Explore Larkin's portrayal of affection in ‘Maiden Name’ and one other poem. You must discuss relevant contextual factors.
It is often argued that Larkin's less deceived view of life – in which he strives to be free from illusions – tends to make his vision gloomy, even morbid. However, in The Less Deceived there are some poems in which he takes apparent delight in the world around him, although his efforts remain thwarted by his innate scepticism – as Larkin himself expressed, ‘Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.’
The poem ‘Maiden Name’ links thematically to a number of poems in the anthology, such as ‘Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album’ and ‘Latest Face’, as these poems arose from the relationship that Larkin attempted to foster between himself and Winifred Arnott, and they explore the emotions which were generated by that relationship, one which, despite Larkin’s fervour (he wrote to a friend that he wanted to “fall on her like a lion”), Arnott summed up with the words “I didn’t think of him like that.” This essay will explore Larkin’s portrayal of affection in ‘Maiden Name’ and ‘Latest Face’ and how the speaker in each poem attempts to rationalise his affection.
The narrative voice of the ‘Maiden Name’ starts by asking whether his (supposed) beloved’s maiden name has any significance for him any longer, now that she has married. He muses that since she has changed her name, she “cannot be Semantically the same” as she was before. The pedantic precision of the word “Semantically” undercuts the apparent lightness of tone. Her maiden name – the name by which the speaker came to know her – has been discarded; it belongs only to the past and is to be found among the trivia of her girlhood and adolescence — “Old lists, old programmes, a school prize or two Packets of letters tied with tartan ribbon.” The voice wilfully selects objects from the subject’s distant past to maintain an affectionate, knowing tone.
This poem ‘Latest Face’ is another of the poems which considers the idea of affection (and was once again inspired by Winifred Arnott). This poem also concerns itself with an affection that could not develop any further, and again finds the speaker writing in admiration of an unattainable woman. The speaker appears to be celebrating the “effortless” and “great arrival” of the object of his admiration. Her arrival goes unheralded by others present and therefore the would-be lover welcomes it all the more, because he is proud that only he perceives it – this idea that only he is privy to the wonders of the woman very clearly finds echoes in the “young woman” he insists on remembering in ‘Maiden Name.’ In ‘Latest Face’ he appeals to her to come to him like a “precious vagrant,” - to come unceremoniously and yet with a recognisable need (for him).
As ‘Maiden Name’ progresses, he asks again what meaning the lady’s maiden name can have now that it belongs so irrevocably to the past. And an answer slowly evolves as ...