HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

A girl in winter : a novel by Philip Larkin
Loading...

A girl in winter : a novel (edition 1947)

by Philip Larkin

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
283557,354 (3.65)11
Member:bibliopaul76
Title:A girl in winter : a novel
Authors:Philip Larkin
Info:London : Faber, 1947.
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:None

Work details

A Girl in Winter by Philip Larkin

None.

Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 11 mentions

English (4)  Spanish (1)  All languages (5)
Showing 4 of 4
A Girl in Winter is a real pleasure to read, from the opening page the prose sings, and the reader knows they are in the hands of a poet, and as the novel progresses, a skilled and subtle storyteller. It is a novel of summer and winter, of war and exile, exploring the difficulties we sometimes encounter trying to fully understand the people in our lives. Larkin’s sense of place is exquisite, the landscape of an English winter, snow lying across countryside, village and town, while a war rumbles on.

“It lay in ditches and in hollows in the fields, where only birds walked. In some lanes the wind had swept it up faultlessly to the very tops of the hedges. Villages were cut off until gangs of men could clear a passage on the roads; the labourers could not go out to work, and on the aerodromes near these villages all flying remained cancelled. People who lay ill in bed could see the shine off the ceilings of their rooms, and a puppy confronted with it for the first time howled and crept under the water-butt. The outhouses were roughly powdered down the windward side, the fences were half submerged like breakwaters; the whole landscape was so white and still it might have been a formal painting. People were unwilling to get up. To look at the snow too long had a hypnotic effect, drawing away all power of concentration, and the cold seemed to cramp the bones, making work harder and unpleasant. Nevertheless, the candles had to be lit, and the ice in the jugs smashed, and the milk unfrozen; the men had to be given their breakfasts and got off to work into the yards. Life had to be carried on, in no matter what circumscribed way; even though one went no further than the window-seat, there was plenty to be done indoors, saved for such time as this.”

The novel is told in three parts, with the first and final third ‘present day’ story taking place on one winter Saturday during the war, framing the middle, longer section which takes place six years earlier. We’re introduced to Katherine Lind a young woman, displaced by the war, now working as an assistant in the town library. Her boss is an inadequate bully, and Katherine has formed no lasting friendships among her work colleagues. After work, Katherine lives alone in a rented room, her life; one of unremarkable routine. On the day the novel opens Katherine is reminded of the Fennels, the family she stayed with for three weeks, six years earlier. As a girl, while still living in her own country (we’re never told which) Katherine had corresponded with Robin Fennel. She had laughed with her friends over his letters, astonished when an invitation to stay had come. Now Katherine awaits a reply to a letter she has written to Robin, informing him that she is back in England. While we’re never explicitly told where Katherine is from, and what might have happened to her family, there are suggestions that she has suffered some trauma. There is a sense of listless, resignation about Katherine, all those young hopes, she had once, have gone, she is lonely, and rather hopeless.

“But did she really care what she did in England? There would be other things for her to do, and whatever it was she would do it unwillingly, obstinately, as if she were working in a field; what she did would be emptied away like a painfully-filled basket, and her time would be spilled away with it. There would be sleep, simply to freshen her again for work; there would be other Miss Greens, Miss Parburys, Mr Ansteys; all of this was inescapable, and it did not matter if she accepted it or not. It accepted her.”

While at work that day, a colleague is taken ill and Katherine offers to accompany her home, it will give her a chance to call into her flat to see if a letter from Robin has arrived.

Six years earlier Katherine arrived in England for a three week stay with Robin’s family, she only knew him from his letters, which told her surprisingly little. Robin is reserved, difficult for Katherine to get a handle on, she is made very welcome by his family, although Robin’s elder sister Jane is a constant, not always welcome presence. As Katherine settles into her English holiday, she is constantly puzzled by Robin and irritated by Jane. She considers how the story of her holiday might sound, when she is back among her friends.

“Yet had it been terrible? On the evidence, yes. On her own feelings? She was not so sure.
For not all the holiday had depended on how Robin had behaved, or what he had said, or how Jane had acted. There were moments when she was alone that compensated for them. There was a time when she could not sleep, so she had leant out of her window to look at the moonlight, and the smell of the stocks and wallflowers had made her dizzy.”

This is summer and the days are long and warm, Katherine and Robin are still young, the world is full of possibilities. War, though anticipated has not yet cast its long and terrible shadow over Europe and the world. There is tennis, river punting and trips around Oxfordshire, and Katherine enjoys her quiet little holiday, which will be over far too soon. Katherine is developing a bit of a crush on her pen-pal, though Jane doesn’t give them chance to be alone.

As we re-join Katherine on that wartime, winter Saturday – she faces the prospect of reconnecting with Robin. She has yet another run in with her horrible boss, and suspects the girl she helped earlier has just come back and gossiped about her. Katherine is the outsider, and she feels it, despite the block she seems to have put on her emotions.

A Girl in Winter is a lovely novel, an emotionally astute, though slightly sad book, I loved it of course. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Mar 16, 2017 |
Wrenching. Gorgeous. Amazing. ( )
  sonofcradock | Nov 11, 2013 |

Philip Larkin in Oxford, 1943

Philip Larkin opens A Girl in Winter with a chapter, three paragraphs long, in which he describes England during World War II, suffering through a stormy winter, its people trying to carry on daily life through numbness and deprivation:

[The snow] lay in ditches and in hollows in the fields, where only birds walked. In some lanes the wind had swept it up faultlessly to the very tops of the hedges. Villages were cut off until gangs of men could clear a passage on the roads; the labourers could not go out to work, and on the aerodromes near these villages all flying remained cancelled. People who lay ill in bed could see the shine off the ceilings of their rooms, and a puppy confronted with it for the first time howled and crept under the water-butt. The outhouses were roughly powdered down the windward side, the fences were half submerged like breakwaters; the whole landscape was so white and still it might have been a formal painting. People were unwilling to get up. To look at the snow too long had a hypnotic effect, drawing away all power of concentration, and the cold seemed to cramp the bones, making work harder and unpleasant. Nevertheless, the candles had to be lit, and the ice in the jugs smashed, and the milk unfrozen; the men had to be given their breakfasts and got off to work into the yards. LIfe had to be carried on, in no matter what circumscribed way; even though one went no further than the window-seat, there was plenty to be done indoors, saved for such time as this.

Larkin’s way with words was not a surprise to me; A Girl in Winter has many beautiful passages where he turns his skills as a poet to gorgeous descriptions of the English countryside. However, his ability to develop a complex, nuanced portrait of his main character, Katherine Lind, gives the novel its strength and emotional power. This is a sensitive, quiet novel, exploring the difficulty in penetrating people’s facades to understand who they are and what their motivations are. I emerged with a strong sense of isolation, which provided me with a nuanced understanding of the loneliness faced by the English and European emigrants alike during World War II. The novel also presents a subtle, cautionary warning that this sense of isolation may not be confined to wartime, but may instead be part of the human condition, making it difficult to form true connections with others.


England, 1940

We first meet Katherine Lind in the second chapter, as she is working as a floater in an English library. We are not told much about her background: we know she is a European displaced by the war, whose English is good in part because of a summer she spent in England when she was 16. We never learn her home country (although Larkin does let us know it lies near the Rhine River), nor do we hear what happened to her and her family and friends at the hands of the Nazis (although we do know that she is quite alone, so the implication is that her recent past was traumatic). Larkin presents her as an intelligent woman who is working in a job below her capabilities, at odds with a peculiar and demanding boss, but fortunate to have even a precarious place in wartime England.


England, 1940

In the first section of the novel, Katherine’s thoughts are torn among dissatisfaction with her wartime job, immediate complications related to her escorting home a colleague who is suffering from a toothache, and conflicted nostalgia spurred by her recently receiving a letter from the Fennels, the English family whom she had visited as a teenager. When she learns that a visit from Robin Fennel is imminent, she is torn between wanting to see her childhood pen pal again, and wanting to avoid a meeting with murky significance. She spends much of her time struggling with issues of translation -- not because her English is not good, but because of the difficulty in determining people’s true intentions from their statements and actions. Although Larkin uses dialogue to present some of these conflicts, he anchors them in Katherine’s own interior monologue throughout the novel. Her voice emerges as intelligent, perceptive, but lonely and fundamentally insecure over the accuracy of her perceptions.


Oxfordshire countryside

The long middle section of the novel is a prolonged flashback, in which Katherine remembers her initial correspondence with Robin as part of a pen pal program at her school, her surprise invitation to spend a summer with the Fennels, and her experiences with the family in Oxfordshire. When she arrives, her English is not yet good enough to pick up on all the nuances of meaning in spoken conversation, and cultural differences lead to complications in her discerning meaning from nonverbal communication as well. Larkin masterfully depicts the shifting ground from cultural gaps and misunderstandings, as Katherine desperately tries to understand Robin and his family.


Punting

Some of the cultural gap in the novel comes from the differences between Katherine’s life in a faster-paced European town, and the slow, sleepy summer in the Oxfordshire countryside:

Undistinguished as [the village] was, Katherine found it fascinating. She looked curiously round the sides of cottages, where small ugly children were fussing, and at old people who sat on kitchen chairs in the doorways. When she saw their hands lying in their laps, or on the wooden arms of the chair, she thought it was strange that these husks, that had poured out their lives so distantly and differently from her, should for a second look at her with their bright eyes. From occasional doorways came dance music from Radio Luxembourg, and she could see dimly through the lace curtains on the windowsill mass-produced china figures and Sunday newspapers, read by men in shirt sleeves.

Larkin’s compelling descriptions of the Oxfordshire countryside, along with some amusing sequences during which Katherine tries to learn traditional English pastimes, like punting, convey these cultural differences while also imparting a hazy golden nostalgia to this sequence of the novel.


River in Oxfordshire

In the concluding section of A Girl in Winter, Larkin returns us to Katherine in wartime England, as some of the questions she pondered about coworkers and friends are answered, but in ways that simply give rise to more questions. As she finds opportunities to become closer to some characters, the more remote she feels. In his concluding paragraphs, as Larkin returns to descriptions of the falling snow, he leaves us with a sense that Katherine is seeking, more than anything, for a sense of order and predictability in her life. She is seeking a peaceful ending, rather than a happy ending:

There was the snow, and her watch ticking. So many snowflakes, so many seconds. As time passed they seemed to mingle in their minds, heaping up into a vast shape that might be a burial mound, or the cliff of an iceberg whose summit is out of sight. Into its shadow dreams crowded, full of conceptions and stirrings of cold, as if icefloes were moving down a lightless channel of water. They were going in orderly slow procession, moving from darkness further into darkness, allowing no suggestion that their order should be broken, or that one day, however many years distant, the darkness would begin to give place to light.
Yet their passage was not saddening. Unsatisfied dreams rose and fell about them, crying out against the implacability, but in the end glad that such order, such destiny, existed. Against this knowledge, the heart, the will, and all that made for protest, could at least sleep.


I recommend this novel for its beautiful language, its themes concerning difficulties of translation and connection between people, and its compelling depiction of earlier places and times in England. Larkin’s insights transcend a specific historical period, and instead touch on sources of isolation that we can recognize today.

( )
1 vote KrisR | Mar 30, 2013 |
Not what you would expect ( )
  m.a.harding | Jul 22, 2007 |
Showing 4 of 4
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Quotations
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English

None

Book description
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

The story of a fateful winter day in the life of a European woman who has fled to England during WW II.

(summary from another edition)

Quick Links

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (3.65)
0.5
1 3
1.5
2 1
2.5 1
3 14
3.5 5
4 18
4.5 4
5 8

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 129,512,381 books! | Top bar: Always visible