UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Novels and the poetry of Philip Larkin. Mayne, Joan Sheila


Philip Larkin has been considered primarily in terms of his contribution to the Movement of the Fifties; this thesis considers Larkin as an artist in his own right. His novels, Jill and A Girl in Winter, and his first volume of poetry, The North Ship, have received very little critical attention. Larkin's last two volumes of poetry, The Less Deceived and The Whitsun Weddings, have been considered as two very similar works with little or no relation to his earlier work. This thesis is an attempt to demonstrate that there is a very clear line of development running through Larkin's work, in which the novels play as important a part as the poetry. The North Ship contains in embryonic form those themes which become important in the later work; it is different in technique, largely because it is immature and influenced very strongly by the poetry which Larkin was reading at the time of writing. The lyric element in this volume of poetry anticipates the later development in Larkin's poetic technique. The novels are considered as novel-poems and their poetic quality is demonstrated through close analysis which reveals their closely patterned quality and that the narrative level is important only as it mirrors the internal action of the central characters. The novels develop ideas which are present in The North Ship and they represent a considerable advance in the writer's confidence in handling his material in his own way. The Less Deceived and The Whitsun Weddings use many of the techniques of the novels and are very closely linked with them in their basic themes. The Less Deceived shows Larkin becoming increasingly self-aware and from this awareness examining his society in a new light. In The Whitsun Weddings his self-awareness is increased and he is more tolerant of his own failings. His tolerance is extended also to his society and the volume as a whole represents Larkin's attempt to view man and society clearly and to accept them as they are. Both the novels and the later poetry contain lyric elements of an unusual nature. The development throughout his work is based on his ability to develop his technique to express his changing ideas. He moves from the use of totally conventional forms to express conventional ideas to the use of individualistic forms, developed from traditional material including the lyric, to express his sense of a society looking for, but not finding, order in traditional values.

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