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The Humour of Kingsley Amis


English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher Sir Kingsley William Amis CBE (1922 – 1995) wrote more than 20 novels (in particular Lucky Jim, 1954), poetry, a memoir, short stories, radio and television scripts, and several works of social and literary criticism. His biographer, Zachary Leader, has said that Amis was 'the finest English comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century.’ The Times in 2008 ranked Amis thirteenth on their list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.

Here are some of his more famous quotes:

'It's never pleasant to have one's unquestioning beliefs put in their historical context, as I know from experience, I can assure you.’

'Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.'

'I am always incorrigibly interested in the behaviour of the 'human animal', and look forward to perusing divers effusions of your lively pen.’

'... all his faces were designed to express rage or loathing. Now that something had happened which really deserved a face, he had none to celebrate it with. As a kind of token, he made his Sex Life in Ancient Rome face.'

'Jake did a quick run-through of women in his mind, not of the ones he had known or dealt with in the past few months of years so much as all of them: their concern with the surface of things, with objects and appearances, with their surroundings and how they looked and sounded in them, with seeming to be better and to be right while getting everything wrong, their automatic assumption of the role of injured party in any clash of wills, their certainty that a view is the more credible and useful for the fact that they hold it, their use of misunderstanding and misrepresentation as weapons of debate, their selective sensitivity to tones of voice, their unawareness of the difference in themselves between sincerity and insincerity, their interest in importance (together with noticeable inability to discriminate in that sphere), their fondness for general conversation and directionless discussion, their pre-emption of the major share of feeling, their exaggerated estimate of their own plausibility, their never listening and lots of other things like that, all according to him.’

'The rewards for being sane may not be very many, but knowing what's funny is one of them.'

'It is natural and harmless in English to use a preposition to end a sentence with.'

'Death has this much to be said for it:

You don't have to get out of bed for it.

Wherever you happen to be

They bring it to you—free.'

'It is no wonder that people are so horrible when they start their life as children.’

'He was of the faith chiefly in the sense that the church he currently did not attend was Catholic.’

'Doing what you wanted to do was the only training, and the only preliminary, needed for doing more of what you wanted to do.'

'One of the great benefits of organised religion is that you can be forgiven your sins, which must be a wonderful thing. . .I mean, I carry my sins around with me, there's nobody there to forgive them.'

'He thought how much he liked her and had in common with her, and how much she'd like and have in common with him if she only knew him.’

'Only a world without love strikes me as instantly and decisively more terrible than one without music.'

'When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. You are not sickening for anything, you have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a s**t you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is and there is no use crying over spilt milk.'

'How wrong people always were when they said: 'It's better to know the worst than go on not knowing either way.' No; they had it exactly the wrong way round. Tell me the truth, doctor, I'd sooner know. But only if the truth is what I want to hear.'

'Laziness has become the chief characteristic of journalism, displacing incompetence. '

'You'll find that marriage is a good short cut to the truth. No, not quite that. A way of doubling back to the truth. Another thing you'll find is that the years of illusion aren't those of adolescence, as the grown-ups try to tell us; they're the ones immediately after it, say the middle twenties, the false maturity if you like, when you first get thoroughly embroiled in things and lose your head. Your age, by the way, Jim. That's when you first realize that sex is important to other people besides yourself. A discovery like that can't help knocking you off balance for a time.'

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