The only son of a business clerk, British novelist Kingsley Amis was born in 1922 in London. He was educated at the City of London School and St. John's College, Oxford University, where he became acutely aware of his lower-middle-class origins. After service in the army with the Royal Corps of Signals, he completed his university studies and worked as a lecturer in English at the University College of Swansea and in Cambridge, which provided the academic settings for many of his stories.
Best known for his satiric novels, Amis first burst onto London's literary scene in 1947 with a collection of poems, Bright November, quickly followed by A Frame Of Mind (1953), Poems: Fantasy Portraits (1954) and A Case Of Samples: Poems 1946-1956 (1956). During this time, Amis was a member of the literary group "The Movement," whose members included Robert Conquest, Elisabeth Jennings and Philip Larkin. Larkin and Amis became fast friends, hanging out in pubs, listening to jazz, mocking the pretensions of their striving peers.
As a novelist, Amis made a successful debut with Lucky Jim (1954), whose comic main character reappeared in That Uncertain Feeling (1956) and in I Like It Here (1958). After Jim's publication, Amis found himself labeled as one of the "Angry Young Men," a group of postwar British writers from the lower classes bent on subverting the establishment. The group also included John Osborne, John Wain, Colin Wilson, and John Braine. But, while many of these writers have been forgotten, Amis's sharp social and sexual commentary and acerbic humor have endured.
In 1983, a jury commissioned by the British Book Marketing Council declared Take a Girl Like You one of the dozen best novels written in English since 1945. In 1986 Amis won the Booker Prize for The Old Devils. The story of a group of retired friends whose lives revolve around social drinking, the novel chronicles the impact of the reappearance of Alun Weaver, a professionally Welsh literary pundit, on their settled world.
Over the course of his 50-year career, Amis produced more than 20 sharp, ironic novels. He famously debunked truisms of English life and British character, often training his merciless eye on friends and family, turning them into fodder for his fiction. His skepticism skewered the haughty posturing prevalent in the university world; his honesty pulled the rug out from under upper class traditions; and his hatred of pretension led him to discredit liberals and conservatives alike. Rounding out Amis's literary portfolio is an array of nonfiction, criticism, poetry, and anthologies covering topics as diverse as drinking and detectives.
In 1948, while a junior lecturer at Swansea, Amis married Hilary Bardwell and had three children, including the acclaimed novelist Martin who recently published a memoir about his relationship with his father, Experience. After his divorce from Bardwell, Amis was married to the novelist Elisabeth Jane Howard from 1965 to 1983. Amis was knighted in 1990, and died in 1995 at the age of 73.
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