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This review is taken from PN Review 32, Volume 9 Number 6, July - August 1983.

COMPLACENCIES Andrew Motion, Philip Larkin: Contemporary Writers (Methuen) £1.95

This is a concise and informative book, with a useful account of Larkin's life and literary career, and a good bibliography, which enshrines, incidentally, the title of Clive James's piece 'Don Juan in Hull', appropriate enough for a poet with considerable reserves of humour, though this is one aspect of Larkin which is passed over here. As well as giving us information, the book argues that Larkin, against his own will, as it were, retains habits of symbolism, derived from his early infatuation with Yeats, and that techniques from this influence (which is extended deftly to include the Modernist tradition in its entirety) represent one side of a continuing dialectic between 'hopeful romantic yearning and disillusioned pragmatism'. This viewpoint is argued closely through a survey of the poems and novels, analysing Larkin's overall development.

There are two levels of argument. The first, expressed mainly in an introductory chapter, makes out of Larkin a paradigm who 'relates the modernists' to what is called the 'English line'; by this is meant a continuation of Auden's casting a modern sensibility within a recognisably English (not British) context, while retaining accepted techniques of metrical composition. The final point of this argument is that Larkin represents a 'poetic inclusiveness', which seems to herald the emergence of a bright new radical Larkin. Good authorities are quoted to show how various of the poems imitate or give an ironic nod in passing to Baudelaire or Laforgue, or employ what are called 'symbolist strategies': the ...


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