Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 24, 2010

Sex Life in Ancient Rome

There. With that title, you HAVE to look. You dare NOT look. What if you miss something?

We all have ways of coping with extraordinarily bad days, as well as strategies and tactics for those everyday merely-irritating annoyances. Tuesday was one of the former.

Ways of dealing: think of a wonderful place you visited on one of the best days of your life; count your innumerable blessings; recall all the kindnesses you’ve received from people, whether you deserved them or not; play a favorite inspiring piece of music or recall a glorious painting. All have merit. For those of us who like to read there are innumerable forms of consolation, including going back to a favorite book and rereading it. For those with powerful memories, consolation may be as simple as recalling a passage from that favorite book, whether it’s a particular scene or even just a trenchant quote. There are multitudes of quotes, and books full of nothing but quotes, like Winston Churchill’s famous, “When you’re going through hell, keep going!” Whatever helps.

For me, the book is Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis’ satiric masterpiece. Is this the funniest book ever written? Possibly. Three Men in a Boat comes close, but doesn’t sustain the humor as throughly as Lucky Jim. I have no idea how many times I’ve read it, but more than Lord of the Rings (it’s far shorter than LOTR), more than The Sun Also Rises (WAY funnier than TSAR and without so much irony or pity). Lucky Jim has been my harbor in many a storm. If I were to write a Philosophy of Life it might be something like Being and Nothingness and Lucky Jim (and everyone is praying, “Please, blaknissan, do NOT write a Philosophy of Life. Stick to blogging”).

I won’t give you the full synopsis, which isn’t pertinent here, although I do have to mention that Amis’ book includes the funniest (and perhaps truest) description ever of a hangover. That alone is worth the price of admission. The book’s hero, Jim Dixon, an academic in the history department of an unnamed university in England, is one of those classic postwar anti-heroes, beset by a nincompoop for a supervising professor, an on-off relationship with the suicidal Margaret — a colleague he’s not really certain he even likes all that much — and the vagaries of his attempts to succeed well enough to gain tenure. Poor Dixon is always downhill of whatever trouble is brewing and Amis describes every setback, every embarrassing faux pas in hilarious detail.

What brings Jim Dixon to mind today is his own coping mechanism, which he employs when he finds himself confronted by some particularly egregious idiocy from Professor Welch or snide behavior from Welch’s pompous son, among others. Jim has a set of faces he makes secretly to himself, which he uses to silently express his dislike and disdain for these people to whom circumstances force him to be respectful. My favorite is his “Sex Life in Ancient Rome” face, in which he contorts his features into a drooling leer suggesting the deepest debauchery of the Empire. Hilarious. We all probably have a similar set of faces we use, whether we actually put them on in times of stress or not.

So, today, it’s “Sex Life in Ancient Rome” for all. Let ‘er rip. You’ll feel better.

Note: the titles of the books all link to online sites if you’re inclined to investigate more. Well, I didn’t give a link for LOTR — I’m assuming all my readers have that one memorized. I note that Powell’s lists a first American edition for $300. Hmmm ….

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2016



  1. I bet you get mega hits with THAT title! I thought so even before I read your first paragraph. You tricky guy, you.


  2. One of your paragraphs contains the passage, “is always downhill of whatever trouble is brewing.” That is a gem.


  3. Can’t wait for the sequel: “Sex Life in Contemporary Rome.”


  4. Glad you have something so amusing to brighten a dull day. Lucky Jim is a hoot and thanks for the tip, which you actually gave indirectly several blogs back by recommending Cultural Amnesia and passing the torch to Clive James who regards that book so highly.

    Also happy you clarified that Churchill line which has seen so much air play in a recently popular country song.


    • Didn’t know about the current song, or I’d’ve used a different quote!


  5. Wow! I never knew TSAR was supposed to be funny. Totally missed it all these years. Always saw it on a general level as an anti-war novel, and on a specific, individual level as the psychological struggle of one man. Sometimes I’m too dense, serious, or whatever. Brad, please bring me out of the Tender Night, and into the Rising Sun.


    • Certainly not a comic novel, but there are some humorous moments, though always heavily ironic.


      • I must have been tin-headed to the iron-y! Perhaps the heavy irony weighed the novel down. It did give me a sinking feeling.


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