bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Lucky D?

Posted in Offbeat observations by bonaelitterae on 25 August, 2014

The Times Literary Supplement has been running — and then attempting to call off — a hunt for references to itself in literature. It occurs to me that there are other noble publications that could compile a similar (albeit rather select) collection. Here is my own favourite for reasons that will become clear. It comes from a novel which is more period-piece than classic, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (1954). The young academic anti-hero, the dypsomaniac medievalist James Dixon has arrived on campus:

‘Oh, Dixon, can I have a word with you?’ To its recipient, this was the most dreadful of all summonses. It had been a favourite of his Flight-Serjeant’s, a Regular with old-fashioned ideas of getting an N.C.O. out of the men’s hearings before subjecting him not to a word but to an uproar of abuse… Welch [the Head of the History Department] had revived it as a short maestoso introduction to the allegro con fuoco of his displeasure over each new item in the ‘bad impresssion’ Dixon had been building up… Intellectually, Dixon could conceive of such a request leading to praise for work done on indexing Welch’s notes for his book, to the offer of a staff post on Medium Aevum, to an invitation to an indecent house-party, but emotionally and physically he was half-throttled by the certainty of nastiness.

Beyond the intended humour of the passage, there is something comical about the idea that an academic journal like Medium Ævum should have a plethora of paid positions, even or perhaps especially in the early 1950s when it was barely itself in its teens. And I should know because, of course, I have myself had more than a passing acquaintance with said journal — more recently, I should rush to add, than in the mid-twentieth century. I am the person who, for a while, had the post to which Dixon dimly aspired. There is, then, an association between him and me, which makes we wonder or worry: what other similarities might there be?

That is for me to worry about — the challenge for you is to see if you can help add to this start of a catalogue of literary references to medieval studies’ small but, oh, so perfectly-formed green-backed periodical.

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  1. […] In the middle of the last decade, the Times Literary Supplement indulged in a game of finding literary references to itself. At the time, I noted that there was at least one academic journal which could engage in a similar game, if it wanted — though more likely it would want not. Britain’s longest established journal dedicated to medieval studies, Medium Ævum, might seem unlikely to feature in comic fiction but (as I pointed out) it does gain a walk-on part in Kingsley Amis’s early success, Lucky Jim. […]

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