The Guilty Influence: Philip Larkin among the poets

Roberts, Mark Patrick Davidson. 2014. The Guilty Influence: Philip Larkin among the poets. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

ENG_thesis_RobertsMPD2014.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (1MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

Scholarship on Philip Larkin tends to limit him as a poet, through accusations of narrowness both of subject-matter, and of received influence. The paradox between Larkin’s undoubted place as an important, beloved poet, and the supposedly limited nature of his verse, has served to isolate him – unlike other poets (e.g Ted Hughes) – Larkin’s recognised influences are few. It is commonly accepted that he was influenced perhaps only by W. H. Auden, W. B. Yeats, and Thomas Hardy. He is seen as an opponent of modernism, specifically of the poetry of T. S. Eliot, and his accepted modernist heirs; Robert Lowell, Hughes, Sylvia Plath and others.

My project sets out to prove that this view of Larkin is simplistically limited. Sufficient (indeed, much) evidence exists of Larkin as having been a keen reader and assimilator of a wide range of influences, from Eliot through Dylan Thomas, Lowell and Plath. Much of this evidence (e.g. 2010’s Letters to Monica) has come to light only recently, and is yet to be fully acknowledged for the effect that it has had on our reading of Larkin. Added to this is a body of older evidence (1992’s Selected Letters) arguing for Larkin’s ‘English’ influences to be rooted in the ‘studied impersonality’ of Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen. When compared to Hughes and Thom Gunn, similar poetic and thematic concerns unite these three poets, so often thought to be at odds.

These ‘guilty’ influences, show Larkin to be a far more culturally receptive poet than he is often thought of as being. Why such evidence has gone unused or under-appreciated is considered here, as is an assessment of both Larkin’s defenders and detractors. I argue for a more open, less limiting reading of Larkin, and note that, recently, this argument has been gaining ground in scholarship.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


English Poetry, Philip Larkin, Modernism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


5 December 2014

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

21 Jan 2015 10:16

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:30


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)