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This report is taken from PN Review 264, Volume 48 Number 4, March - April 2022.

Mrs Bleaney John Clegg
Here’s the opening of ‘Mr Bleaney’. Larkin’s prospective landlady is speaking:
‘This was Mr Bleaney’s room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.’
This does seem to present a mystery – or at least an obliqueness, a turning away from something. I’ll go on to offer a theory about what the landlady is turning away from, but first, I want to give an account of exactly what she means here, or rather the limits to what she might mean.

Larkin gives his own account of ‘the Bodies’ in a letter to Alan Bold: ‘I was brought up in Coventry, a great car-making town, and there used to be works there which we referred to rather by what they produced than the names of the makers. “The Bodies” was a fictitious example of this, invented for its macabre overtones.’ (It is not all that fictitious; Carbodies, which made the chassis for London taxis, was operating out of Coventry during Larkin’s childhood.) For the two main Coventry car companies, Jaguar and Standard, all the manufacturing happened on the same site, although Jaguar initially bought their engines from Standard. The only possible ambiguity in the landlady’s speech comes in the final clause: ‘till / They moved him’. Some critics have read Larkin’s ‘macabre overtones’ as a full-fledged double meaning – he’s been moved on from the Bodies, i.e. he’s died – and so have been keen to read ‘they’ as doctors, undertakers or similar. I don’t think this can hold: from the ...

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