Place of the poet: an examination of the evocation of space and place in the oeuvre of Philip Larkin
Howard, Alexander Josef
This thesis attempts to recalibrate some of the critical coordinates of recent discussions of Larkin’s writing by reconsidering the treatment of space and place in his work. It claims, broadly, that Larkin treated ‘place’ and ‘space’ as two separate tropic entities: the former relating primarily to geographical location and responsive to a vast catalogue of attendant symbolisms and styles; and the latter, a more notional concept, which frequently drew inspiration from the adjacent intellectual fields of fine art, political philosophy and grammatical deixis. In exploring Larkin’s space- and place- making techniques, the thesis argues that the poet demonstrated a receptiveness towards, or actively called upon, notions and styles that were contemporary and predated his compositional timeframe. Among these earlier influences, the thesis places a key focus on the poetics of Pope, Wordsworth, Collins and Dickens whose varied approaches to the poetics of place are deemed to be greatly influential upon the Larkin canon. In so doing, the thesis broaches the possibility that Larkin’s variously-sought techniques for place- and space-making might betray certain allegiances in the poet himself that have hitherto been unexplored. Principal among these are the poet’s receptivity towards Christian faith, the geometry of surrealist art, and the organisational principles of the panopticon. In the introduction, the thesis attempts to diagnose a number of speculative issues that may have obstructed, or obfuscated, the literary critique of place and space in recent years. Consequently, the introduction attempts to establish a normative understanding of both ‘space’ and ‘place’ with which to approach Larkin’s work. Chapters one and two deal with Larkin’s early work; his novel Jill and his ‘Dream Diaries’. Chapter one argues that Larkin was inspired by a lecture series on Ruskinian artists which, in turn, coloured the behaviour and settings within Jill. Chapter two posits that the ‘Dream Diaries’ were among Larkin’s first attempts at space-making with several entries existing as heuristic-style experiments in their own right. Chapters three and four explore Larkin’s understanding of ‘elsewhere’ with the former focusing on Larkin’s “mental journeys”, while the latter considers A Girl in Winter and its protagonist’s cognition of unknown geographies. Finally, chapters five and six explore Larkin’s depiction of death and the afterlife through space and place, suggesting that in High Windows, these concepts can be split into two subcategories: instants in which the narrator thinks beyond death into an unknowable “afterlife”, and instances in which the narrator ponders the moment of death itself.