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Philip Larkin: Letters Home

Philip Larkin

The last outstanding unpublished facet of Larkin’s writing life: his correspondence ‘home’ to his father, mother and sister.

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Letters Home gives access to the last major archive of Larkin’s writing to remain unpublished: the letters to members of his family. These correspondences help tell the story of how Larkin came to be the writer and the man he was: to his father Sydney, a ‘conservative anarchist’ and admirer of Hitler, who died relatively early in Larkin’s life; to his timid, depressive mother Eva, who by contrast lived long, and whose final years were shadowed by dementia; and to his sister Kitty, the sparse surviving fragment of whose correspondence with her brother gives an enigmatic glimpse of a complex and intimate relationship. In particular, it was the years during which he and his sister looked after their mother that shaped the writer we know so well: a number of poems written over this time are for her, and the mood of pain, shadow and despondency that characterises his later verse draws its strength from his experience of the long, lonely years of her senility. One surprising element in the volume, however, is the joie de vivre shown in the large number of witty and engaging drawings of himself and Eva, as ‘Young Creature’ and ‘Old Creature’, with which he enlivens his letters throughout the three decades of her widowhood.

This important edition, meticulously edited by James Booth is a key piece of scholarship that completes the portrait of this most cherished of English poets.

Critic Reviews

‘Philip Larkin’s “They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad”, probably his best-known line…has encouraged the idea that he had an unhappy childhood…James Booth’s superbly edited selection of previously unpublished Larkin family letters sweeps these illusions away…More than five hundred pages of new writing by our greatest modern poet would be a treasure whatever they contained. But in the end these letters are uplifting because they are the record of more than 30 years of trying to make someone else happy.’

John Carey, Sunday Times
Critic Reviews

‘Although Larkin might express intense irritation to outsiders, the fact is he visited his mother twice a month …He wrote at least a postcard every day. Despite his protestations Larkin was obviously devoted and I found the correspondence in his book mesmerising. It is like a dialogue composed by (and starring) Alan Bennett and Victoria Wood…This book’s account of emotional claustrophobia, bitter cruelty and the absolute blunt refusal to be happy and fulfilled , pared down by James Booth from more than 8,000 items in the Hull History Centre, is essential reading for Larkin addicts.’

Roger Lewis, The Times
Critic Reviews

‘[a] confounding collection . . .This turns out to be by far Larkin’s largest correspondence.’

David Sexton, Evening Standard BOOK OF THE WEEK
Critic Reviews

‘Letters Home has been hailed as a work of scholarship. Its attention to detail, its range in years, its scope in material, are all remarkable...Larkin is famous for his line that parents tuck you up, or something that sounds rhymes with tuck. However, his letters to his mother offer evidence to support another line “What will survive of us is love”’

Hugh MacDonald, Herald
Critic Reviews

‘Booth is an efficient editor and provider of footnotes: this is the last significant collection of papers relating to Larkin’s life that needs to be published.’

Andrew Motion, Spectator
Critic Reviews

‘This old, brown world of hissing gas fires, strange smells on the stairs, and filial duty worn like some heavy overcoat: how it hypnotises.When I wasn’t crying with laughter – “you can’t expect to enjoy yourself on holiday as you do at home” is among the more Hilda Ogden-ish advice Larkin dispenses to his ma – I was often close to sobbing at the sweet-sadness of it all. Behind the belly-aching and the penny-pinching, the making-do and the clay-cold depression, there is an immensity of kindness here, and the fact that this was sometimes so effortful on Larkin’s part only makes it the more tender (Eva, so anxious she could not sleep in her own house alone, frequently drove her son halfway round the bend)...Booth, Larkin’s biographer, has edited these letters superbly well... Neatly tracing the poet’s adult life from Oxford University, through Wellington, Leicester and Belfast, where he worked in various libraries, and finally to Hull, a picture of the man slowly emerges. It’s not new, but perhaps the emphasis is slightly altered. Larkin as we find him here is witty, wise, grossly impractical, and extremely modest, in every sense of the word.’

Rachel Cooke, Observer

Philip Larkin was an English novelist, librarian and celebrated poet, who has been awarded numerous honours including the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. Born in Coventry in 1922, he was educated at King Henry VIII School and Oxford University. His first book of poetry, The North Ship, was published in 1945, followed by The Less Deceived (1955), The Whitsun Weddings…

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