In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Philip Larkin

  • Introduction
  • Biographies
  • Reference Works
  • Context: Larkin and “The Movement”
  • Larkin under Attack
  • Collections
  • Journals
  • Monographs

British and Irish Literature Philip Larkin
by
Ryan Hibbett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0191

Introduction

As a central, highly acclaimed representative of postwar poetry in Britain whose status beyond is less conspicuous, Philip Larkin marks to some extent the death of the transnational poetic giant; from the cosmopolitan lineage of Yeats, Eliot, and Auden we arrive at a poet often characterized as exclusively English and anti-modernist, whose poetry strives toward an aesthetic of straightforwardness and accessibility. At the same time, Larkin, in his role as “people’s poet” or “unofficial laureate,” manifests a felt division between an authentic, popular, democratic poetry versus an institutionalized, elitist one. Larkin remains a frequently written-about and polarizing figure, with initial criticisms of his provincialism and, later, reactions to the racism and misogyny within his published letters opening vast and ongoing space for a scholarship of apologetics and revaluation. That is, the bulk of Larkin scholarship since the mid-1990s aims to defend his work and/or person as having been unfairly diminished or attacked; scholars routinely cite the flurry of post-letters indignation and anti-Larkin sentiments (represented in Larkin under Attack), then proceed, by various methods, to demonstrate overlooked complexities, virtues, and achievements—aspects of the man and his writing that undermine simplistic portraits (including Larkin’s self-characterizations), thereby displacing a singular version of Larkin with a myriad of identities, voices, influences, and contradictions. This basic polemic—thoroughly documented in the critical survey Evans 2017 (cited under Reference Works), whose chronology tracks a cherished-yet-fallen poet’s return to “triumph”—anticipates and overlaps to some degree the broader conflicts embedded in terms like political correctness, cancel culture, toxic masculinity, and identity politics, yet has also, in a manner recalling the Joseph Conrad debates instigated by Chinua Achebe, brought to Larkin familiar disputes regarding the proper boundaries of literary scholarship, and the question of whether the artist and/or their politics can be separated from what Larkin once called the “sole freshly created universe” of the poetic text. Across the various categories and chronologies found in this bibliography some notable trends prevail: 1) an approach to Larkin’s poetry as a system of conflicted binaries (Swarbrick’s “aesthete/philistine” paradigm, Motion’s empiricist/symbolist split, Carey’s dueling speech registers, etc.); 2) a recognition of Larkin’s unique use of persona, which tends to complicate the lines between poet and speaker, life and text; and 3) a (contested) effort to analyze Larkin in relation to place—be it city, region, nation, or empire—and within the complicating developments of a post-imperial consciousness and globalized market.

Primary Texts

Larkin is by far best known for his poetry, though scholarly interest in his fiction writing has gained traction. Also included are his collected criticism and commentary, published correspondence, and his editorship of the Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse.

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