Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
published 1954 Chapter 10
[lecturer Jim Dixon is at his University Summer Ball. He is partnering Margaret, although he secretly hankers after Christine]
[Christine] was looking her best this evening. She wore a yellow dress that left her shoulders bare. It was perfectly plain, managing, as if it had been intended just for that, to reveal as decidedly ill-judged Margaret’s royal-blue taffeta, with its bow and what he supposed were gatherings or something, and with the quadruple rows of pearls above it. Christine’s aim, he imagined, had been to show off the emphasis of her natural colouring and skin-texture. The result was painfully successful, making everybody else look like an assemblage of granulated half-tones. Dixon caught her eye, and … wanted to cast himself down behind the protective wall of skirts and trousers, or, better, pull the collar of his dinner-jacket over his head and run out into the street. He’d read somewhere, or been told, that somebody like Aristotle or I A Richards had said that the sight of beauty makes us want to move towards it. Aristotle or I A Richards had been wrong about that, hadn’t he?
Lucky Jim again: now we find out what kind of woman Jim would prefer. Beautiful Christine is the antithesis of Margaret, who featured in this blog entry. But Amis is clear about one thing: it is not only her beauty that Jim loves, it is her personality, which is a lot more attractive than Margaret’s. Christine eats a lot and has a snorting laugh – whereas Margaret laughs in a way Jim “had provisionally named to himself ‘the tinkle of silver bells’. He sometimes thought that the whole corpus of her behaviour derived from translating such phrases into action.”
Jim’s great enemies are the Welch family – the father is his boss, while the son is Christine’s escort at the Ball. He expresses at different times a hatred for their hats (a fishing hat for the father, a beret for the artistic son); Mrs Welch; and a particular toby jug in their house. When Welch senior gets trapped in a revolving door going the wrong way, Jim whistles the tune of his Welch song (see previous entry for a sample of the words) - “it was things like this that kept him going.”
The picture is a sketch by Jean Desses, a leading Paris designer from the 1940s onwards, who created beautiful draped evening gowns. The yellow blur to the right would be a sample of the material for the dress. The sketch is owned by Zunec, who photographed it and made it available on Wikimedia Commons.