John Betjeman: His Life and Work by Patrick Taylor-Martin - review by Francis Wheen

Francis Wheen

Epater Les Highbrows

John Betjeman: His Life and Work


Allen Lane 192pp £9.95 order from our bookshop

‘It is unlikely' Patrick Taylor-Martin writes, 'that even Betjeman's most fervent admirers would claim that he was a major poet.' Is that so? What, then, are we to make ofchristopher Booker's claim that 'A Lament for Moira 'McCavendish' is the most heartrending poem in the English language? How are we to take the constant adulation of Betjeman by literary skinheads such as Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin? The truth is that there are quite a few people who do argue that John Betjeman is a-major poet - even if they do it only pour épater les highbrows. 

Taylor-Martin himself is not disinclined to grant Betjeman a status he doesn't deserve. He quotes with apparent approval Dr.Johnson's comment on Gray’s Elegy:

I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers uncorrupted with literary, prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

East of the Wardrobe

Follow Literary Review on Twitter