Philip Larkin

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Philip Larkin

Photograph by Fay Godwin
Born 9 August 1922(1922-08-09)
Coventry, Warwickshire (now in West Midlands), England
Died 2 December 1985 (aged 63)
Hull, Humberside (now in East Riding of Yorkshire), England
Cause of death Oesophageal cancer
Nationality British
Alma mater St John's College, Oxford
Occupation Poet, Novelist, Jazz critic, Librarian

Philip Arthur Larkin, CH, CBE, FRSL (9 August 1922 – 2 December 1985), was a British poet, novelist and jazz critic. He spent his working life as a university librarian and, following the death of John Betjeman, was offered the Poet Laureateship but declined the post. Larkin is commonly regarded as one of the greatest English poets of the latter half of the twentieth century. He first came to prominence with the publication in 1955 of his second collection, The Less Deceived. This was followed by The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows in 1964 and 1974, respectively. In 2003, Larkin was chosen as "the nation's best-loved poet" in a survey by the Poetry Book Society,[1] and in 2008 The Times named Larkin as the greatest British post-war writer.[2]

Larkin was born in the city of Coventry, West Midlands, England. From 1930 to 1940, he was educated at King Henry VIII School in Coventry and, in October 1940, in the midst of the Second World War, went up to St John's College, Oxford, to read English language and literature. Having been rejected for military service because of his poor eyesight, he was able, unlike many of his contemporaries, to follow the traditional full-length degree course, taking a first-class degree in 1943. Whilst at Oxford, he met Kingsley Amis, who would become a lifelong friend and frequent correspondent. Shortly after graduating, he was appointed municipal librarian at Wellington, Shropshire. In 1946, he became assistant librarian at University College, Leicester and, in 1950, sub-librarian at Queen's University Belfast. In March 1955, Larkin was appointed librarian at the University of Hull, a position he retained until his death.


[edit] Life

[edit] 1922–1950: Upbringing, education & early career

Larkin's parents' former Radford council house overlooking a small maintained spinny, once their garden. (photo 2008)

Philip Larkin was born on 9 August 1922 in Coventry, the only son and younger child of Sydney Larkin (1884–1948), who came from Lichfield, and his wife, Eva Emily Day (1886–1977) of Epping. He lived with his family in Radford, Coventry, until he was five years old.[3] From 1927 to 1945 the family home was 1 Manor Road, a large three-story detached house near the city centre that would be demolished in the 1960s to make way for Coventry's inner ring road.[4] His sister Catherine, known as Kitty, was about 10 years older than him.[5] His father, a self-made man who had risen to be Coventry City Treasurer,[5] was a singular individual who combined a love of literature with an enthusiasm for Nazism, and had attended two Nuremberg rallies during the mid-'30s.[6] He introduced his son to the works of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce and above all D. H. Lawrence.[7] His mother was a nervous and passive woman, dominated by her husband.[8]

Larkin's childhood was at first unusual: neither friends nor relatives ever visited the family home, and he was educated by his mother and elder sister until the age of eight.[9] Despite this and the stammer he had already developed, when he joined Coventry’s King Henry VIII Junior School he fitted in immediately and made close, long-standing friendships with James "Jim" Sutton, Colin Gunner and Noel "Josh" Hughes. Although home life was relatively cold, Larkin enjoyed support from his parents. For example, his deep passion for jazz was supported by the purchase of a drum kit and a saxophone, supplemented with a subscription for Down Beat, the first of Larkin's many jazz magazines. From the junior school he progressed to King Henry VIII Senior School. Aged 16 he fared quite poorly when he sat his School Certificate exam. However, he was allowed to stay on at school, and two years later earned distinctions in English and History, and passed the entrance exams for St John’s College, Oxford, to read English.[10]

Larkin began at Oxford University in October 1940, a year after the outbreak of World War II. The Brideshead Revisited image of university life had been put on hold, and most of the male students were studying for highly truncated degrees.[11] However, thanks to his poor eyesight, Larkin failed his military medical and was able to study for the full three years. Through his tutorial partner, Norman Iles, he met Kingsley Amis, who remained a close friend throughout Larkin's life and encouraged his taste for ridicule and irreverence. Amis, Larkin and other university friends formed a group they dubbed "The Seven", which met to discuss each other's poetry, listen to jazz, and drink enthusiastically. During this time he had his first real social interaction with the opposite sex, but made no romantic headway.[12] In 1943 he sat his finals, and, having dedicated much of his time to his own writing, was greatly surprised at being awarded a first-class degree.[13]

In autumn 1943 Larkin was appointed librarian of the public library in Wellington, Shropshire. It was while working there that in the spring of 1944 he met his first girlfriend, Ruth Bowman, an academically ambitious 16-year-old schoolgirl.[14] In autumn 1945, Ruth went to continue her studies at King’s College, London, and during his visits to her there the couple started sexual relations. By June 1946, Larkin was halfway through qualifying for membership of the Library Association and was appointed sub-librarian of University College, Leicester. It was while visiting Larkin in Leicester and witnessing the Senior Common Room that Kingsley Amis found the inspiration to write Lucky Jim. Six weeks after his father's death from cancer in March 1948, Larkin proposed to Ruth, and that summer the couple spent their annual holiday touring Hardy country.[15]

[edit] 1950–1969: Personal, poetic & professional prime

Larkin's former first-floor flat overlooking Pearson Park, Hull

In June 1950 Larkin was appointed sub-librarian of Queen’s University, Belfast, a post he took up that September. Prior to his departure he and Ruth split up. At some stage between his appointment to Queen’s and the calling off of the engagement, his relationship with Monica Jones, a lecturer in English at Leicester, became sexual. He spent five years in Belfast, which appear to have been the most contented of his life. While his relationship with Monica Jones developed, he also had a sexually adventurous affair with Patsy Strang, who at the time was in an open marriage with one of his colleagues.[16] At one stage she offered to leave her husband to marry Larkin. From summer 1951 onwards Larkin would holiday with Monica in various locations around the British Isles. While in Belfast he also had a significant though sexually undeveloped friendship with Winifred Arnott, the subject of "Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album". This came to a close when she married in 1954. During this period he also gave Kingsley Amis extensive advice while the latter was writing Lucky Jim.[17] Amis repaid the debt by dedicating the finished book to Larkin.[18]

In 1955 Larkin was appointed Librarian at the University of Hull, a post he would hold until his death.[19] For his first year he lodged in bedsits. Then in 1956, at the age of 34, he for the first time rented a self-contained dwelling, the top-floor flat of 32 Pearson Park, a three-story red-brick house, overlooking the park, that had previously been the American Consulate.[20] This vantage point was later commemorated in the poem "High Windows".[21] In the post-war years Hull University underwent enormous expansion, as was typical in British universities during that period. For the first 15 years of his time there, Larkin was deeply involved in all aspects of the creation of a new and thoroughly modern library. This was built in two stages, and from 1967 named Brynmor Jones Library. From 1957 until his death his secretary was Betty Mackereth. All access to him by his colleagues was through her, and she came to know as much about Larkin's compartmentalised life as anyone.[22]

The entrance to Stage I of the Brynmor Jones Library, Hull University. Largely obscured is the much larger Stage II, completed in 1969. (photo 2003)

In February 1961 Larkin's friendship with his colleague Maeve Brennan became romantic, despite her strong Roman Catholic beliefs.[23] In spring 1963 Brennan persuaded him to attend a SCR dance with her, despite his preference for smaller gatherings. This seems to have been a pivotal occasion in their relationship, and he memorialised it in his longest (and unfinished) poem "The Dance".[24] Also at her prompting and around this time Larkin learnt to drive and bought a car. Meanwhile Monica Jones, whose parents had died in quick succession in autumn 1959, bought a holiday cottage in Haydon Bridge, near Hexham,[25] which she and Larkin visited regularly.[26] His notable poem "Show Saturday" is a description of the 1973 Bellingham show in the North Tyne valley.[27]

In 1964, in the wake of the publication of The Whitsun Weddings, Larkin was the subject of an episode of the arts programme Monitor. Comprising a series of interviews with John Betjeman in and around Hull, it was largely responsible for the creation of Larkin's public persona.

[edit] 1969–1985: “Beyond the light stand failure and remorse”

Larkin's role in the creation of Hull University's new Brynmor Jones Library was important and demanding. Not long after the second, much larger phase of construction was completed in 1969,[28] he was able to redirect his energies.

In October 1970 he started work on compiling a new anthology, The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse. He had been awarded a Visiting Fellowship at All Souls' College, Oxford for two academic terms, which allowed him to consult Oxford's Bodleian Library, a copyright library. Larkin was a major contributor to the re-evaluation of the poetry of Thomas Hardy, which in comparison to his work as a novelist had been ignored; in Larkin's "idiosyncratic" and "controversial" anthology,[29][30] the poet most generously represented was Hardy. The most favourable responses were those of W. H. Auden and John Betjeman, while the most hostile was that of Donald Davie, who accused Larkin of "positive cynicism" and of encouraging "the perverse triumph of philistinism, the cult of the amateur ... [and] the weakest kind of Englishry". After an initial period of anxiety about the anthology's reception, Larkin enjoyed the clamour.[31]

In 1971 Larkin began corresponding with his schoolfriend Colin Gunner, who had led a picaresque life. In the period 1973 to 1974 Larkin was made an Honorary Fellow of St John's College, Oxford and awarded honorary degrees by Warwick, St Andrews and Sussex universities. In January 1974 Hull University informed Larkin that they were going to dispose of the building on Pearson Park in which he lived. Shortly afterwards he bought a detached two-storey 1950s house in a thoroughly suburban street called Newland Park - commenting "I can't say it's the kind of dwelling that is eloquent of the nobility of the human spirit" - and moved in.[32]

Larkin's former house at 105 Newland Park, Hull

Shortly after splitting up with Maeve Brennan in August 1973, Larkin attended W. H. Auden's memorial service at Christ Church, Oxford, with Monica as his official partner.[33] However, in March 1975 the relationship with Maeve restarted, and three weeks after this he initiated a secret affair with his secretary Betty Mackereth, writing the long-undiscovered poem "We met at the end of the party" for her.[34] Despite the logistical difficulties in having three relationships simultaneously, the situation continued until March 1978. From that moment on he and Monica were a monogamous couple.[35] Five years later, in 1983, Monica was hospitalised owing to shingles. The severity of her symptoms, including its effects on her eyes, distressed Larkin. Regular care became necessary with the general decline in her health: within a month she moved into his Newland Park home and remained there for the rest of her life.[36]

In February 1982 Larkin turned sixty. This was marked most significantly by a collection of essays entitled Larkin at Sixty, edited by Anthony Thwaite and published by Faber and Faber.[37] There were also two television programmes: an episode of the South Bank Show presented by Melvyn Bragg in which Larkin made off-camera contributions, and a half-hour special on the BBC that was devised and presented by the Labour Shadow Cabinet Minister Roy Hattersley.[38]

At the memorial service for John Betjeman, who died in July 1984, Larkin was asked if he would accept the post of Poet Laureate. He declined, not least because he felt he had long since ceased to be in a meaningful sense a writer of poetry.[39] The following year Larkin began to suffer from oesophageal cancer. On 11 June 1985 he underwent surgery, but his cancer was found to have spread and was inoperable. On 28 November he collapsed and was readmitted to hospital. He died four days later, on 2 December 1985, at the age of 63, and was buried at the Cottingham Municipal Cemetery near Hull.[40] His gravestone reads simply "Philip Larkin 1922–1985 Writer".[41]

On his deathbed Larkin had requested explicitly that his diaries be destroyed. This request was granted by Monica Jones and Betty Mackereth; the latter shredded the diaries page by page and then had them burnt.[42] On the subject of his other private papers and unpublished writings his will was found to be contradictory. Legal advice from a Q.C. left the issue in the lap of his literary executors, who decided the papers should not be destroyed.[43]

When she died on 15 February 2001, Monica, who had been the major beneficiary of Larkin's will, in turn left about one million pounds in total to St Paul's Cathedral, Hexham Abbey and Durham Cathedral.[44]

[edit] Creative output

[edit] Juvenilia

From his mid-teens Larkin "wrote ceaselessly", producing both poetry, modelled on Eliot and W. H. Auden, and fiction. He wrote five full-length novels, all of which he destroyed shortly after completion. While he was at Oxford University he published a poem for the first time: "Ultimatum" in The Listener. Around this time he developed an pseudonymous alter ego for his prose, Brunette Coleman. Under this name he wrote two novellas Trouble at Willow Gables and Michaelmas Term at St Brides, as well as a supposed autobiography and an equally fictional creative manifesto called "What we are writing for". Richard Bradford has written that these curious works show "three registers: cautious indifference, archly overwritten symbolism with a hint of Lawrence and prose that appears to disclose its writer’s involuntary feelings of sexual excitement".[45] After these works Larkin started his first published novel Jill. This was published by Reginald A. Caton, a publisher of barely legal pornography, who also issued serious fiction as a cover for his core activities.[46]

Around the time that Jill was being prepared for publication, Caton asked Larkin if he wrote poetry as well. This resulted in The North Ship, a collection of poems written between 1942 and 1944 which showed the increasing influence of Yeats, being published three months before Jill. Immediately after completing Jill, Larkin started work on the novel A Girl in Winter, completing it in 1945. It was published in 1947 by Faber and Faber and was well received, The Sunday Times calling it "an exquisite performance and nearly faultless".[47] Subsequently he made at least three extended attempts at writing a third novel, but none went further than a solid start.[48]

[edit] Mature works

It was during Larkin’s five years in Belfast that he reached maturity as a poet.[49] The bulk of his next published collection of poems The Less Deceived was written here, though eight of the twenty-nine poems included were from the late 1940s. It was during this time that he made his final attempts at novel writing, and also gave extensive help to Kingsley Amis with the latter’s first published novel Lucky Jim. In October 1954 an article in The Spectator made the first use of the title The Movement to describe the dominant trend in British post-war literature.[50] Various poems of his were included in a 1953 PEN Anthology that also included poems by Amis and Robert Conquest, and Larkin was seen to be a part of this grouping.[51]

In November 1955 The Less Deceived was published by The Marvell Press, an independent start-up company operating out of Hessle just beyond the west border of Hull. At first the volume attracted little attention, but in December it was included in The Times' list of books of the year.[52] From this point the book's reputation spread and sales blossomed throughout 1956 and 1957. During his first five years in Hull the pressures of work slowed Larkin's output to an average of just two-and-a-half poems a year, but it was during this period that he wrote "An Arundel Tomb", "The Whitsun Weddings" and "Here".[53]

In 1963 Faber and Faber reissued Jill, including a long introduction by Larkin that included much information about his time at Oxford University and his friendship with Kingsley Amis. This acted as prelude to the release the following year of The Whitsun Weddings which confirmed his reputation, and almost immediately after its publication he was granted a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature. In the years that followed Larkin wrote several of his most famous and iconic poems, such as "Annus Mirabilis", "High Windows" and "This Be The Verse". In the 1970s Larkin wrote a series of longer and more sober poems: "The Building", "The Old Fools" and "Aubade".[54]

Larkin's final collection High Windows was published in June 1974. Its more direct use of language meant that it did not meet with uniform praise; nonetheless it sold over twenty thousand copies in its first year alone. For some critics it represents a falling-off from his previous two books,[55] yet it contains a number of his much-loved pieces, including "This Be The Verse" and "The Explosion", as well as the title poem. "Annus Mirabilis" (Year of Wonder), also from that volume, contains the frequently quoted observation that sexual intercourse began in 1963, which he claimed was "rather late for me", despite his having first had sexual relations in 1945. Bradford, prompted by comments in Maeve Brennan's memoir, suggests that the poem commemorates Larkin's relationship with Brennan moving from the romantic to the sexual.[56]

Later in 1974 he started work on his final major published poem "Aubade". It was completed in 1977 and published in the 23 December issue of the Times Literary Supplement.[57] Subsequent to "Aubade" Larkin wrote only one poem to have attracted intense critical attention, the unpublished and intensely personal "Love Again".[58]

[edit] Poetic style

Although Larkin's earliest work shows in turn the influences of Eliot, Auden and Yeats, the development of his mature poetic identity in the early 1950s coincided with the growing influence on him of Thomas Hardy.[15] He is well-known for his use of colloquial language in his poetry, partly balanced by a similarly antique word choice. With fine use of enjambement and rhyme, his poetry is highly structured, but never rigid. Death and fatalism were recurring themes and subjects of his poetry, his final major poem "Aubade" being an example of this.[59]

The house where Larkin once lived on Manor Rd was demolished to make way for Ringway St Patricks, built in the final phase of Coventry's inner ring road project.

In 1972 he wrote the oft-quoted "Going, Going", a poem which expresses the romantic fatalism in his view of England which was typical of his later years. In it, he prophesies a complete destruction of the countryside, and expresses an idealised sense of national togetherness and identity: "And that will be England gone ... it will linger on in galleries; but all that remains for us will be concrete and tyres". The poem ends with the blunt statement, "I just think it will happen, soon."[60]

[edit] Prose non-fiction

Larkin was by contrast a notable critic of modernism in contemporary art and literature. His scepticism is at its most nuanced and illuminating in Required Writing, a collection of his book reviews and essays, and at its most inflamed and polemical in his introduction to his collected jazz reviews, All What Jazz, drawn from the 126 record-review columns he wrote for the Daily Telegraph between 1961 and 1971, which contains an attack on modern jazz that widens into a wholesale critique of modernism in the arts.[61] Nevertheless, recent critical assessments of Larkin's writings have identified them as possessing some modernist characteristics.[62]

[edit] Legacy

[edit] Reception history

When first published in 1945, The North Ship received just one review, in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, which concluded "Mr Larkin has an inner vision that must be sought for with care. His recondite imagery is couched in phrases that make up in a kind of wistful hinted beauty what they lack in lucidy. Mr Larkin's readers must at present be confined to a small circle. Perhaps his work will gain wider appeal as his genius becomes more mature?"[63] A few years later though, the poet and critic Charles Madge came across the book and wrote to Larkin with his compliments.[64] When the collection was reissued in 1966 it was presented as a work of juvenilia, and the reviews were gentle and respectful; the most forthright praise came from Elizabeth Jennings in the Spectator: "few will question the instrinsic value of The North Ship or the importance of its being reprinted now. It is good to know that Larkin could write so well when still so young."[65]

The Less Deceived was first noticed by The Times, who included it in its List of Books of 1955. In its wake many other reviews followed; "most of them concentrated ... on the book's emotional impact and its sophisticated, witty language."[52] The Spectator felt the collection was "in the running for the best published in this country since the war"; G. S. Fraser, referring to Larkin's perceived association with The Movement felt that Larkin exemplified "everything that is good in this 'new movement' and none of its faults".[66] The TLS called him "a poet of quite exceptional importance",[66] and in June 1956 the Times Educational Supplement was fulsome: "As native as a Whitstable oyster, as sharp an expression of contemporary thought and experience as anything written in our time, as immediate in its appeal as the lyric poetry of an earlier day, it may well be regarded by posterity as a poetic monument that marks the triumph over the formless mystifications of the last twenty years. With Larkin poetry is on its way back to the middlebrow public."[67] Reviewing the book in America the poet Robert Lowell wrote, "No post-war poetry has so caught the moment, and caught it without straining after its ephemera. It's a hesitant, groping mumble, resolutely experienced, resolutely perfect in its artistic methods."[68]

However, in time, there was a reaction: David Wright wrote in Encounter that The Less Deceived suffered from the "palsy of playing safe";[66] in April 1957 Charles Tomlinson wrote a piece for the journal Essays in Criticism, "The Middlebrow Muse", attacking The Movement's poets for their "middle-cum-lowbrowism", "suburban mental ratio" and "parochialism"—Larkin had a "tenderly nursed sense of defeat".[69] In 1962 A. Alvarez, the compiler of an anthology entitled The New Poetry, famously accused Larkin of "gentility, neo-Georgian pastoralism, and a failure to deal with the violent extremes of contemporary life".[68]

When The Whitsun Weddings was released Alvarez continued his attacks in a review in The Observer, complaining of the "drab circumspection" of Larkin's "commonplace" subject-matter. However, praise outweighed criticism. John Betjeman felt Larkin had "closed the gap between poetry and the public which the experiments and obscurity of the last fifty years have done so much to widen." In the New York Review of Books Christopher Ricks wrote of the "refinement of self-consciousness, usually flawless in its execution" and Larkin's summoning up of "the world of all of us, the place where, in the end, we find our happiness, or not at all." He felt Larkin to be "the best poet England now has."[70][71]

Of the reception of High Windows Richard Bradford writes "the reviews were generally favourable, with the notable exception of Robert Nye in The Times, but each reflected the difficulty of writing a 500–1,000-word piece on a collection which, while short, compelled fascination and confusion. The admiration for the volume was genuine for most reviewers, but one also senses anxiety in their prose, particularly on how to describe the individual genius at work in poems such as "Annus Mirabilis", "The Explosion" and "The Building" and at the same time explain why each is so radically different. Nye overcomes this problem by treating the differences as ineffective masks for a consistently nasty presence."[72]

To celebrate Larkin's 60th birthday in 1982, Faber and Faber published Larkin at Sixty, edited and introduced by Anthony Thwaite.[37] In amongst portraits by friends and colleagues such as Kingsley Amis, Noel Hughes and Charles Monteith and dedicatory poems by John Betjeman, Peter Porter and Gavin Ewart, the various strands of Larkin's output were analysed by critics and fellow poets: Andrew Motion, Christopher Ricks and Seamus Heaney looked at the poems, Alan Brownjohn wrote on the novels and Donald Mitchell and Clive James looked at his jazz criticism.[37]

[edit] Critical opinion

In 1980 Neil Powell could write that "It is probably fair to say that Philip Larkin is less highly regarded in academic circles than either Thom Gunn or Donald Davie".[73] But more recently Larkin's standing has increased. "Philip Larkin is an excellent example of the plain style in modern times," writes Tijana Stojkovic.[74] Robert Sheppard asserts that "It is by general consent that the work of Philip Larkin is taken to be exemplary".[75] "Larkin is the most widely celebrated and arguably the finest poet of the Movement," states Keith Tuma, and his poetry is "more various than its reputation for dour pessimism and anecdotes of a disappointed middle class suggests".[76]

Stephen Cooper's book Philip Larkin: Subversive Writer suggests the changing temper of Larkin studies. Cooper argues that "The interplay of signs and motifs in the early work orchestrates a subversion of conventional attitudes towards class, gender, authority and sexual relations".[77] Cooper identifies Larkin as a progressive writer, and perceives in the letters a "plea for alternative constructs of masculinity, femininity and social and political organisation".[78] Cooper draws on the entire canon of Larkin's works, as well as on unpublished correspondence, to counter the oft-repeated caricature of Larkin as a racist, misogynist reactionary. Instead he identifies in Larkin what he calls a "subversive imagination".[79] He highlights in particular "Larkin's objections to the hypocrisies of conventional sexual politics that hamper the lives of both sexes in equal measure".[80]

In similar vein to Cooper, Stephen Regan notes in an essay entitled "Philip Larkin: a late modern poet" that Larkin frequently embraces devices associated with the experimental practices of Modernism, such as "linguistic strangeness, self-conscious literariness, radical self-questioning, sudden shifts of voice and register, complex viewpoints and perspectives, and symbolist intensity".[81]

A further indication of a new direction in the critical valuation of Larkin is S. K. Chatterjee's statement that "Larkin is no longer just a name but an institution, a modern British national cultural monument".[82]

Chatterjee's view of Larkin is grounded in a detailed analysis of his poetic style. He notes a development from Larkin's early works to his later ones, which sees his style change from "verbal opulence through a recognition of the self-ironising and self-negating potentiality of language to a linguistic domain where the conventionally held conceptual incompatibles - which are traditional binary oppositions between absolutes and relatives, between asbtracts and concretes, between fallings and risings and between singleness and multiplicity - are found to be the last stumbling-block for an artist aspiring to rise above the impasse of worldliness".[83] This contrasts with an older view that Larkin's style barely changed over the course of his poetic career. Chatterjee identifies this view as being typified by Bernard Bergonzi's comment that "Larkin's poetry did not ... develop between 1955 and 1974".[84] However, for Chatterjee, Larkin's poetry responds strongly to changing "economic, socio-political, literary and cultural factors".[85]

Chatterjee argues that "It is under the defeatist veneer of his poetry that the positive side of Larkin's vision of life is hidden".[86] This positivity, suggests Chatterjee, is most apparent in his later works. Over the course of Larkin's poetic career, "The most notable attitudinal development lay in the zone of his view of life, which from being almost irredeemably bleak and pessimistic in The North Ship, became more and more positive with the passage of time".[87]

The view that Larkin is not a nihilist or pessimist, but actually displays optimism in his works, is certainly not universally endorsed, but Chatterjee's lengthy study suggests the degree to which Larkin is now transcending old stereotypes. Representative of these stereotypes is Bryan Appleyard's judgement (quoted by Maeve Brennan) that of the writers who "have adopted a personal pose of extreme pessimism and loathing of the world ... none has done so with quite such a grinding focus on littleness and triviality as Larkin the man".[88] Recent criticism of Larkin demonstrates a more complex set of values at work in his poetry and across the totality of his writings.[89]

The debate about Larkin is summed up by Matthew Johnson, who observes that in most evaluations of Larkin "one is not really discussing the man, but actually reading a coded and implicit discussion of the supposed values of 'Englishness' that he is held to represent".[90] Changing attitudes to Englishness are reflected in changing attitudes to Larkin, and the more sustained intellectual interest in the English national character, as embodied in the works of Peter Mandler for instance, pinpoints one key reason why there is an increased scholarly interest in Larkin.[91]

A summative view similar to those of Johnson and Regan is that of Robert Crawford, who argues that "In various ways, Larkin's work depends on, and develops from, Modernism." Furthermore, he "demonstrates just how slippery the word 'English' is".[92]

[edit] Career as a librarian

University of Hull. The large seven-story building in the background on the left is the Stage II building of the Brynmor Jones Library (photo 2003)

Two of Larkin's colleagues at Hull University felt that his work as a librarian was in itself worthy of note. Douglas Dunn wrote "Librarianship became a profession through the examples set by notable librarians. Philip Larkin was such a librarian", and Brian Dyson called him "a great figure in post-war British librarianship". Having started out by running Wellington Public Library single-handed, Larkin soon developed an assurance beyond the norm. His boss at Belfast University, Graneek, said that he had "come increasingly to rely on Larkin's judgement ... I have delegated to him rather larger areas of responsibility than normally falls to the lot of a sub-librarian ... He has the ability to assess a problem, arrive at a decision and act upon it without delay, which is not too common among academic administrators." When Larkin took up his appointment in Hull the plans for a larger university library—the first to be built since the war—were already far advanced. Larkin made a great effort in just a few months to come to terms with these plans before they were placed before the University Grants Committee; he suggested a number of emendations, some major and structural, all of which were taken on board. The library was completed in 1969; ten years later Larkin took the equally ground-breaking decision to computerise the entire library stock. Richard Goodman has written that "with this step, Hull became the first library in Europe to install a GEAC system [automated online circulation system]." In a general tone Goodman also wrote "it is as an administrator boss, committee man and arbitrator that Larkin revealed one of his strongest suits as a librarian. He treated his staff decently, and he motivated them. He did this with a combination of efficiency, high standards, humour and compassion. Those who have left written accounts of their time at Hull have said he was an excellent librarian and a very caring boss." In his article in Larkin at Sixty Barry Bloomfield noted that Larkin "pioneered new techniques and introduced methods which have been copied in other academic libraries in the United Kingdom." During his thirty years as Librarian the stock sextrupled, and the budget expanded from £4,500 to £448,500.[93]

[edit] Posthumous reputation

Headstone marking Larkin's grave at Cottingham Cemetery, Cottingham, East Riding of Yorkshire

Larkin's posthumous reputation was deeply affected by the publication in 1992 of Anthony Thwaite's edition of his letters and, the following year, his official biography, Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life by Andrew Motion.[94] These revealed his obsession with pornography, his racism, his increasing shift to the political right wing, and his habitual expressions of venom and spleen. In 1990, even before the publication of these two books, Tom Paulin wrote that Larkin's "obscenity is informed by prejudices that are not by any means as ordinary, commonplace, or acceptable as the poetic language in which they are so plainly spelled out."[95] The letters and Motion's biography fueled further assessments of this kind, such as Lisa Jardine's comment in The Guardian that "The Britishness of Larkin's poetry carries a baggage of attitudes which the Selected Letters now make explicit".[88] On the other hand, the revelations have been dismissed by the author and critic Martin Amis, who argues that the letters in particular show nothing more than a tendency for Larkin to tailor his words according to the recipient, rather than representing Larkin's true opinions. This idea is developed in Richard Bradford's biography: he compares the style Larkin used in his correspondence with the author Barbara Pym with that he adopted with his old schoolfriend Colin Gunner.[96][97]

Despite controversy about his personal life and opinions, Larkin remains one of Britain's most popular poets. Three of his poems, "This Be The Verse", "The Whitsun Weddings" and "An Arundel Tomb", featured in the Nation's Top 100 Poems as voted for by viewers of the BBC's Bookworm in 1995.[98] Media interest in Larkin has increased in the twenty-first century. Larkin's The Whitsun Weddings collection is one of the available poetry texts in the AQA English Literature A Level syllabus,[99] whilst High Windows is offered by the OCR board.[100]

The Philip Larkin Society was formed in 1995, ten years after the poet's death, with Anthony Thwaite, one of Larkin's literary executors, as its president.[101]

A booklet containing Larkin's most famous work was included with The Guardian newspaper of 14 March 2008, to which Andrew Motion contributed the foreword.[102]

[edit] Recordings

In 1964, Larkin was interviewed by Sir John Betjeman for the BBC programme Monitor: Philip Larkin meets John Betjeman.[103] The film, together with the original rushes is stored at the Larkin archive at the University of Hull,[104] and was most recently broadcast on BBC Four.[105]

In 1982 as part of celebrations for Larkin's sixtieth birthday he was the subject of The South Bank Show.[106] Larkin did not appear on camera although Melvyn Bragg, in his introduction to the programme, stressed the poet had given his full cooperation. The programme featured contributions from Kingsley Amis, Andrew Motion and Alan Bennett. Bennett also read several of Larkin's works on an edition of Poetry in Motion, broadcast by Channel 4 in 1990.[107]

After lying undiscovered in a Hornsea garage for over two decades, an unprecedented collection of Larkin audio tapes was found in 2006. The recordings were made by the poet in the early 1980s, and extracts can be heard during a Sky News report.[108] His poetry-speaking voice was very different from his normal voice, which he described as "halfway between the of drawl of Leicester and the laziness of Birmingham." A programme examining the discovery in more depth, The Larkin Tapes, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in March 2008.[109]

[edit] Fiction based on Larkin's life

In 1999, Oliver Ford Davies starred in Ben Brown's play Larkin With Women at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, reprising his role at the Orange Tree Theatre, London in 2006. The play was published by Larkin's usual publishers, Faber and Faber. Three years later Sir Tom Courtenay debuted his one-man play Pretending to Be Me at the West Yorkshire Playhouse,[110][111] later transferring the production to the Comedy Theatre in London's West End. An audio recording of the play, which is based on Larkin's letters, interviews, diaries and verse, was released in 2005.[112]

In July 2003, BBC Two broadcast a play entitled Love Again—its title also that of one of Larkin's most painfully personal poems—dealing with the last thirty years of Larkin's life (though not shot anywhere near Hull). The lead role was played by Hugh Bonneville,[113] and in the same year Channel 4 broadcast the documentary Philip Larkin, Love and Death in Hull.[114]

In April 2008, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a play by Chris Harrald entitled Mr Larkin's Awkward Day, recounting the practical joke played on him in 1957 by his friend Robert Conquest, of the group known as The Movement.[115]

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] Works

[edit] Poetry

For the full contents of each volume, see its article.

[edit] Fiction

[edit] Non-fiction

  • All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1961–1971, Faber and Faber, ISBN 9780571134762 
  • Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955–1982, Faber and Faber, 1983, ISBN 9780571131204 
  • Further Requirements: Interviews, Broadcasts, Statements and Book Reviews 1952–1985, Faber and Faber, ISBN 9780571216147 
  • Larkin, Philip (1979), "The Brynmor Jones Library 1929-1979", in Brennan, Maeve, 'A Lifted Study-Storehouse': The Brynmor Jones Library 1929-1979, updated to 1985, Hull University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-85958-561-1 

[edit] Miscellaneous

[edit] Secondary sources

[edit] Biographies and memoirs

[edit] Critical works

[edit] Dramatised interpretations

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Larkin is nation's top poet" BBC News 15 October 2003
  2. ^ "The 50 greatest postwar writers" The Times, 5 January 2008.
  3. ^ Simpson, Cara (2007-04-18). "Drunk vandals target poet's garden". Coventry Telegraph. Retrieved on 7 May 2008. 
  4. ^ Motion 1993, p.10.
  5. ^ a b Orwin, James L. "Philip Larkin 1922–1985". The Philip Larkin Society. Retrieved on 7 May 2008. 
  6. ^ Bradford 2005, p.25.
  7. ^ Bradford 2005, p.26.
  8. ^ Motion 1993, p.11.
  9. ^ Bradford 2005, p.28.
  10. ^ Bradford 2005, p.38.
  11. ^ Bradford 2005, p.39.
  12. ^ Bradford 2005, p.59.
  13. ^ Motion 1993, p.104.
  14. ^ Bradford 2005, pp.68–9.
  15. ^ a b Bradford 2005, p.70.
  16. ^ Bradford 2005, p.100.
  17. ^ Motion 1993, p.238.
  18. ^ Hartley 1989, p.7.
  19. ^ Motion 1993, pp.244–245
  20. ^ Motion 1993, p.276.
  21. ^ Bradford 2005, p.154.
  22. ^ Bradford 2005, p.241, which includes a quote from Motion 1993, p.282.
  23. ^ Bradford 2005, p.183.
  24. ^ Bradford 2005, p.199.
  25. ^ Bradford 2005, pp.181 & 193.
  26. ^ "Phipip Larkin (1922–1985)". Myers Literary Guide. Retrieved on 17 November 2008. 
  27. ^ Motion 1993, p.437.
  28. ^ Bradford 2005, p.170.
  29. ^ Motion 1993, p.407.
  30. ^ Motion 1993, p.431.
  31. ^ Bowen 2008, p.107.
  32. ^ Motion 1993, p.440.
  33. ^ Motion 1993, p.438.
  34. ^ Eric McHenry. "High Standards" Slate 10 February 2003
  35. ^ Bradford 2005, p.245.
  36. ^ Motion 1993, p.498.
  37. ^ a b c Thwaite 1982.
  38. ^ Motion 1993, p.494.
  39. ^ Bradford 2005, p.260.
  40. ^ Motion 1993, p.524.
  41. ^ Photograph of headstone marking Larkin's grave.
  42. ^ Motion 1993, p.522.
  43. ^ Motion 1993, p.xvi.
  44. ^ John Ezard. "Larkin's lover bequeaths to church £1m of poet's agnostic legacy" The Guardian 12 January 2002 (updated 22 December 2003)
  45. ^ Bradford 2005, p.51.
  46. ^ Motion 1993, p.76.
  47. ^ Bradford 2005, p.77.
  48. ^ Bradford 2005, p.75.
  49. ^ Bradford 2005, p.103.
  50. ^ Motion 1993, p.242.
  51. ^ Motion 1993, p.243.
  52. ^ a b Motion 1993, p.269.
  53. ^ Collected Poems 1988, pp.110–11, 114–5, 136–7.
  54. ^ Collected Poems 1988, pp.191–3, 196–7, 208–9.
  55. ^ Swarbrick 1995
  56. ^ Bradford 2005, p.212.
  57. ^ Motion 1993, p.468.
  58. ^ Bradford 2005, pp.249–251.
  59. ^ Motion 1993, 468–9
  60. ^ Collected Poems 1988, p.190.
  61. ^ Leggett, B.J (1996). "Larkin's Blues: Jazz and Modernism".;col1. 
  62. ^ Corcoran 2007, p.147.
  63. ^ Motion 1993, p.132.
  64. ^ Motion 1993, p.191.
  65. ^ Motion 1993, pp.358–60.
  66. ^ a b c Bradford 2005, p.144.
  67. ^ Motion 1993, p.275.
  68. ^ a b Motion 1993, p.328.
  69. ^ Motion 1993, p.281.
  70. ^ Motion 1993, p.343.
  71. ^ Bradford 2005, p. 202.
  72. ^ Bradford 2005, p.238
  73. ^ Powell 1980, p.83.
  74. ^ Stojkovic 2006, p.37.
  75. ^ Sheppard 2005, p.23.
  76. ^ Tuma 2001, p.445.
  77. ^ Cooper 2004, p.1.
  78. ^ Cooper 2004, p.2.
  79. ^ Cooper 2004, p.3.
  80. ^ Cooper 2004, p.179.
  81. ^ Corcoran 2007, p.149.
  82. ^ Chatterjee 2007, p.4.
  83. ^ Chatterjee 2007, p.331.
  84. ^ Chatterjee 2007, p.14.
  85. ^ Chatterjee 2007, p.18.
  86. ^ Chatterjee 2007, p.356.
  87. ^ Chatterjee 2007, p.19.
  88. ^ a b Brennan 2002, p.109.
  89. ^ Ingelbien 2002, p.13.
  90. ^ Johnson 2007, p.66.
  91. ^ Ingelbien 2002, p.196.
  92. ^ Crawford 2000, p.276.
  93. ^ Goodman, Richard (October 1997). ""My particular talents": Philip Larkin's 42-year career as a Librarian". The Journal About Larkin (4): 4. 
  94. ^ Kissick, Gary (Winter 1994). "They turn on Larkin". The Antioch Review. 
  95. ^ Tom Paulin. "Into the Heart of Englishness" TLS July 1990
  96. ^ Bradford 2005, pp.210 & 224.
  97. ^ Motion 1993, p.332.
  98. ^ Griff Rhys Jones (Foreword) (1996). The Nation's Favourite Poems. BBC Books. ISBN 0563384875. 
  99. ^ "GCE: AS and A Level Specification: Section 3.4" (PDF). Assessment and Qualifications Alliance. 2007. Retrieved on 15 November 2008. 
  100. ^ "GCSE: English Literature" (PDF). Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations. 12 January 2006. Retrieved on 15 November 2008. 
  101. ^ Dawes, Edwin. "About the Society: Welcome". Philip Larkin Society. Retrieved on 15 November 2008. 
  102. ^ Motion, Andrew (14 March 2008). "The quarrel within ourselves". The Guardian. 
  103. ^ "Film & TV Database: Philip Larkin: Broadcast (1964) on BBC One". BFI. 
  104. ^ "Philip Larkin Subject Guide". University of Hull. Retrieved on 17 November 2008. 
  105. ^ "Monitor: Larkin and Betjeman". BBC. Retrieved on 2008-11-11. 
  106. ^ Motion, Andrew (5 July 2003). "A fanfare for the common man". The Guardian. 
  107. ^ BFI | Film & TV Database | Philip Larkin (1990)
  108. ^ YouTube - Philip Larkin - The Lost Tapes
  109. ^ "The Larkin Tapes". Archive Hour. BBC. Radio 4. 2008-03-01.
  110. ^ "Courtenay pens Larkin tribute". BBC News. 23 July 2002. 
  111. ^ Tom Courtenay (Staged 22 November 2002 to 21 December 2002). "Pretending to be me". WYPlayhouse. 
  112. ^ Tom Courtenay (2005). Pretending to be Me: Philip Larkin, a Portrait. Time Warner (Audio books). ISBN 9781405500821. 
  113. ^ "BBC Two's summer of events". BBC. 19 March 2003. 
  114. ^ Philip Larkin. Channel 4. 2003-07-03.
  115. ^ BBC Radio 4 Publicity (29 April 2008). "Mr Larkin's Awkward Day". BBC Radio 4. 
  116. ^ "Down Cemetery Road / An Enormous Yes". Alan Bates Archive. Retrieved on 17 November 2008. 
  117. ^ Mr Larkin's Awkward Day

[edit] External links

NAME Larkin, Philip Arthur
SHORT DESCRIPTION Poet, Novelist, Jazz critic, Librarian
DATE OF BIRTH 9 August 1922
PLACE OF BIRTH Coventry, West Midlands, England
DATE OF DEATH 2 December 1985
PLACE OF DEATH Hull, Humberside (now East Riding of Yorkshire), England
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