the damaged philip larkin

LarkinMagda Kay at the Dublin Review of Books:

After a selection of his letters was published in 1992, closely followed by a revelatory biography that let us see the worst of his personality, including material from unpublished letters and personal correspondence, Larkin’s reputation took a beating from which it hasn’t yet recovered. Ironically enough, this helped to secure his fame: a strikingly unglamorous character became the talk of the town. Outraged academics claimed they would never teach Larkin again or would make him a cautionary tale, an example of what not to be. Curiously, non-British readers took him as a case study of everything that is wrong with the English: insular, happily provincial, sentimental, reticent in all the wrong ways, and overly fond of bland food and drink, Larkin began to be seen as a living stereotype. Some detected a distasteful chauvinism in his work. A few went so far as to suggest that we could assess the sorry state of postwar English poetry by looking to Larkin as an example of what went wrong.

Except for the fact that other readers, equally sensitive, failed to see this chauvinism, failed to be shocked at his odd and evil ways, and failed to lose their admiration for his poems. An oft-cited 2003 poll by the Poetry Book Society and Poetry Library showed that Larkin was the most popular contemporary poet amongst British readers, whereupon The Guardian published a triumphant article claiming the poet had “survived his brief exile from literary fashion.” Not so quick. The damage had been done.

more here.