Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica

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Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica

Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica

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In this fond struggle between two passive-aggressive types, each of them trying to finesse some decisiveness out of the other, she must have known that a double negative was the most she could hope for. His unobtrusive cuts give a shape to the letters, bringing Larkin's clear-eyed observations of love, work and his surroundings to the fore. In one quote from September of 1962, for instance, she displayed an overall sadness about life and what she expressed as a sense of futility. With classics such as Ted Hughes's The Iron Man and award-winners including Emma Carroll's Letters from the Lighthouse, Faber Children's Books brings you the best in picture books, young reads and classics. This is a proper correspondence, intelligent but easy, fluent, encouraging; we see the charm and the point of sitting down, at the end of the day, or the beginning of an evening, and putting one's thoughts into writing, and sending them off to someone we love.

They shared a love of literature, which he as librarian encouraged; they were both shy people; the town talked.In his depressed Eeyorish way, he may have merely been announcing (as his second stanza suggests) his own failure to be born at the right time so as to embrace a sexual revolution that was both reasonably safe (pills, diaphragms, no AIDS yet, and so on) and not conditional on marriage; but in fact anyone could be forgiven for the assumption that, owing to earlier social pressures, he was portraying himself as a late developer who only came to the full joys of sex at the ripe old age of forty-one. Not only are they funny, sad and true; they are also charmingly replete with 1950s detail, evoking a world of curry-powder concoctions, rasping gas fires, and long but civilised train journeys.

By using the Web site, you confirm that you have read, understood, and agreed to be bound by the Terms and Conditions. Monica often received nothing more than unimportant chatter, an indication to me that the simple postal contact with her was more important than the passing of any meaningful information or ways of thinking. Relaxed, intimate, affectionate and often very funny, they chronicle, day by day, almost every aspect of Larkin's his poetry and the events that shaped it, his work as a librarian, his friendships, and his insights on literature, from Hardy and DH Lawrence to WH Auden and Kingsley Amis. What came as new, with the force of a revelation, was the steady, inexorable growth of poetic skill and creative depth, to the very end.These letters were written over a long period to the woman he loved most (although not the only woman he loved), and they are wonderful. I love Larkin's poetry but I started reading this book feeling faintly uncomfortable about the idea that I was about to read extracts from the many hundreds of letters he sent to his - and this is where it starts getting tricky, because how do you describe Monica and the role she played in his life?

He might have added his other underlying distastes for them: they drained away time, money, and attention.

Turning to Andrew Motion's biography, we learn that Larkin "had come to me", as Monica quaintly put it, by the summer of 1950. A good place to start on the protagonists of this curious correspondence—culled from some 1,400 letters discovered after the addressee’s death in 2001—is the wrap-around photograph that takes up most of both sides of the book’s dust jacket. Since Amis had, notoriously, modeled the appalling Margaret Peel of Lucky Jim directly on Monica, and become filthy rich as a result, this may be understandable, but it does give one pause for thought.

Larkin could be frightening too (and without much provocation): "No, I really can't do anything at all – it really is disgusting, I feel tearful with rage – why must [the landlady] leave her door open so that her filthy radio floods the whole house? There was, of course, a prominent old woman in his life – his mother, whose solitary widowhood lasted 30 years: "For her the daily round is hideous with traps, and dangerous with hidden ambush, and calamity: it is all she can do to creep through it unscathed. This has elements of both happy ending and nemesis – the belated commitment coming without dignity or real freedom of choice. The correspondence is certainly that of a literary duo: allusions come thick and fast, and casual judgments with them.

If he was really all those ists, this book is a vivid demonstration of why such labels are meaningless rubbish. I never remember my parents making a single spontaneous gesture of affection towards each other, for instance. What Larkin ruefully described as his “misengagement” dragged on long after he and Monica met in 1946, and was only resolved, amid emotional stress all round, in 1950—Monica and Philip became lovers that summer. The age of the literary correspondence is dying, slowly but surely electrocuted by the superconductors of high modernity. Sex,” noted the young masturbator in his pocket diary for 1950, “is too good to share with anyone else.

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