The Hero as Bastard

  • John McDermott


If Amis’s heroes in the first three novels are fairly affable types marginally flawed in ways they are happy to amend, those of the three slightly later books — Patrick Standish (in Take A Girl Like You, 1960), Roger Micheldene (One Fat Englishman, 1963) and Ronnie Appleyard (I Want It Now, 1968) — have more serious shortcomings characterised by various kinds of carnal and material voracity. The boredom of the earlier characters is replaced by urges for instant gratification in men who take what they want; the heroes, that is, are no longer simply ‘detectors of bastards but become bastards themselves’, as Bradbury puts it. None is unaware of his shortcomings, and each considers the possibility of improvement, from the inert velleities of Roger to the genuine reformation of Ronnie.


English Moralist Instant Gratification Time Literary Supplement Quiet Despair Early Reviewer 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Martin Amis, The Rachel Papers (London, 1973).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    S. M. Hainault, Études Anglaises XXV, 3 (1972) pp. 367–84.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Bergonzi, The Situation of the Novel (London, 1970) p. 166.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Larkin, ‘Annus Mirabilis’, High Windows (London, 1974).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    These comments on Amis-speak draw heavily on Norman Macleod’s ‘This familiar regressive series’ in Aitken, McIntosh, Pálsson, eds, Edinburgh Studies in Scots and English (London, 1971).Google Scholar
  6. This is still the best linguistic description of Amis. Cf. Anthony Quinton’s ‘Philosophy and Literature’ in Thoughts and Thinker (London, 1982) p. 55: ‘Kingsley Amis, speaking, I think, on behalf of that generation of new writers of the Attlee period of whom he has proved to be the most fertile and successful, claimed an affinity between the work of himself and his friends and three bodies of doctrine: the literary criticism of F. R. Leavis, the social criticism of George Orwell and analytic philosophy. There undoubtedly are analogies between the fiction and poetry of his particular generation and the ordinary-language kind of analytic philosophy which, dominated by Ryle and Austin in Oxford, radiated out in the first postwar decade over the whole philosophical scene. Both movements were robustly suspicious of all varieties of established pretension, unwaveringly alert to the spurious, unwilling to entertain large hopes, addicted to the plainest of colloquial language, espoused concrete satisfactions (for Jim Dixon a nice girl and a good job, for Austin getting some muddles cleared up) in preference to expansive ideals (heroic achievement in life or an all-inclusive system of the universe)’. This tendency may be thought to be not unconnected with England’s historical situation, nominally victorious in a war that had extinguished its last pretensions to great-power status, any remnants of which were blown away by Suez.Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    Extract from a pantomime version of Sleeping Beauty quoted in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales (Oxford, 1974);Google Scholar
  8. Martin Amis, Money (London, 1984).Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    Contemporary Novelists, ed. James Vinson, 3rd edn (London, 1982).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John McDermott 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • John McDermott

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