Morrison, The Movement

“On 1 October 1954, an anonymous leading article entitled ‘In the Movement’ appeared in the London weekly periodical the Spectator. The article drew attention to the emergence of a group of wirters who, it claimed, represented something new in British literature and society. The ‘modern Britain’ of the 1950s was, the article argued, a ‘changed place’ […] Literary ‘Taste’ (and here the article adopted a hectoring tone calculated to alarm those who value keeping up with changes in fashion) had begun to move in new directions” (1).

The movement involves writers like Elizabeth Jennings, Phillip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, D. J. Enright

Elizabeth Jennings argued that “it is the journalists, not the poets themselves, who have created the poetic movements of the 1950s” (qtd 4)

The movement in many ways “succeed[ed] the Georgians,” as Edna Longley put it (here 7)

The movement can be traced to the friendship between Larkin and Amis in the 1940s at Oxford University

Larkin was “beginning to formulate the idea of a self-effacing, unobtrusive, ‘modest’ poetry” (20). v. Imagism and Pound specifically

The Movement posited itself against “effete and upper-middle-class” poets as “tough, heterosexual and beer-drinking” (31).

deplored both “political reportage (1930s poetry) and metaphorical lavishness (1940s poetry)” (35).

Movement poets like Davie were interested in an ‘economy of metaphor’ rather than a lavish metaphorical system, and were interested “not in experimenting with language, but in ‘purifying; it and in revitalizing old usages…retrenchment was more valuable than innovation” (39).

Larkin “characterized the present moment as one of retrenchment: ‘a period of expansion has to be followed by a period of consolidation'” (44).

critics constructed the Movement poets as “the decent man” as opposed to “the gentleman” (55-6). The Movement offered, however, ‘only a token rebellion, and did not attempt to change the social structure which made cultural ‘elitism’ possible” (77).

The Movement “judged that it must counter-act fragmentation by constructing what Wain, in an apologia for the Movement, calls ‘regular and disciplined verse forms'” (89).

The Movement had a preference “for emblem and riddle rather than symbol… the symbol casts a shadow, where the emblem doesn’t; the symbol aims to be suggestive, the emblem to be, even in its guise as riddle, ultimately explicit. Another difference might be that the emblem is made, fabricated, where the symbol is found” (119).

“Larkin’s poetry minimizes the interpretive process by including it within the text: what is inferred by the reader is limited by what has already ben inferred by the speaker, whose own struggle to ‘discover meaning’ is what the poem dramatizes. The reader is ‘helped’ (he cannot be confused as to what the poem means), but he is also restricted (the only meaning he takes away from the poem is the one found for him by the speaker). In its treatment of the reader, Movement poetry offers a sharp contrast with Modernism. […] there is no opportunity to wander off the beaten track” (143).

This is, as Jonathan Raban calls it, “the nicest and kindest form of paternal dictatorship” (144).




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