"Lucky Jim" is the first novel by Kingsley Amis, a comic story published in 1954. The setting is around 1950.
"Lucky Jim" follows the exploits of James Dixon, a reluctant assistant lecturer in history in a provincial English university. The plot is a story of Jim's misadventures and disasters as he attempts to settle into his new job and make a good impression. The novel uses a plain-spoken narrative voice.
What happens is that Jim hasn't made a good first impression in the history department so he is concerned that he might be fired at the end of his first year. He seeks to hold his position by maintaining good relations with his superiors, in particular, Professor Welch, an often absent-minded and "arty" professor. In order to improve his professional standing, Jim also tries to get his article on the economic ramifications of medieval shipbuilding methods to get published in an academic journal.
Some sequences of comic catastrophe include Jim setting his bed on fire with his cigarette while staying at the home of the professor of English, and a crucial lecture to the faculty at the end of the term which somehow turns into a parody of the university principal and his own professor. As well as being a farcical comedy, the novel derives a characteristic of scornful, satirical humour of "phoniness" and pretension.
Jim is often tactless and without finesse - character traits displayed by his difficulty in accepting the pretension of Welch and others. He has contempt for just about everyone around him, including his unbearable on-again off-again "girlfriend" Margaret Peel, a more senior colleague, who is recovering from a suicide attempt, having apparently swallowed a lethal dose of sleeping pills. Through a mixture of emotional blackmail and appeal to Jim's sense of sympathy and duty, she manages to trap him in a relationship he would rather not have.
Welch presents opportunities for Jim to advance his standing among his colleagues and superiors, but these go horribly astray. Along the way he meets Christine Callaghan, a young Londoner who is dating Bertrand, an amateur but pompous painter. Incidentally, he is also the son of Professor Welch. Bertrand's pomposity infuriates Jim. Soon, Jim finds out that Christine has little patience for the world of artists. Although they did not hit it off right away, Jim and Christine start to fall in love.
The novel reaches its climax when Jim's lecture goes horribly wrong. As Jim attempts to calm his nerves with alcohol, he uncontrollably begins to mock Professor Welch and everything else that he abhors. Carried away by his emotions, he passes out after going into convulsions. As a result, Welch fires him. Jim's redeeming grace comes from Christine's uncle, who has a respect for his individuality and attitude towards pretension. He offers Jim the coveted assistant job in London that pays much better than his lecturing position.
Finally, Jim has the last laugh, as Christine finds out that Bertrand is also pursuing an affair with the wife of one of Jim's former colleagues. In the end, Jim Dixon and Christine encounter the Welches on the road. He cannot help but walk right up to them with a knowing smile, with Christine's arm on his.