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A Valediction for Philip Larkin

Clive James, 6 February 1986

... You never travelled much but now you have, Into the land whose brochures you liked least: That drear Bulgaria beyond the grave Where wonders have definitively ceased – Ranked as a dead loss even in the East. Friends will remember until their turn comes What they were doing when the news came through. I landed in Nairobi with eardrums Cracked by the flight from Kichwa Tembo ...

Damp-Lipped Hilary

Jenny Diski: Larkin’s juvenilia, 23 May 2002

Trouble at Willow Gables and Other Fictions 
by Philip Larkin, edited by James Booth.
Faber, 498 pp., £20, May 2002, 0 571 20347 7
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... Life is too short to read Philip Larkin’s juvenilia. Reading ‘Trouble at Willow Gables’ and ‘Michaelmas Term at St Brides’ is up there with stuffing mushrooms: there is a part of me which, as I read – or stuff – has precognition of the moment of my death and the very last conscious thought, which is the blinding awareness of the precious hours wasted on Larkin’s schoolgirl stories or mushrooms when I might have done something more positive with them such as sleeping or filing my nails ...

Instead of a Present

Alan Bennett, 15 April 1982

... My first thought was that this whole enterprise is definitely incongruous. A birthday party for Philip Larkin is like treating Simone Weil to a candlelit dinner for two at a restaurant of her choice. Or sending Proust flowers. No. A volume of this sort is simply a sharp nudge in the direction of the grave; and that is a road, God knows, along which he needs no nudging ...

Keep yr gob shut

Christopher Tayler: Larkin v. Amis, 20 December 2012

The Odd Couple: The Curious Friendship between Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin 
by Richard Bradford.
Robson, 373 pp., £20, November 2012, 978 1 84954 375 0
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... Sometimes,’ Philip Larkin wrote in a letter, ‘I think I’m preparing for a huge splenetic autobiography, denigrating everyone I’ve ever known: it would have to be left to the nation in large brass-bound boxes, to be printed when all of us are dead.’ In the event he arranged to have his diaries shredded a few days before his death in 1985 ...

Why aren’t they screaming?

Helen Vendler: Philip Larkin, 6 November 2014

Philip LarkinLife, Art and Love 
by James Booth.
Bloomsbury, 532 pp., £25, August 2014, 978 1 4088 5166 1
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... Twenty​ years ago, Andrew Motion, one of Philip Larkin’s literary executors, wrote a scholarly and comprehensive authorised biography of the poet, whom he had known well; it was subtitled ‘A Writer’s Life’. Motion informed his readers that some important ingredients of Larkin’s life were still unavailable, especially most of the letters written to Monica Jones, a lecturer at the University of Leicester, who was his closest companion and lover, but never wife ...

Phil the Lark

Ian Hamilton, 13 October 1988

Collected Poems 
by Philip Larkin, edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber/Marvell Press, 330 pp., £16.95, October 1988, 0 571 15196 5
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... Philip Larkin, we are told, left instructions in his will that certain of his writings had to be destroyed, unread. His executors obeyed: the word is that several of the poet’s notebooks, or journals, are now ashes. Did Larkin expect to be so obeyed? Or did he imagine that perhaps someone, somehow, might take a peek at the material before it reached the flames? And if such a thought did cross his mind, why didn’t he destroy the stuff himself? He must have known that, by not doing so, he was bequeathing at least the possibility of a dilemma ...

Keeping up with Jane Austen

Marilyn Butler, 6 May 1982

An Unsuitable Attachment 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 256 pp., £6.95, February 1982, 0 333 32654 7
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... working, and here the sense of comic futility is unmistakable. In his brief introduction, Philip Larkin recounts how this seventh Pym novel was rejected in 1963 by the publisher of the first six, Cape, not apparently because it would not sell but because the publisher’s readers just did not like it. Perhaps they disliked the boldness with which ...

Better than Ganymede

Tom Paulin: Larkin, 21 October 2010

Philip LarkinLetters to Monica 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 475 pp., £22.50, October 2010, 978 0 571 23909 2
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... Philip Larkin met Monica Jones in 1946 at Leicester University College. She was an assistant lecturer there, and Larkin was an assistant librarian. Both had firsts in English from Oxford. Monica Jones was an able lecturer, but she never published anything and so was never promoted, although she stayed at Leicester until she retired in 1981 ...


Zachary Leader: Oscar Talk at the Huntington, 16 April 1998

... Amis professed to hate ‘abroad’, but he was only intermittently a cultural nationalist. When Philip Larkin, in his capacity as librarian, canvassed him in 1960 for his views on the export of manuscripts, he received the usual robust reply: I will sell any of my manuscripts to the highest bidder, assuming such bidder to be of reputable standing, and ...

Barbara Pym’s Hymn

Karl Miller, 6 March 1980

... again, to fame, when readers were alerted to her fiction by the commendations of two admirers, Philip Larkin and David Cecil. Having been out, she became ‘the in-thing to read’, and reviewers rushed to praise the late novel Quartet in Autumn – now in paperback – as if it were a match for her early work.* Meanwhile her early work has been ...

Larkin and Us

Barbara Everett, 4 November 1982

Larkin at Sixty 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 148 pp., £7.95, May 1982, 9780571118786
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The Art of Philip Larkin 
by Simon Petch.
Sydney University Press, 108 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 424 00090 3
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... poem in The Whitsun Weddings. It’s a good opening line, with that abruptness and immediacy most Larkin openings have. And it’s a good question, making it plain – among other things – that living is not really what poems do: they only chart the results of asking questions like these, bringing        the priest and the doctor In their long coats ...

Bugger me blue

Ian Hamilton, 22 October 1992

The Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 759 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 571 15197 3
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... next to Mailer’s name. A similar tactic might happily have been ventured by the publishers of Philip Larkin’s Letters: the book’s back pages are going to be well-thumbed. ‘Hi, Craig,’ see page 752, you ‘mad sod’; ‘Hi, John,’ see page 563, you ‘arse-faced trendy’; ‘Hi, David,’ see page 266, you ‘deaf cunt’, and so on. Less ...


Ian Hamilton: I ♥ Concordances, 22 August 1996

... summer, autumn, winter, spring – would you expect to feature most often in the works of Philip Larkin? And which of these two poets would you reckon was the more self-centred, fond of flowers, susceptible to hyphens, keen on using the word mother? Such are the questions that can spin off from too many hours spent browsing in the realms of the ...

One for the road

Ian Hamilton, 21 March 1991

by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 346 pp., £16.99, March 1991, 0 09 174533 0
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... There are moments, though, when we would like to know just how much inventing has been done. Did Philip Larkin really say of John Wain: ‘No advantage of birth or position or looks or talent – nothing, and look where he is now’? If I was John Wain, I would want to be sure of the exact words. According to Amis, Wain used to think of ...


Charles Osborne: Arts Council Subsidies, 7 June 1984

... all, essentially reclusive in a way that fiction is not. Indeed, one of the finest living poets, Philip Larkin, has remarked that novels are about other people while poems are about oneself. But then Larkin has talked sense on so many aspects of literature. He is a real poet in that he writes poems only when he has ...

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