Though it could be suggested thatsome of Larkin’s poetry does conform to the critical viewpoint, such as in the poemFaith Healing, where characterisationtakes a greater importance in depicting Larkin’s cynicism, setting issignificant in helping shape the writer’s message. In Mr Bleaney, setting is important in re-enforcing the notion thatloneliness is more commonly found in society than people may assume and thatmany may find themselves suffering from it. Yet, in The Whitsun Weddings, emphasis is placed on setting to help enforceLarkin’s critique of the working classes and the unsympathetic modern society. Though in Mr Bleaney and The WhitsunWeddings setting takes a significant role in telling a story, the samecannot always be said for some of Larkin’s other poems, such as Faith Healing.
The poem exploresLarkin’s cynical view on religion and there is a greater focus upon the characterisationof the women visiting the American preacher than the setting that surroundsthem. However, despite the minimal amounts of setting within the poem, settingis used as a symbolic metaphor in the final stanza. Larkin ends the poem withan image of the women as a frozen landscape, “An immense slackeningache…thawing, the rigid landscape weeps.
” One could suggest that this thawingof ice in spring is symbolic of hope and rebirth; however, in this case, forthe women, they do not experience this, and this fuels Larkin’s view thatsometimes looking to be healed with faith will possibly lead todisillusionment. At the end of the opening stanza,setting helps to convey Larkin’s social critique. There is a sense ofunification evoked by the landscape as the train goes on its way as, “Sky andLincolnshire and water meet.” This almost implies a timeless beauty to Hull andLincolnshire and the almost pastoral and idyllic notions it creates. However,the counter details that come in the second stanza seem to give a paradoxicalview of the landscape, “Canals with floatings of industrial froth,” couldsuggest that Larkin implies that the land of Lincolnshire is being tainted bythe industrial revolution that has occurred prior to this journey toward London.Likewise, in the final stanzas of the poem, setting once again provessignificant to the story; in Larkin’s description of London, he seems to show theunsympathetic nature of modern society. The imagery of London is a completecontrast to the open landscape of the countryside seen all along the narrator’sjourney, “An Odeon went past, a cooling tower…Its postal districts packed likesquares of wheat.
” Along with the strong theme of movement in the poem, seeingthe building go by, the industrialised London almost feels as if it is beingcontained into a singular area where nothing is as open and free as thecountryside was. Larkin’s final line of the poem, “A sense of falling, like anarrow-shower…somewhere becoming rain” is a rather horrible contrast to the “SunlitSaturday” described in Hull and seems to effectively bring the reader back tothe everyday dull world we live in. Likewise, setting is significant in The Whitsun Weddings as Larkin gives hisunsympathetic view towards love and the working classes. The Whitsun Weddings is a poem that shows verisimilitude andfollows the train journey Larkin experienced in 1955 on Whitsun Saturday.Throughout the poem we see the narrator, who readers could assume to be Larkin,describe the slow, leisurely journey in and the easiness of the ride from Hullto London. In the opening stanza, Larkin describes the train as being rather hotand stuffy, “all windows down, all cushions hot”, and this seems to immediatelyset the mood for the poem as well as the mood of the narrator as the heatusually causes many to become more irritated and unsympathetic, an emotion the’I’ of the poem seems feel about the newlyweds getting on board the train andthe families that join them on the platform. Larkin also seems to use a largeamount of sensuous language in his description of the carriage and thelandscape; “crossed a street of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dockthence”. The description of thelandscape passing by coupled with the rhythm and metre of the poem helps createmovement as the train pulls away from the station and we see the bustling citylife fade away.
Moreover, the momentum of the train allows for the build-up ofemotional momentum felt by the newlywed couples as they begin their voyage intomarried life. Moreover, the sensuous language continues into the second stanza,”now and then a smell of grass displaced the reek of buttoned carriage cloth.” Theolfactory imagery used to describe the setting in the carriage and outside ofthe train is significant as it allows the reader to understand the liberationthe speaker receives from smelling the grass and allows us to recognise thereader’s disapproval of the pastoral landscape being ruined by modern Britain. Moreover, setting holds importanceas Larkin attempts to evoke some sympathy towards Mr Bleaney in stanza fourwhen the narrator describes where Mr Bleaney travels on his holidays, “theFrinton folk … sister’s house in Stoke”. Though Mr Bleaney is leaving his boxroom from time to time, the town of ‘Frinton’ sounds like a miserable place,and it appears Mr Bleaney is constantly moving from one sad residence toanother.
Similarly, in the following stanza, the narrator continues to placeemphasis on the melancholic life Mr Bleaney led, “watched the frigid windtousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed.” The word “fusty” is a ratherhorrible adjective, and coupled with the “frigid wind”, it creates a ratheruncomfortable atmosphere for the room. Yet Mr Bleaney continues to tellhimself, “this was home”, possibly hinting to the reader Mr Bleaney is unableto escape from the route his life is heading down, and the route the narratorand others will also find themselves travelling along. In Mr Bleaney setting becomes an important factor in thecharacterisation of Mr Bleaney.
Though the reader never sees Mr Bleaney, hisname gives connotations of bleakness and despair, and coupled with the base andrather bleak description of the room he used to live in, “no room for books orbags” and “one hired box”, there seems to be a rather melancholic idea of whathis life used to be like. Moreover, Larkin describes the room as being lit witha “sixty-watt bulb”, making the room feel rather gloomy; there not only seemsto be little physical illumination in this room, but also little spiritualillumination from Mr Bleaney. In Unnoticedin the Casual Light of Day: Phillip Larkin and the Plain Style, TijanaStojkovic suggests that the bulb is rather symbolic in the poem as not onlydoes it help create the setting, it is “Marked against the generallynon-empirical nature of poetry… it is a vehicle of the main idea or tone”; thismain idea being that Mr Bleaney suffers from loneliness. The gloominess of the room reflects MrBleaney’s own despondency as he lives his life inside the box that is his roomwith no family, no true home and little money.Whilst many writers seem to promotethe protagonist as being the most important feature of their stories, onecannot say that setting eventually becomes a minor part when telling a story.Many writers, such as Hardy, place an emphasis on detailing setting in theirworks and on some occasions, “Settings often seem more animated than character”(D. Lodge.
The Art of Fiction. 1992)and the same could be suggested about Larkin in some of his poems. In his work,such as Mr Bleaney, Larkin seems tofocus on using description of setting to characterise Mr Bleaney and deliver the idea that Mr Bleaney is a character who is more common insociety than many care to admit. Moreover, in his poem The Whitsun Weddings, setting is used to help deliver Larkin’sunsympathetic view towards love and the working classes. However, this is notall true for all of Larkin’s poetry, as in FaithHealing, Larkin takes an almost cynical view of religion and this isexplored through his characterisation of the preacher and the imagery of thewomen before him.