Philip Larkin’s

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Larkin has been criticised for a lack of sympathy in his poetry. Based on your reading of the Whitsun Weddings collection of poems, how fair is this criticism. Philip Larkin’s poetry is well known for its portrayal of his own views on relationship issues such as marriage, women and sex that has frequently caused controversy in all social classes both then and now. Most people in particular women don’t like his sexist male views favouring the stereotypically ‘beautiful’ women to intellectual women purely because of their sexual attractiveness and voicing that a women’s role is with ‘an estateful of washing’.

From his views, people would have criticised his poetry for having a lack of sympathy because he discriminates the female sex so coldly. I believe that in contrast to other people’s views, he is indeed sympathetic, in the way that he sympathises with women because they were unfortunate enough to be of the female sex. This must seem an obscure way of analysing his thoughts but in some of Larkin’s poems, we can see that he sympathises with women for being female, with men for being with women and also with himself for not matching up to his own expectations.

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The way he talks about women in poems such as ‘Wild Oats’ gives an example of the way Larkin compared women to each other, weighing their attributes up such as a predatory male would do to insure he had the fittest mate. Larkin described this instinct as a ‘shooting match’ describing the competition that goes on between the sexes to get the best deal possible. He describes in ‘Wild Oats’ how he knew two women; one was a ‘bosomy English rose’ who was thoroughly described and continuously mentioned throughout the poem, and the other was ‘her friend in specs’ who he ended up dating for 7 years.

This shows that the only reason why he dated the ‘friend’ was that he felt to inferior to the ‘beautiful’ woman so therefore was intimidated by her looks. The way he spoke about ‘specs’ (who became his fianci?? e) was so cold hearted that it would shock anyone as he should have had some very strong feelings for the woman if he asked her to marry him yet he spoke about the whole time together as ‘rehearsals’ as if the relationship didn’t matter to him at all.

Another example of the way Larkin treated women is in the poem ‘A Study of Reading Habits’ where Larkin attempts to present himself as a fantasy creature such as with his ‘cloak and fangs’ presenting himself as Dracula and also the brutal ‘hook’ from another classic novel. He most almost certainly presents himself as fearsome characters because it is his own fantasy to be as powerful and dominant compared to the characters he used to dream about. In the poem whilst being one of these characters he is able to hunt out women purely to have ‘sex’ with them, describing how he ‘broke them up like meringues’ when doing so.

By using this sequence of words, he describes his fantasy of being too powerful for the women and dramatically taking away their purity and having the power to break their hearts. For a man like Larkin this is most certainly purely a fantasy spurred on by his feelings of inadequacy. From these two poems alone we can see how Larkin’s views can be easily disputed which could in turn be looked upon as being unsympathetic seeing as he speaks freely about his male fantasies of being with a ‘beautiful’ woman and taking away her purity.


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