Emperors of the text: Change and cultural survival in the poetry of Philip Larkin and Carol Ann Duffy (1999)
AuthorsAllen, Brendashow all
Philip Larkin and Carol Ann Duffy have been, and are, regarded as a step ahead, as the voices that aid other citizens in their struggle to delineate the nature of their concerns about their society and the changes that must be coped with, internalised and incorporated into daily life. Because they are living in times of change, Larkin and Duffy are forced to find new ways to preserve their cultural identity that are not predicated on traditions that are dying or being superseded. The most startling of these changes, however, also affects Britain at the national and international level and in this thesis I examine the writing (including archival material) and life of these poets to argue that their efforts to deal with change may be seen as mirroring the stance of their nation, since in a nation with an elected government there must be, at some level, approval for and participation in, the modus operandi of that government. That these practices are imperialistic can come as no surprise, but ideas and practices of imperialism have changed. Thus it is that the older of the poets, Philip Larkin, harks back to the time of British Imperial glory, and the younger, Carol Ann Duffy, maintains a watching and speaking brief based on humanistic values of egalitarianism. Larkin, although he purports to be liberal, especially in matters he regards as the merely conventional, fights against the very structures that could be helpful to him and prioritises the sustaining of a past that has no future except as memory and text. His refusal to conform to the social and canonical demands of his younger days, however, ensures that he experiences ambivalence toward most of the structures he criticises as well as toward those he embraces. Nevertheless, his directionless rebellion paves the way for Carol Ann Duffy to move freely between the canonical and the vernacular, in terms of diction and subject matter. To this, Duffy has added her own determination to interrogate meaning, and to represent a culture that is changing by de constructing and reconstructing canonical form in a way that Larkin did not. The first two chapters of this thesis are about the importance of data and archive, especially the written word, to ideas of the British Empire, and Larkin's over-reliance on archive in his own life. The dysfunctional subjects of Duffy's poems, who display similar reliance on data and archive, are then discussed and related to her own, contrasting awareness of the difference between data and knowledge. The third chapter, in two parts, demonstrates that the imperialist practices of each poet are carried over into the world of personal relationships. Because of his more rigid attitudes, Larkin does not achieve transcendence in this sphere, but Duffy demonstrates that moments of rapture are possible. The last three chapters deal with the most prominent features of imperialism: religion, territory and war. The chapter on war, in particular, is based on archival material that Larkin wrote during or about war, that he saw fit to keep private until after his death; and the chapter also utilises Duffy's lesser-known early works. The conclusions of these chapters confirm those of the previous chapters.