches both his ears at once. Thinking Dixon is signaling him, Atkinson faints loudly in the crowd, and general mayhem ensues. Dixon attempts to finish his lecture, now disregarding his notes and speaking scornfully of people who remain attached to an idealized version of the past. Welch and the Principal approach Dixon to drag him off-stage, but Dixon passes out first.


Gore-Urquhart seems intrigued by Dixon's black eye, and they have their first chance to talk alone at the reception, where Gore-Urquhart, like Christine, is honest and genuine with Dixon. He takes Dixon into his confidence, explaining why events such as the reception are boring but necessary. Dixon sees Gore- Urquhart's point and agrees with him about the boring quality of such events. This newfound common ground between them seems enough to override any potential embarrassment later when Gore-Urquhart becomes the first person to actually see Dixon make his private faces of disgust.

The description of Dixon's drunken lecture, as with his earlier damaging of the Welches' sheets, stresses that Dixon's embarrassing but hilarious imitations of Professor Welch and the Principal are not his own fault. The voices seem to rise up out of Dixon, subconsciously summoned by his unerring ear and by his talent for mimicking the vocal nuances of others.

As the lecture continues, it shifts into a public display of Dixon's debased position, as his remorse for his miserable job and bad luck seeps into his voice. Eventually, Dixon's true nature emerges from his drunkenness, and he takes over his own lecture with purpose. He reads the material he has written with blatant contempt, and changes the actual text to articulate his complete disgust for the tired, useless, and sentimental scholarship that he was originally trying to replicate. At this point, when Dixon begins to seize control of his performance, he speaks with an exaggerated version of his own northern accent, and this adds to his statement, setting him off from refined accents of Oxford or Cambridge.

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