John Betjeman was one of those poets who are profoundly affected by their childhood environment. He was born in London in the early years of the twentieth century, into a class-ridden society, where even small differences in income were important in measuring a family’s neighborhood status. This would probably have passed unnoticed had Betjeman been a less observant and sensitive child. As it is, although it is obvious from his poetry that none of the finer nuances of middle-class snobbishness escaped his eye, it is unclear whether these small cruelties were profoundly hurtful or whether the objectivity of the artist was already sufficiently developed to protect him. Certainly there is no bitterness in his poetry, so probably the latter explanation is the correct one. He recounts many of the events of his early life in Summoned by Bells, transporting the reader back in time to an England reminiscent of the world depicted by Arthur Conan Doyle, Edith Nesbit, and John Galsworthy.
After leaving Oxford without attaining a degree, Betjeman supported himself by teaching, while continuing to write both poetry and topographical essays. In Summoned by Bells, he states quite clearly that as soon as he could read and write, he knew that he must strive to become a poet. Despite the disappointment that he caused his father by refusing to take his place in the family business, he was always true to that early ambition.
He married in 1933...
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