The Movement arose as a reaction to both modernism and this neo-Romanticism, grounded in the aftermath of World War II. There was a general desire to avoid any heroic sentiments at all and to live in the ordinary here-and-now, which in postwar Britain was rather bleak and austere, with everything rationed and with an uncertain future. As a country, Britain had been bankrupted by the war and was about to lose its empire and its superpower status, but it was determined to lay the foundations of a solid welfare state and a less class-ridden society. The Cold War was about to begin, and harsh reality took the place of political idealism.
As a poetic movement, the Movement had no strong cohesion to it, no obvious “school” existing around one or two central figures. It was rather a group of young poets whose education had been completed or interrupted during the war. Many of them were academics, many from working-class or lower-middle-class backgrounds, who had all managed a university education at Oxford or Cambridge, mainly through gaining academic scholarships. Most of them met at various times and were aware of each others’ work, although some denied they belonged to any “movement” at all.
Various events brought about cohesion and caused the literary culture of the day to label the group as the Movement. One such event was the publication in 1952 of Purity of Diction in English Verse by the young academic Donald Davie (1922-1995). Davie argued that English poetry should return to the Augustan era of the late eighteenth century, abandon modernism as an aberration, and redefine itself in terms of an older classical tradition, lost after Hardy died.
However, it is possible to go back to the war years, to the meeting of Larkin and Amis, then two young Oxford undergraduates. Both were studying English, loved jazz, and were “scholarship boys” from modest backgrounds. Though Larkin was under the influence of...
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