A conference held at Kingston Maurward to celebrate Philip Larkin's birthday and the 70th anniversary of his Hardy pilgrimage

The Hardy/Larkin Conference Weekend - August 2019

A conference held at Kingston Maurward to celebrate Philip Larkin's birthday and the 70th anniversary of his Hardy pilgrimage

A report by THS delegate Helen Martin

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The beautiful setting of Kingston Mauward college was the venue for a most successful weekend conference on Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin, 9th-11th August 2019. Approximately fifty delegates were treated to a variety of events including lectures that highlighted the talents of these two different but great writers of poetry.

The Friday evening commenced with a delicious and ample dinner, despite which we all managed to stay awake for a most interesting presentation by Professor Philip Pullen entitled “Philip Larkin in Hardy’s Wessex”. Philip outlined to us the numerous trips and circumstances under which Larkin came to Wessex. His talk was most entertaining, including snippets which illustrated Larkin's humour, such as explaining that he removed his bicycle clips when he entered a church as he didn’t wear a hat, so removing his bicycle clips was an alternative mark of respect. The evening finished with informal poetry readings.

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Professor Philip Pullen

Saturday morning commenced with “Question Time on Hardy and Larkin” with the fine and knowledgeable panellists being James Booth, Tony Fincham, Marilyn Leah and Philip Pullen. This was a well considered combination of people with their expertise ranging across different aspects of both poet’s lives and works. They comfortably answered all questions in an informative way. Questions included what would Hardy think of Max Gate and Dorchester now?; is it fair to use today's society standards to judge whether historical personages should be labelled racist or sexist?; if they had met in real life, would they have gotten along?

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Hardy/Larkin Question Time with Marilyn Leah, James Booth, Tony Fincham and Philip Pullen

The morning finished with a very interesting presentation by Professor Sir Christopher Ricks entitled 'Hardy, Larkin and “a system of growing rhyme”' which increased our insight into the structure of their poetry, and how this can be altered for added impact.

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Professor Sir Christopher Ricks, introduced by Professor Ken Fincham

The afternoon had been set aside for a walk through Hardy’s heartland led by Susan Clarke, ably assisted by Tony Fincham. The itinerary had to be altered a little as The National Trust had closed both Max Gate and Hardy’s Cottage due of the strong winds. Nevertheless, many of us enjoyed the walk, which was interspersed with stops for the leaders to impart relevant information regarding the locations and works by Hardy, and their influence upon Larkin. Apart from one heavy downpour we managed to stay mainly dry! Inside Stinsford Church we were treated to a very interesting poetry presentation by Andrew and Marilyn Leah, who had originally planned to give this in various rooms at Max Gate. They also kindly gave us a handout containing the poems which were sensitively read to us alongside explanations of their context.

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Saturday after dinner we enjoyed a challenging quiz based on the lives and works of Larkin and Hardy, which was informal and fun. The winners received bottles of wine.

The final lecture of the conference was presented on Sunday morning by Dr James Booth, entitled “Writing Home”, which drew on the letters written by Larkin. James pointed out that Larkin changed the style as well as the contents of his correspondence to suit the recipients, he even changed the colour of the paper and envelopes accordingly! This was a most entertaining and humorous session, which also outlined how Larkin had developed as a writer from his earlier days when he had written tongue-in-cheek stories about girls in a boarding school using the pseudonym of Brunette Coleman, to the sophisticated penner of poetry that he became. James mentioned that Larkin had at one stage tried to copy the style of W.B. Yeats, and had later attempted to do the same with Hardy, which was far more challenging. Nevertheless he was enormously influenced by the latter, who helped him to realise that it was acceptable to write poetry about everyday events and objects. It is interesting that whilst Hardy wanted to be a poet rather than a novelist, Larkin longed to be a successful writer of novels.

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Dr James Booth


The final afternoon was set aside for an entertaining walk round Dorchester led by the Dorchester Town Crier Alistair Chisholm, assisted by Tony Fincham. This was followed by a bus tour in an historic coach belonging to Wessex Historic Transport Trust which recreated Larkin’s visit of January 1949 from Dorchester to Weymouth.

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THS Chairman Dr Tony Fincham with THS Membership Secretary Pat Withers in front of the WHOTT historic bus


I would like to conclude this brief report by thanking the organisers of this very memorable and enjoyable weekend, namely Tracy Hayes, Tony Fincham and Sue Clarke.

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