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This article is taken from PN Review 167, Volume 32 Number 3, January - February 2006.

Playing Snooker with Dice: Philip Larkin's Juvenilia and Jazz Neil Powell


Here is a confession. At university, a friend and I both wrote novels which we then, hilariously and sometimes quite earnestly, discussed with each other - as if we were playing at being the Auden and Isherwood of our generation, or perhaps the Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis. Mine, I remember, was a sub-Angus Wilsonian social comedy, complete with the elaborate dramatis personae he liked to provide: there was a wealthy landowner called Sir Basil Clutch, a cockney charlady (modelled on Mrs Salad in Anglo-Saxon Attitudes) called Lavender Harpick, and so forth; there was even a cat, Walpole, who naturally answered to 'Wally'. I've no idea what became of this fugitive masterpiece - I just wish I'd a clear recollection of destroying it - but if it turns up one day I very much don't want it ever to be published. Could that last sentence be legally binding, please?

This partly explains the special queasiness I felt first about Larkin's Trouble at Willow Gables and now about the Early Poems and Juvenilia. Few writers have had a sharper sense of what should and shouldn't be (or remain) in print: even the two early works - The North Ship and Jill - which he was persuaded to reissue in the 1960s come with wryly self-deprecating introductions which firmly warn the reader not to take ...

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