PART III: The Autobiographical Abyss: Jake’s Thing and Stanley and the Women
© 2002 by Gavin Keulks
As John McDermott has noted, one can locate in Kingsley’s earliest novels many “portraits of unlovely ladies.” Margaret Peel springs first to mind (Lucky Jim), followed by Elizabeth Gruffydd-Williams (That Uncertain Feeling), Anna le Page (Take A Girl Like You), and Helene Bang (One Fat Englishman). Often, these women win and then subsequently lose the affections of the primary male lead; at least that is the case with Margaret and Elizabeth. Standing opposite them, as correctives perhaps, one finds such women as Christine Callaghan, Jean Lewis, and Jenny Bunn, superior for their beauty, charm, and good-heartedness. These women are portrayed as better than men, more serious and intuitive. They hold out the promise of a safe harbor, a respite from chaos. In this respect, they symbolically rescue the Amis man, “protecting him from himself.”  In Kingsley’s early imaginative worlds, nice things (or nice women) were always nicer than nasty ones, and readers had little trouble distinguishing between the categories.
Beginning with Jake’s Thing (1978), however, many readers marked a disturbing change in Kingsley’s dramatis personae. A stark, un-romanticized portrait of flagging desire and a faltering marriage, Jake’s Thing depicts the battle between the sexes as interminable trench warfare, bereft of respite or release. A possible parodic inversion of Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, Jake’s Thing disavowed many of the values that Kingsley’s earlier novels championed. Marriage, love, or lust no longer furnished transcendent escape from the self; rather, they now seemed to hound Jake Richardson, the novel’s protagonist, sending him scurrying into the squirrel-cage of psychoanalysts, doctors, and sexual exams. Whereas earlier novels like Take a Girl Like You presented some resolution to the issue of sexual conflict, albeit qualified or troubling, Jake’s Thing seemed to leave little doubt about Kingsley’s increasingly dark comic vision.  In this regard, the novel’s final paragraphs are illuminating. Contemplating the social implications of the medical procedures that could restore his sex-drive, Jake assesses his relationships with women. He arrives at a final conclusion, simultaneously humorous and bleak:
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 or 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.
So it was quite easy. “No thanks,” he said. 
Many of Kingsley’s traditional targets for deflation appear prominently in Jake’s thoughts, chief among them hypocrisy, affectation, and egotism. However, as Malcolm Bradbury noted, this new intonation seemed somehow unsettling coming from a writer who had previously “celebrated women as nicer than men and who had made the commonplace world of sexual relations the basis of a moral feeling.” A reincarnated, older Jim Dixon, Jake Richardson uncomfortably endorses renunciation and surrender, a retreat from humor and laughter, a flight from life. To many readers, including Martin and Jane, it seemed that Kingsley’s authorial sense had become tainted by prejudice, and although acquiescence does not equal misogyny per se, Kingsley’s comedy seemed to exceed the borders of playful chauvinism. 
Similar to Jake’s Thing, Stanley and the Women is a forceful yet flawed portrait of a marriage in turmoil, recounted from the male perspective and accompanied by all the confusion, ambivalence, and irritation one might logically expect from the dramatic situation. On the surface, the novel’s primary subject is madness, not gender conflict, and this point gave Kingsley pause about the title.  The book’s instigating action is the unexpected homecoming of Stanley’s son, Steve, the frazzled prodigal, which will gradually disrupt Stanley’s marriage. To some critics and reviewers, however, it seemed that the novel’s real subject was not madness or even family disintegration, but instead the socio-sexual mores that had begun to displace members of Kingsley’s generation.
Writing in the 1 September 1985, issue of the Washington Post Book World, Jonathan Yardley announced that Kingsley appeared to have “stacked the deck against women, reducing them to caricatures who reinforce the damning judgments made by Stanley and his chums.” Elsewhere, Val Hennessy noted that the book was clearly written by “someone who harbours a pathological hatred of women.” As Christoper Hitchens explains, such controversy almost prevented the novel from finding an American publisher: although senior editors at four different publishing houses initially expressed enthusiasm for the novel, all eventually rescinded their offers, offering no explanation. Jonathan Clowes, Amis’s literary agent at the time, attributes these rejections to social-political pressures, noting that he knew of at least one instance where the novel had been railroaded by feminist readers on editorial boards.  Eventually, Stanley and the Women would find publication with Summit Books, vindicating its English appearance, but by then it had become patently clear that Kingsley was again embroiled in a heated literary and political battle. In contrast to his experiences with Lucky Jim thirty years earlier, however, Kingsley found the stakes were much higher in the hyper-politicized 1980s. Whereas he had earlier been arraigned for expressing a “militant philistinism” that angered the figureheads of an older generation, Kingsley now found himself anathema to the young, as he teetered between publication and censure.
As with Jake’s Thing, Kingsley tried to remind readers that Stanley was not a thinly-veiled author-surrogate and that “all comedy, all humor is unfair.” He certainly did not deny that the novel proposed a critical view of women, but for him it remained a work of literature, not sociology: it was not reportage, autobiography, or confession. Instead, he drew attention to the novel’s realism and verisimilitude, noting that if any novel were to be any good, it would dramatize “thoughts that some people, somewhere, have had.” Anthony Burgess also contributed to the debate, noting that all writers, to varying extents, utilize their personal lives as source material, and that none of the “stern stuff” in Stanley and the Women should be read as “coming straight from the mouth of Mr Amis.”  There was, of course, some ironic justice to Kingsley’s situation, which paralleled Vladimir Nabokov’s, who was similarly asked to defend Lolita for its social and moral transgressions in the 1950s. Earlier, Kingsley had refused to grant Nabokov aesthetic distance from his narrator. Now, critics refused to grant Kingsley the same separation from his text, noting that Stanley’s problems with women seemed uncomfortably autobiographical and that Kingsley’s perspective lacked objectivity.
The distance between Kingsley and his beleaguered narrators has always been difficult to measure, but this issue is complicated by the unique historical circumstances surrounding the publication of the Stanley and the Women. As Eric Jacobs, Richard Bradford, and Martin Amis himself remind us, there exist very good reasons for associating Kingsley with Stanley Duke. The most relevant event that occurred during the composition of Stanley and the Women was the dissolution of Kingsley’s marriage to Elizabeth Jane Howard, a messy process that soured him on women.  Separated since 1980, the Amises made their divorce final in 1983, as Kingsley was completing the novel. While the controversy over the book raged, Jane excoriated Kingsley in the press, accosting him for ruining both her life and career. Kingsley retaliated with counter-accusations, and the two settled more deeply into their entrenched opinions. Not surprisingly, this is precisely the pattern that Stanley and the Women depicts: the descent from mutuality, sympathy, and objectivity to myopia, vested interest, and entrenchment.
Drawing from Kingsley’s correspondence, Jacobs and Bradford record the extent to which Kingsley repaid his ex-wife by fictionalizing her as the novel’s more intractable females. She became the foundation for Nowell Hutchinson, Stanley’s first wife, as well as for Susan Duke, Stanley’s second. Kingsley had previously discussed the psychic mysteries of his character-creations in a 1973 essay, “Real and Made-up People,” but by 1984, many people noted important theoretical divergences. Whereas Kingsley had earlier contended that characters functioned for authors as vehicles for self-criticism, helping them to “see more clearly, and judge more harshly, [their] own weaknesses and follies,” in Stanley and the Women, all attempts at self-criticism seemed faltering, displaced, or blocked. Authorial approval seemed heavily invested in Stanley, however untenable. Hardly a stranger to these familial contexts, Martin himself commented in Experience upon the romantic malaise of his father’s work during this period: “It was evident in his novels – specifically in the anti-romantic curve leading from Jake’s Thing to Stanley, which appeared to cancel any hope or even memory of comfort from that quarter. I wasn’t making the elementary error of conflating the man and the work, but all writers know that the truth is in the fiction. That’s where the spiritual thermometer gives its reading. And Kingsley’s novels, around then, seemed to me to in moral retreat, as if he were closing down a whole dimension – the one that contained women and love.”  This tendency towards vested interest achieves a noticeable urgency at the novel’s end.
For most of the novel, Kingsley portrays Stanley Duke as a basically decent individual who treads a fine line between chauvinism and commonsense. He is fallible and limited, but at least preliminarily, it is possible to view him as the archetypal Kingsley Amis figure -- the “shit-hero,” the “hero-as-shit.” Until the final pages of the book, Stanley is far from a repulsive character. He displays an admirable tendency to adhere to a rational, centrist perspective, restraining himself from the pronounced sexism of other characters. Instead, Cliff Wainwright and Dr. Nash present the most troubling examples of male chauvinism in the book; likewise, Nowell Hutchinson, Susan Duke, and Lindsey Collins fails to confirm the judiciousness of female charity. In their own ways, these characters all antagonize Stanley, and the novel depicts him wandering between their varying levels of bitterness and self-interest. The problem, however, stems from the novel’s ending, where Kingsley seems to undercut the tonal moderation that elsewhere supports the book’s comic realism.
The novel deftly depicts Stanley’s process of enlightenment with regard to the personal conflicts between his son and his second wife. For most of the novel, Stanley functions as a satiric commentator, reflecting upon the self-serving stances of the other characters but refusing to adopt their prejudicial attitudes. Like many other Kingsley Amis novels, Stanley and the Women adopts a middleground and middlebrow position. The novel’s ending, however, complicates such a reading, as it appears to validate the biased opinions of the characters Stanley (and Kingsley) seemed earlier intent on deflating. In the novel’s final pages, Kingsley works to prepare the reader for Stanley’s unsteady conversion, leading him through two crucial dialogues, one with Dr. Nash, a physician, the other with Cliff Wainwright, one of Stanley’s divorced friends. In a passage reminiscent of Jake Richardson’s celebrated renunciation of women, Dr. Nash describes how Lindsey Collins, the novel’s feminist physician, blames Stanley for his son’s madness, acting solely out of malice and self-interest. Beginning with this scene, Kingsley seems to abdicate his novel’s middle-ground perspective, striving instead towards the premise of the book’s title, which portrays women as a separate and potentially antagonistic species from men.
Referring to the differences between Stanley and his women, Dr. Nash remarks that Lindsey Collins had never cared about Steve’s recovery or about Stanley’s efforts to help; instead, she intended all along to “fuck [Stanley] up because [he was] a man.” At this point, Stanley objects, revealing his non-prejudicial, middleground position, but Nash unleashes a diatribe of striking proportions:
Nash’s words escalate in intensity, leaving the reader to wonder whether Kingsley meant for comedy to supplant the seriousness of the subject, or vice versa. Readers familiar with Kingsley’s personal life will also question whether Nash is a character or, in this speech at least, an authorial mouthpiece: when he mentions that women must not be novelists, for instance, one wonders whether Kingsley is speaking to the reader or, out of spite, to Elizabeth Jane Howard.  In this scene, Stanley remains unswayed by Nash’s conclusions, but this conversation prepares him for his next meeting with Cliff Wainwright, which dissolves all doubt about the novel’s tonal balance between misanthropy and misogyny.
Meeting Cliff in a pub, Stanley reveals that there may be medical reasons to assume that Susan’s injury was self-inflicted and not, as she had asserted, the result of Steve’s assault. Even though such actions appear to vindicate the novel’s dim view of women, and even though the characters appear to be drunk, Cliff and Stanley’s conversation extends beyond all borders of commonsense or propriety. As a consequence, the book stammers to an abrupt, unsettling halt. As Cliff discusses spousal abuse, one feels as if not only he, but Kingsley as well, has lost control over his words.
According to some bloke on the telly the other night, [Cliff reflects,] twenty-five per cent of violent crime in England and Wales is husbands assaulting wives. Amazing figure that, don’t you think? You’d expect it to be more like eighty per cent. Just goes to show what an easy-going lot English husbands are, only one in four of them bashing his wife. No, it doesn’t mean that, does it? But it’s funny about wife-battering. Nobody ever even asks what the wife had been doing or saying. She’s never anything but an ordinary God-fearing woman who happens to have a battering husband. Same as race prejudice. Here are a lot of fellows who belong to a race minding their own business and being as good as gold and not letting butter melt in their mouths, and bugger me if a gang of prejudiced chaps don’t rush up and start discriminating against them. Frightfully unfair.” (253-54)
One might try to exonerate Cliff, acknowledging his inebriation and excusing his perception as permanently tainted by television, but such readerly maneuvers only confirm the danger of the novel’s ideological terrain. Cliff’s sexist and racist remarks parallel similar, less noticeable, attitudes expressed earlier in the novel, and there is no mistaking the new absence of authorial mediation or correction. Cliff’s words are self-interested and unexamined: they are “mood-clichés” or “inherited propositions,” in Martin’s lexicon. Significantly, they are also the same faults of mind for which Kingsley satirized the Welches in Lucky Jim, confirming just how far from its source Kingsley’s satire had traveled. The novel veers from satire and towards propaganda, eroding many of the narrative foundations that supported Kingsley’s comic realism in earlier novels. For the first time, Stanley accepts the bareness of his friend’s pronouncement and accedes that the “root of all the trouble is that we want to fuck them, the pretty ones, women I mean.”  Finally, he concludes, “In fact women only want one thing, for men to want to fuck them. If they do, it means they can fuck them up. Am I drunk? What I was trying to say, if you want to fuck a woman she can fuck you up. And if you don’t want to she fucks you up anyway for not wanting to. . . . Actually, they used to feel they needed something in the way of provocation . . . but now they seem to feel they can get on with the job of fucking you up any time they feel like it. That’s what Women’s Lib is for” (254).
These discussions attempt to justify the characters’ conclusions in light of the novel’s remarkable actions, especially Susan’s use of self-violence to prompt Stanley’s rejection of his son. Despite such things, however, the novel degenerates into vituperation, abandoning the finely balanced tensions that previously animated it. Even though Kingsley takes steps to emphasize his characters’ inebriated state, perhaps intending to establish some satiric distance, Stanley’s ill-timed conclusions extend well beyond the novel’s internal justifications. Uncomfortably, Kingsley seemed to betray his own attitude towards women and the feminist movement. He revels too joyfully in his characters’ ecstatic exaltations, and in contrast to his earlier novels, Stanley and the Women lacks the tonal moderation and redemptive comedy that reverberates throughout his best, and even his darker, work. The ending violates the correspondent relationship between author and reader that Kingsley championed throughout his life, and in the process, it undermined the novel’s intellectual and emotional foundations.
In contrast to the nonsensical charge of philistinism in Lucky Jim, in other words, there remained some validity for the socio-literary objections to Stanley and the Women. Marilyn Butler’s premise that the novel worked as a vehicle for Kingsley’s own self-examination -- a deconstructive “probe into his own crusty authorial personality” -- ultimately fails to account for the ending, which betrays Kingsley’s soured views of women and marriage and undermines the novel’s ironic distance. Disappointingly, Stanley loses the reason, humor, and dimensional flexibility that earlier distinguished his character, and in the final analysis, he becomes little more than a caricature, painfully similar to the novel’s other sexist characters. For Martin Amis, the problem was not just artistic but ideological: “Stanley is in fact a mean little novel in every sense, sour, spare, and viciously well-organized. But there is an ignobility in the performance. Here the author implements – and literalizes – Jake’s poetical promise: i.e., men only. There is certainly no sexual disgust in it (Kingsley was never that kind of woman-hater). The grounds are purely intellectual.” Martin’s conclusion is even more assertive: “I always thought it was suicide: artistic suicide. He didn’t kill the world. He just killed half of it.” 
Equally controversial, certainly more graphic, and characteristically experimental, Martin’s Money surpasses Stanley and the Women in its narrative balance and structural complexity. Although Martin admitted in 1980 that he was “no real admirer” of his first two novels, regarding them as a “mixture of clumsy apprenticeship and unwarranted showing off,”  Money is a masterful metafictional epic that shows Martin at the height of his authorial powers, in full control of his explosive themes and over-reaching characters. Though widely divergent in style, Stanley and the Women and Money present equally disturbing portraits of manhood in the midst of the feminist movement. Whereas Kingsley’s novel tries but fails to support its controversial stances, Martin’s novel glories in its carnivalesque bacchanalia, simultaneously celebrating and satirizing the frenzy of its egotistical narrator, the appropriately named Everyman, John Self. 
 See McDermott, “Kingsley and the Women,” Critical Quarterly 27.3 (Autumn 1985): 66, as well as Kingsley Amis: An English Moralist (New York: St. Martin’s, 1989), 206-27. Also cf. Walter Allen, Tradition and Dream: The English and American Novel from the Twenties to Our Time (New York: Dutton, 1964), 282.
 As numerous critics have noted, Take a Girl Like You (1960; London: Penguin, 1975) is a modern updating of Richardson’s Clarissa. As in Richardson, Kingsley’s protagonist, Patrick Standish, consummates his relationship with Jenny Bunn, his hounded lover, through rape, while she is intoxicated at a party. In Kingsley’s pre-sexual- revolution, pre-politically-correct days, Jenny responds not with litigation or public exposure, but with acceptance and complicity.
 Jake’s Thing (1978; London: Penguin, 1979), 286. See also Elizabeth Jane Howard, interview by Corinna Honan: “At the end of one of his novels, [Kingsley] has a great diatribe about women. A lot of those things he says about women, he lobbed at me from time to time. He lost his libido and he said that I deeply resented that. In a curious way, that wasn’t what I minded. I minded not being liked, a feeling of dislike and resentment that was so simmering about the place.” In “I didn’t know I was going to incur such hatred over the years,” Daily Telegraph, 16 May 2000. On Kingsley’s loss of libido, see Richard Bradford, Lucky Him: The Life of Kingsley Amis (Chester Springs, PA: Peter Owen, 2001), 303-16.
 For Bradbury, see No, Not Bloomsbury (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 215. On Jake as a latter generation Jim Dixon, see Keith Wilson’s “Jim, Jake and the Years Between: The Will to Stasis in the Contemporary British Novel,” Ariel 13.1 (1982): 55-69. Kingsley himself clarified the connection in a 25 April 1985 letter to John McDermott: “One tiny point: ‘Jake Richardson’ is a deliberate reformulation of ‘Jim Dixon.’” In The Letters of Kingsley Amis, ed. Zachary Leader (London: HarperCollins, 2000): 997. For Martin, see Experience, 29-30: “My objection is simpler than that: I can feel Dad’s thumb upon the scales…. He was keeping score with women, and with Jane.”
 John McDermott reveals that in a radio interview given during the early stages of the novel’s composition, Kingsley remarked that his “working title” Stanley and the Women “can’t really remain” because the book was more about madness. In An English Moralist, 219.
 For Hennessy, see A Little Light Fiction (London: Futura Publications, 1989), 203. For Hitchens, see “American Notes,” Times Literary Supplement, 16 November 1984, 1310.
 For Kingsley, see Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Vol. 54, s.v. “Kingsley Amis.” For Burgess, see the unnamed review in the Observer; reprinted, Homage to Qwert Yuiop (London: Hutchinson, 1986), 514-16. Kingsley’s aggressive intentions with the novel shine forth in his 8 February 1984 letter to Larkin: “And by the way it’s not another JT [Jake’s Thing] by any means. None of the sentimental mollycoddling that women get in that. This [Stanley] has moments of definite hostility. It’s an inexhaustible subject.” See also Kingsley’s letter to the Editor, Sunday Telegraph, 5 August 1984: “I HATE to find fault with such a friendly mention as Sebastian Faulks’s last week, but please, my novel, ‘Stanley and the Women’ does not argue that ‘all women are mad.’ No, as a leading character puts it, ‘they’re all too monstrously, sickeningly, terrifyingly sane.’ Not that it makes a lot of difference to those at the receiving end, admittedly. Or to a feminist.” In Letters, 969, 981-82.
 According to Jacobs and Bradford, Kingsley swore off sexual partners and the prospect of re-marriage after the divorced from Jane, the effects of which can be seen in his poem, “Senex,” which laments the absence of the “lash / At which I used to snort and snivel.” See Jacobs, Kingsley Amis: A Biography (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995), 328ff, and Bradford, Lucky Him, 303-16.
 For “vehicles for self-criticism,” see “Real and Made-up People,” Times Literary Supplement, 27 July 1973; reprinted, The Amis Collection (London: Penguin, 1990), 5. In Experience, 228-29, Martin comments at length upon his father’s essay, agreeing that “The truth is that you can’t put real people into a novel, because a novel, if it is alive, will inexorably distort them, will tug them all out of shape, to fulfil its own designs.” For the connections between Jane, Nowell, and Susan, see Jacobs, A Biography, 317-21, and Bradford, Lucky Him, 349-53. For “closing down a whole dimension,” see Experience, 28.
 Stanley and the Women (1984; New York: Summit, 1985), 246-47; subsequent references to this text will be cited parenthetically.
 See Corinna Honan: asked whether Kingsley valued her contributions as a writer, Jane said that Kingsley “was very nice about my writing but if I had put if first as he put his, there would have been trouble. It was an accepted thing that he was a famous writer and I was an also-ran, as it were.” Similar remarks can be found in Jane’s interview with Naim Attallah, “Life with Mr Amis and other tales,” Observer Magazine, 31 October 1993, 34-40.
 Cf. also Kingsley to Larkin, 3, 5 December 1983: “I also quite seriously fear [the novel] will get me murdered by feminists. ‘The root of all the trouble is we want to fuck them’ &c.” In Letters, 964. See also Elizabeth Jane Howard, interview by Corinna Honan: “Kingsley thought of women as being f—able or decorative and after that, he hadn’t much use for them, really. That made him very difficult to live with, because few of us remain just those two things all our lives.” For “mood-clichés,” see “Don Juan in Hull,” New Yorker, 12 July 1993, 79; reprinted, “The Ending: Don Juan in Hull,” The War Against Cliché, 153-72.
 Experience, 310. For Marilyn Butler, see “Women and the Novel,” London Review of Books, 7-20 June 1984, 7-8.
 Quoted in Susan Heller Anderson, “New Novelist is Called a Plagiarist,” New York Times, 21 October 1980. Also compare “The living V-sign,” in which Martin criticized Dead Babies: “It’s a horribly transparent diagram of my earlier influences, shamelessly in the spirit of Burroughs and Ballard, and a ridiculous mixture of Dickens and Nabokov, all completely out of control.” Daily Telegraph, 26 January 2001.
 In an interview with Jean W. Ross, Contemporary Authors, Volume 27, Martin remarked that throughout the first two drafts of the novel, John Self was named John Sleep. Martin then considered the name, John Street, before settling on Self. The analog for Self’s name is most likely Nabokovian, a derivative from John Shade in Pale Fire. However, Self’s distinctively charged voice stems from Bellow. As Martin explained shortly after Money’s release: “I learned from Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King that you can have a great dolt of a character who says completely realistic things like, ‘Thanks, Prince. I wish you all kinds of luck with your rain ceremony, but I think right after lunch my man and I had better blow,’ after a beautifully long, complicated paragraph about all his warring responses and yearnings.” In John Haffenden, Novelists in Interview (New York: Methuen, 1985), 8. Similarly, Brian Finney notes that early in Money, a producer offers Self a “Rain King cocktail.” See “What’s Amis in Contemporary British Fiction? Martin Amis’s Money and Time’s Arrow,” n.d., <http://www.csulb.edu/ ~bhfinney/Amis1.html>.
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