Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Lifenby Andrew MotionnNew York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux;n570 pp., $35.00nSelected Letters ofnPhilip Larkin 1940-1985nEdited by Anthony ThwaitenNew York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux;n791 pp., $40.00nIn the popular memory the interwarnyears in Western Europe were a periodnof instability, inertia, and poverty or, asnAuden described the 1930’s, “a low dishonestndecade.” ‘ One seldom hearsnabout the interesting fact that duringnthose interwar years, in England at least,nthere was a huge increase in the numbersnof a new middle class of small businessnowners, local professional people, managers,nand civil servants who lived in thenthousands of new suburban houses beingnbuilt around every town and suburbannvillage. Although the more prosperousnamong them had a servant or two, or atnleast employed “help,” and owned a car,nmost of them were not too differentnfrom the lower classes they came from.nAll of them tended to keep their childrennat school until they took their SchoolnCertificate at 16, or, in growing numbers,nstayed on through the sixth form tonprepare for university entrance.nUnlike the old middle class, these peoplenhad no connection with the landedngentry or the aristocracy, and no wish tonFrank Brownlow is a professor of Englishnat Mt. Flolyoke College.n32/CHRONICLESnThat Bestial Visornby Frank Brownlown”Every good poet includes a critic, but the reverse will not hold.”n—^William Shenstonenape their manners. They were a selfmadenpeople of peasant or proletariannbackground, confident, self-reliant, politicallynconservative, and for the most partninnocent of what Matthew Arnold calledn”culture.” They were often eccentric,neven weird, in their tastes, as readers ofnthe opening chapter of Kingsley Amis’snMemoirs describing his own family willnknow.nAs a class they were not popular withnopinion-makers and trend-setters. Tonpeople of more developed tastes their peculiarnaccents, reactionary politics,ncharmless houses, and contented vulgaritynhad no redeeming social value. Unlikenthe working classes, whose inheritednfolkways had all the authenticity of thenunavoidable, the new middle class hadnno excuse for its habits, which it willfullynchose and persevered in despite means andneducation sufficient for better—a criticismnrepeatedly heard during the period.nThere was even a textbook. Culture andnEnvironment, much used in Englishnschools to wean middle class boys andngirls away from their parents’ tastes, andntowards more wholesome models such asnD.H. Lawrence and the Powys brothers.nNonetheless, this is the class that producednthe bright young men and womennof the years after the Second World Warnin England, among them Philip Larkinnand Kingsley Amis. Their cheeky rejectionnof upper-class approaches misled reviewersnand critics into thinking theynwere a pair of working-class lads. Now, angeneration later, with the publication ofnAmis’s Memoirs, Larkin’s Selected Letters,nand now Motion’s Philip Larkin, thentruth is out: Larkin and Amis are almostnperfect specimens of the new middlennnclass as it was before the combined forcesnof postwar socialism and Americanismninducted it into the postmodernist newnorder. Their class provides the backgroundnof their work, and its plain, energetic,nsometimes eruptively vulgar Englishnis the language in which they write,nas in Larkin’s “Send No Money”:nMalf life is over now.nAnd 1 meet full face on darknmorningsnThe bestial visor, bent innBy the blows of what happened tonhappen.nWhat does it prove? Sod all.nLarkin especially was a pure representativenof his tribe, a specimen worthynof a bell jar, obstreperously Philistine (henonce read a newspaper through a Mozartnconcert), insular, chauvinistic, Tory, andneccentric. His eccentricity was centerednupon an emotional parsimony and defensivenessnthat led to a number of peculiarnhabits, among them hypochondrianand a taste for girlie magazines. Lie mustnhave realized Cjuite early in life that hendid not have vitality enough for both lifenand literature, and, being ambitious andncompetitive, for the most part spent hisncarefully husbanded intellectual andnemotional energies on his poetry, and livednhis life mostly in letters.nHe maintained an enormous correspondence.nThwaite prints 707 letters, andnMotion cites 787, of which only 196 arenin Thwaite, making 1298 in all; but asnThwaite makes plain in his introduction,nthese are only a fragment of the totalnnumber. He often wrote to several peoplenon the same day; in the deeps of hisn