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This report is taken from PN Review 89, Volume 19 Number 3, January - February 1993.

Letters from Hull Donald Davie

This is a hateful and disgraceful book. It has been reviewed already, at length and prominently; thus ensuring that its hatefulness will be profitably disseminated. The damage it will do is incalculable. As most reviewers have noticed though not one reader in a thousand will, the word 'Selected' in the title has to be given much weight. The selectivity practised by the editor and the publishers (and also, I'm reliably informed, by people named slightingly in the text) has been so thorough-going, so unexplained and so unaccountable, that it amounts to censorship; and this means that from the point of view of the scholarly record - that in any case discredited concept - the book has no value at all. By the same token, no inferences drawn by reviewers from this confessedly corrupt compendium can have any validity. And yet how does one talk of the book at all, or of the experience of reading it - not a boring experience, alas, though desolating and dispiriting - except by drawing conclusions, however ill-founded and therefore tentative? So here are mine, for what they are worth.

Every one knows that many English writers in the present century have been fixated on their school days, or else on their undergraduate years, particularly if those years were spent at Oxford. Larkin's correspondence, especially with Kingsley Amis (a correspondence characteristically incomplete and therefore unreliable) shows that pattern very clearly: an idiom invented by callow and insecure though intelligent undergraduates is ossified ...


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