A critical analysis of Philip Larkin's 'Mr Bleaney'.

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Introduction

Rachael Ward Tutor: Mr R. Pooley Twentieth Century Literature: 20% Exercise A critical analysis of Philip Larkin's 'Mr Bleaney'. Richard Davie once claimed that whilst he "recognised in Larkin's [poetry] the seasons of present-day England, [he also] recognised...the seasons of an English soul".1 In fact Philip Larkin's very interest in human nature, together with his dislike of "...self-indulgent romanticism..."2, contributed to the character and final draft of 'Mr Bleaney'. By pulling the life and personality of the ordinary English bachelor with that of the poetic personae who is about to buy into Mr Bleaney's apartment, not to mention his life and ways, Larkin is able debate whether 'how we live [actually] measures our own nature', a fear that plagued the author as well as the poetic personae. As we are escorted around Mr Bleaney's apartment the landlady describes how he stayed there 'the whole time he was at the Bodies'. To be at 'the Bodies' suggests that Mr Bleaney's stay in the apartment and even on this earth was only temporary. His body appears to be just a casing, thus implying that Mr Bleaney was simply the shell of man who was waiting to die.

Middle

an anonymous and autocratic landlady".6 Mr Bleaney, after all depends on his sister's independence for his Christmas celebrations and a married couple for the holidays. Additionally the lack of books is substituted for the 'jabbering set', which is important as at the time 'Mr Bleaney' was written Larkin had recently moved into an uncomfortable apartment where he complained that the radio was "a nightmare"7, a mere way of rotting the brain. Instead of being independent Mr Bleaney has become almost numb to the rest of humanity. In the end Mr Bleaney's so-called life is ideal without really being a life. In this sense Mr Bleaney and the narrator are both extremely isolated, Mr Bleaney's only form of communication being the 'jabbering TV set', whilst the poetic personae interestingly tries to 'drown [out the sound]...with cotton wool', in some way the former ears have already been 'stuffed' by it. However this isolation is also shown in the distance between Mr Bleaney and nature. Like Larkin who on the one hand was an "extreme humanist [who made] himself numb to the non-human world in order to stay compassionate towards the human"8, Mr Bleaney doesn't contemplate the 'frigid wind tousling the clouds' choosing only to emphasis his own control by taking the 'bit of garden properly in hand'.

Conclusion

Here there is a sudden realisation for the narrator, the delayed 'I don't know' echoing throughout the rest of the poem eclipsing what the narrator had been convinced he was better than. In the end neither Mr Bleaney nor the narrator 'warranted no better' than a 'hired box'. 'Mr Bleaney' is an exploration of a small world and is concerned primarily with the self-revelation of the narrator, not to mention the author, as when regarded an insight into Philip Larkin, 'Mr Bleaney' is a breaking away from "his [own] self protecting privacy..."14. The narrator realises that the small world of Mr Bleaney has become the same small world that he belongs to. The main figure of the poem, therefore is not 'Mr Bleaney' but the narrator, who struggles with the worth of his own life. Whilst he may have learnt to respect Mr Bleaney simply because he is content leading an ordinary life, he may also resent him for making him realise that he isn't a superior figure, but belongs to the same real world as Mr Bleaney, bringing about the "sudden collapse of his own morale"15. 'Mr Bleaney' is an intelligent poem that explores ideas of male identity, loneliness, simple modesty and false fantasies bringing them all into small yet equally complicated real world.

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