Take a Girl Like You

Take a Girl Like You

Infobox Book |
name = Take A Girl Like You
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Kingsley Amis
illustrator =
cover_artist = Jean-Paul Tibbles
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre = Comic novel
publisher = Gollancz
release_date = 1960
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Paperback)
pages = 320 pp
isbn = NA
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Take A Girl Like You" is a comic novel by Kingsley Amis. Set in the 1950s, it follows the progress of twenty year old Jenny Bunn, as she moves from her family home in the North of England to a London satellite town to teach primary school children. Jenny is a traditional Northern working-class girl whose exotic good-looks are in sharp contrast to her prosaic upbringing, and to her strong belief that a girl should preserve her virginity until her wedding night. Because of her attractiveness, Jenny's views on virginity and marriage cause conflicts. The novel centres on the (increasingly desperate and cruel) attempts of Patrick Standish, a 30 year old schoolmaster at the local grammar school, to seduce Jenny, against a backdrop of his skirmishes with his school authorities and with the shabby, suburban middle class milieu in which the novel is set.


Take A Girl Like You is Kingsley Amis's fourth novel. Published in 1960, it is set in the recent past of the 1950s. The 'ingredients' of the novel are similar to those in Amis's previous three works, yet this novel displays a shift in focus and pattern, and a development of themes. There is an anti-hero - Patrick Standish - who, like the eponymous hero of Lucky Jim is at odds with academic authority. In this novel, however, these difficulties and differences form the backdrop rather than the main story, which focuses on Patrick's efforts, increasingly morally dubious, to seduce Jenny. Much of the comic element of the novel stems from Amis' presentations of naive Jenny's observations of the strange, Southern petit-bourgeois world she has found herself in.

The novel opens with the arrival at her lodging-house of Jenny Bunn, a young, exotically beautiful and provincial Northern woman who has moved to a London commuter town to take up her first post as a schoolteacher. Jenny has rented a room in the home of a middle-aged couple, Dick and Martha Thompson. Dick Thompson, apparently some sort of an auctioneer, is a typical Amis "stooge": "And how was it that he was an auctioneer...? And why did the rims of his glasses not go all the way around the lenses? Perhaps time would show". His wife, Martha is bored, cynical, and openly suspicious of attractive young Jenny. The Thompsons have another lodger, Anna, who is apparently from France and who appears to Jenny to exhibit extremely foreign behaviour. Almost immediately, Jenny meets Patrick Standish, an acquaintance of the Thompsons, who is just as immediately attracted to her. Patrick takes Jenny on a date to what seems to her to be a very upmarket and fashionable Italian restaurant, but which Amis makes clear is a classless suburban pseudo-Italianate place. Impressed, Jenny lets Patrick take her back to the house he shares with Graham, an unattractive Scottish schoolmaster. Heavy petting ensues: Patrick assumes that Jenny will sleep with him, but she rebuffs him and explains her viewpoint on sex: she is a virgin, she intends to remain that way until she is married. The rest of the novel concerns itself with Patrick's attempts to seduce Jenny, and his struggles with sexual fidelity; and with Jenny's attempts to fend off his attentions and those of many others, who all too readily assume that, because of her youth and beauty, she is ready to jump into bed with them. Eventually, Patrick gives Jenny an ultimatum: either she goes to bed with him, or the relationship is over. Jenny finds herself unable to comply, and the couple part. However, at a rather alcoholic party given by the flashy and dubious Julian Ormerod (occupation unclear), Patrick takes advantage of a very drunken and defenceless Jenny in a guest bedroom. At first furious and upset, Jenny tells Patrick she never wants to see him again, but she quickly decides to accept what she believes is her fate, and late the same day, the couple reunite: "She knew more or less what their future would be like, and how different it would be from what she had hoped, but she felt now that there had been something selfish in that hope...She must learn to take the rough with the smooth, just like everybody else".


Amis's style, in common with that of other mid-twentieth century writers, but in contrast to that of writers like James, Woolf and Joyce, has been described as "neo-realist". Rabinovitz writes of these neo-realist writers that:

Their styles are plain, their time-sequences are chronological, and they make no use of myth, symbol or stream-of-consciousness inner narratives.
In order to bring the world of the novel as close as possible to the physical world of the reader, Amis takes great care to describe in great detail, in what appear to be a series of entirely incidental details, physical details: the minutia of the lodging house, for example, are meticulously (and humorously) described [. Rubin Rabinovitz, The Reaction Against Experimentation in the English Novel, 1950-1960, p. 9.]
[The kitchen] door had another little brass knocker on it, this time representing a religious-looking person on a donkey. The room was a long narrow one that ended with a further door and a large, oblong, buff-coloured stove. A medium-sized woman with reddish hair and a purple dress was doing something to the stove but stopped when they came in.
The plot of "Take A Girl Like You" also follows traditional realistic conventions and has been compared to the plot of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, published in 1748. Like Jenny Bunn, Richardson's Clarissa is young, beautiful and virtuous, and attempts to defend her virginity whilst providing an opportunity for the next assault. [Rubin Rabinovitz, The Reaction Against Experimentation in the English Novel, 1950-1960, pp. 43-4]


It was made into a 1970 film. Directed by Jonathan Miller. Adapted by George Melly. Starring Hayley Mills, Oliver Reed, Sheila Hancock and Penelope Keith.



* Farce and Society: The Range of Kingsley Amis, R. B. Parker, Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Autumn, 1961), pp. 27-38

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