Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Philip Larkin wrote Jill after he was graduated from Oxford, so it is his first extensive literary work. It was published a few years later, in 1946, and another novel, A Girl in Winter, followed in 1947. Later, in a typically wry manner, Larkin said that he was to have the career of a popular novelist. “I’d had visions of myself writing five hundred words a day for six months, shoving the result off to the printer and going to live on the Cote d’Azur, uninterrupted except for the correction of proofs.” He could never write that third novel, however, claiming that the reason was that he “didn’t know enough about people.” The reason was more likely that he discovered that his real gift was for poetry rather than fiction.

Larkin was one of the most important writers in a group that came to be known as “The Movement.” The writers of The Movement (Donald Davie, Kingsley Amis, and John Wain, along with Larkin, are the major figures) insisted on clarity and precision in place of “emotional fervor and wounded sensibility.” While they rejected Romantic excess, however, they also were against the obscurities of modernism and experimental techniques. Jill is an example of many of the tenets of The Movement in its traditional form, its detailed and precise style, and its persistent puncturing of Romantic illusions.

Larkin has stated that the publication of Jill “aroused no public comment.” Yet, as critics have concentrated on Larkin’s poetry, they have begun to discuss and comment more on Jill. Some of these critics, especially Simon Petch, emphasize the “working-class” elements in the novel, an important part of such novels as John Braine’s Room at the Top (1957). Others, such as Bruce K. Martin, stress the theme of “disillusion,” a theme that is prominent in Larkin’s poetry. Perhaps the only negative comments are those that focus on Larkin’s “poetic” and almost obsessive attention to details. This may be an indication that Larkin’s appropriate form was poetry and not the novel.