SELECTED LETTERS OF PHILIP LARKIN by Philip Larkin

SELECTED LETTERS OF PHILIP LARKIN

1940-1985

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Readers of Andrew Motion's recent biography (p. 646) of Larkin (d. 1985), who's now recognized as one of the great poets of our century, won't be surprised by the revelations in this generous selection of letters. Larkin's misguided sympathy for Germany in the early years of WW II, his cranky xenophobia, his outrageous misogyny, and his devastating put-downs of other poets (especially Stephen Spender, Ted Hughes, and Vikram Seth) should also come as no surprise. After all, his problems with women, his severe melancholia, and his deep- rooted misanthropy are everywhere evident in the poetry. Not to be overlooked in all the disagreeable material, though, are the elements often missing in Motion's somewhat humorless tome. In his own words, Larkin is a constant pleasure--witty, slangy, and full of profound insight into the writers who matter most to him, from his early admiration of Auden, Lawrence, and Yeats to his later veneration of fellow plain-speaking poets such as Hardy, Edward Thomas, and Gavin Ewart. Heavily represented among the recipients of these 700-odd letters are Larkin's grade-school buddies, publishers, and a few solid literary friends. With his pals, Larkin indulged his love of vulgarity: A proud masturbator, he trades soft-core porn tips with his kindred spirit, Kingsley Amis, and with poet-historian Robert Conquest. Larkin's lifelong devotion to jazz surfaces not only in his numerous discussions of favorite albums but also in the rhythms of his prose. Most touching of all, though, is the poet's long epistolary friendship with Barbara Pym, a lovely testament to their spiritual affinity--they didn't meet until very late in their correspondence. Editor Thwaite (one of Larkin's three executors) never adequately explains the most glaring omission here--the poet's letters to family members. But to Thwaite's credit, he annotates with a light hand, ensuring that no one interested in Larkin or the course of modern poetry can afford to ignore this spectacular volume. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-374-25829-5
Page count: 791pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1993




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