‘If, My Darling’, completed in May 1950, adopts a tone of combative humour new to Larkin’s poetry at the time. In the title, a comma isolates the heavily-stressed ‘If’, suggesting a direct address to the woman: a question, or a threat. Is she perhaps herself the, or an, intended reader? Then in the poem’s first line the same words are edgily recapitulated, but without the comma, to introduce the consequences of her foolhardiness, as if to say: ‘well, she’s asked for it.’ The poem deploys the coarsest post-war stereotypes of prim young lady and anti-social bachelor with an aggressive edge which seems designed to provoke protest. My darling’s quaint, sentimental world is patently a wilful caricature. The mahogany claw-footed sideboards, the fender-seat, the prissy ‘small-printed books for the Sabbath’, the bibulous butler and lazy housemaids belong to an archaic world of ridiculous Victorian propriety. We might reflect that we have only the male poet’s word that this is indeed what his darling expects of him.
KeywordsClay Boiling Hull Hunt Tated
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