Book Simple: Lucky Amy
a blogumn by Amy Brown
The worst part of my ongoing academic job search is an odd one. I don’t mind the interminable sameness of the questions asked by interviewers and job postings alike, each one just different enough that the last application effort doesn’t quite fit. Constructing cover letters has become a mere bagatelle in my repertoire. Even asking for reference letters, the bane of my undergraduate existence in years past, was this time unmarred by disapproving silence, uncomfortable conversations regarding my general unfitness for employment or sudden disappearances a week before the deadline. When the time came to apply for positions, I cheerfully asked the department secretary to send out my recommendations, fully anticipating the response, “Well, I’d love to, Amy, but they haven’t been written yet.” Instead, the reply came: “Done.”
No, the part I most hate is writing down the title of my paper. So it was with a deep sense of recognition that I watched Jim Dixon, the eponymous hero of Kingsley Amis’s 1953 novel Lucky Jim, dumbfounded by “the prospect of reciting the title of the article he’d written. It was the perfect title, in that it crystallized the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw on non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worst than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance.” It is exactly that sad earnestness I see in my own introductory paragraphs, and the shame of their inadequacy nauseates me every time I have to send them out again.
Jim is a lecturer in a two year trial period at a middling English university, and he is rather in a fix. He’s made a bad impression on his employers though a series of accidents and a general failure to publish. “You might have a go at [the new journal],” suggests Professor Welsh, a more senior member of the faculty, “now that it doesn’t seem as if any of the more established reviews have got room for your … effort.” Jim accidentally became the only man “going round” with female lecturer Margaret, due to a rival’s abrupt exit and Margaret’s ensuing attempt at suicide. Worst of all, Welsh is holding a musical weekend and promises to call on Jim “to lend a hand with something.”
The wild events of that weekend (and the weeks that follow) are ridiculously fun. Jim attends the weekend, escorts Margaret to the college dance, attempts to get his article published, writes useless syllabi and prepares a lecture on “Merrie England.” Alcohol provides his only escape from the relentless pomposity of college life, which leads to other problems. Jim’s painful awakening after a night spent stealing port from Welsh’s guarded supply, “spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning,” reminded me quite clearly of my own tearing, cold-medicine enhanced, red wine hangover headache this morning. Good to know junior academic life hasn’t changed markedly in over fifty years.