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Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica [Hardcover]

Philip Larkin , Anthony Thwaite
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

21 Oct 2010

Philip Larkin met Monica Jones at University College Leicester in autumn 1946, when they were both twenty-four; he was the newly-appointed assistant librarian and she was an English lecturer. In 1950 Larkin moved to Belfast, and thence to Hull, while Monica remained in Leicester, becoming by turns his correspondent, lover and closest confidante, in a relationship which lasted over forty years until the poet's death in 1985.

This remarkable unpublished correspondence only came to light after Monica Jones's death in 2001, and consists of nearly two thousand letters, postcards and telegrams, which chronicle - day by day, sometimes hour by hour - every aspect of Larkin's life and the convolutions of their relationship.

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Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica + Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982: Miscellaneous Pieces, 1955-82
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (21 Oct 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571239099
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571239092
  • Product Dimensions: 4 x 15.3 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 140,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Larkin was born in Coventry in 1922 and was educated at King Henry VIII School, Coventry, and St John's College, Oxford. As well as his volumes of poems, which include The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows, he wrote two novels, Jill and A Girl in Winter, and two books of collected journalism: All What Jazz: A Record Library, and Required Writing: Miscellaneous Prose. He worked as a librarian at the University of Hull from 1955 until his death in 1985. He was the best-loved poet of his generation, and the recipient of innumerable honours, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, and the W. H. Smith Award.

Product Description


'There are moments of great tenderness and insight ... 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.' --Guardian Paperback Choice

'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.' --Observer

'To lovers of the poetry, this selection of correspondence that lasted forty years is completely fascinating - not just for the inadvertent light it shines on the poetry but also for the elucidation of Larkin's own taste and his opinion of his own work and worth. The length and intimate nature of Larkin's relationship with Monica Jones gives the letters and the opinions they express a compelling authenticity and almost vunerable honesty.' --William Boyd, TLS

'His low-key but oddly forceful personality is one of the things that comes out most vividly in the work - the letters are part of the poetry in that sense - and is a sort of poetic statement in itself.' --Derek Mahon, Literary Review

'These are the most intimate letters of a major poet ... Throughout, you can see the poems coming, poems you know by heart.' -- David Sexton, Evening Standard

'Philip Larkin is the best-loved poet of the last 100 years, and these irresistibly readable letters reveal the life and personality more intimately than ever before . . . He is constantly and inventively funny, concocting parodies and spoofs with loving care . . . the total effect is exhilarating. You feel sorry when you turn the last page. He said of Mansfield's journal that it made readers "more sensitive, more receptive, happier than before". These letters do the same.' --John Carey, Sunday Times

'As an editor, Thwaite treads softly. His unobtrusive cuts give a shape to the letters, bringing Larkin's clear-eyed observations of love, work and his surroundings to the fore. Fans will find the drafts of his poems particularly thrilling.' --Emma Hughes, Country Life

'Larkin's letters are affectionate, flirting, playful, even whimsical. There is something of Mass Observation about them - reflections on life, literature, domestic chores and personal feelings . . . one warms to the pair in their decent (if distanced) domesticity.' --Iain Finlayson, The Times

'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.' --Rachel Cooke, Observer Books of the Year

'Unfailingly exhilarating.' --The Times

'Irresistibly readable ... exhilarating, and you feel sorry when you turn the last page.' --Sunday Times 'Our Choice'

'This superbly edited selection opens a fascinating window into the mind and spirit of Larkin ... I'd defy anyone to read this and not be impressed by his honesty, judgement and emotional intelligence.' --Mail on Sunday

'Peppered with wry humour and biting critiques, these letters are as much a social and cultural history as a reflection of his tenderness towards [Jones] ... exceptional.' --Irish Times

'I don't ordinarily like reading people's letters. Usually, too many punches get knowingly, smirkingly pulled. Larkin, of course, is different: hilarious, pathetic, niggardly, mischievous, baiting, amusingly domestic, insincere, placating and occasionally loving, and brilliant, incisive and true; he's us, in our best and worst selves written better than we could write it. Why else would a critic argue that he's the 'best-loved poet of the past 100 years'? In these letters, no less than in his poems, he stands rather nakedly before us only this time with a damp dish towel over his wrist, the room gone a bit too cold, thinking about listening to the radio from bed.' --Richard Ford, Guardian Books of the Year --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

A remarkable collection of letters that reveals the unseen life of Philip Larkin.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping up with the Joneses 21 Nov 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This volume is a wonderful addition to the already published Selected Letters both edited with scrupulous care and sympathy by Anthony Thwaite. Larkins relationship with Monica Jones is covered from 1946 through to 1984 when they lived together, in part due to Larkins wish to look after Monica after she hurt herself in a fall. The letters are a wonderful mixture of the mundanities of life as Larkin struggles to live in "digs" that are always plagued by noise from above and below (loud radios; conversations; bangs and crashes seem to plague him). This is against a background of his career as a Librarian chiefly in Belfast and then more famously Hull. We get details of his work colleagues and his literary pursuits as he struggles to write the poems that would make him famous. Bitchy but heartfelt comments come thick and fast about Kingsley Amis and numerous other friends and acquaintances. His constant concern about his mother (widowed and alone for a long part of her life) and observations about the weather, radio programmes and his own reading habits provide a fascinating insight into this intensely private and personal poet.
His letters to Monica are often affectionate; self deprecating and full of plans for holidays, visits and observations about her own situation.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful contents, shoddy book 8 Jan 2011
The contents of this book are wonderful - five stars. In his own way Larkin is just as interesting and moving as any of the great poet/letter writers

As an object, this volume is disappointing - one star. Faber produce books of very varied quality. The best are very good, and include excellent recent productions of the letters of Ted Hughes, and the correspondence of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (just to focus on hardback editions of poets' letters). Their worst are dreadful (eg their recent two volumes of the letters of T S Eliot - contrast the excellent first volume they published twenty or so years ago.) This edition of Larkin is one of their poorer productions. It feels light and shoddy. The pages - glued, of course, (they were sewn in both the Hughes and the Bishop/Lowell mentioned above) are already showing signs of falling out. The paper, smelling of cheap cardboard when you turn the pages, will, I'm sure, go brown quickly. The person who gave me the book for Christmas apologised, saying she thought about sending it back.

Faber needs to understand that if its customers just want content they will wait for the paperback, or, increasingly, go for an e-book. More and more customers will only buy a book, particularly a hardback, if it feels like a quality object. It's not a question of economics. I for one would be prepared to pay a couple of quid more for a hardback if the production standards are excellent; if the production standards are poor I often won't buy the book at all.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stand-Up Larkin stands up 19 Dec 2010
By Chris H
I borrowed this from the library but shall buy it, a sentiment similar to many which Larkin expresses in a volume which is always fascinating on his reading, as he is on much else: he comes at everything from an unexpected angle, including his own existence.

Although there are the customary laments that he has let life slip through his fingers and that others have done as much in a year as he has in two decades, the volume is not so much absorbing for the trajectory of his relationship with Monica Jones but the way in which it allows him to riff, often surreally, on the passing show.

That vanished England in which people sat around and read the Sunday papers, and had to forage for obscure records.

The more I read the volume, the more I am convinced that if Larkin could have overcome his shyness, then there would have been queues for a self-deprecating act as a atand-up comedian. He often anticipates Woody Allen, and is galaxies away from lookalike Simon Fanshawe (why does anybody call him a comedian?).

Take, for example, Larkin's letter of 28 December 1950, in which he thanks Monica for a Christmas present: "you would have laughed at my expectations: as soon as I handled it, I thought: I know what this is - it's The ordeal of Paul Cezanne by John Rewald (Phoenix House, 30/-), & a slight pang of apprehension went through me, despite the quite genuine pleasure I should also have felt, at the thought of the ordeal of Philip Larkin that would come from reading it"... and so the paragraph goes on, as he unwraps what turns out to be The Wind in Willows, illustrated by Rackham, which he describes cogently.

All of it capped by "Not much of a haul this Christmas!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Loving Larkin
The book gives great insight into Larkin's life. I am now revisiting favourite poems and also discovering less known gems.
Published 4 days ago by Mrs H K Helm
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, touching, funny.....
... are just some comments I can make about this. This is the domestic Larkin, sitting with a G & T, record player or "wireless" on, writing to his long-term, and often... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Davey
5.0 out of 5 stars Letters to Monica
This book was for a Philip Larkin fan so it couldn't fail to please. A super book worth every penny.
Published 19 months ago by Mrs. Sandra Sheppard
4.0 out of 5 stars Christmas Gift
This book was asked for from a member of my family for a Christmas Gift 2011, and he was very grateful.
Published 20 months ago by Deborah Dunkley
4.0 out of 5 stars Poetic Voyeurism
I doubt that Larkin ever expected these personal letters to the fascinating and long-suffering Monica Jones to be published. Read more
Published on 31 Mar 2012 by Bluecashmere.
4.0 out of 5 stars Self's the man
These letters apparently came to light after the Selected Letters were published. Taken along with the latter, and the Andrew Motion biography, this makes for a rounded picture of... Read more
Published on 12 Feb 2012 by Stephen Hudson
4.0 out of 5 stars The Life Behind The Art
If you are wondering whether it is worth laying out your money on a one-sided correspondence by a poet who has plenty of other books and collections written about him then I can... Read more
Published on 3 Jan 2012 by Eugene Onegin
5.0 out of 5 stars The world according to Larkin
I have not been able to put this book down. I am an admirer of Larkin's work and, having read the Selected Letters, I was intrigued to discover this record of a more intimate side... Read more
Published on 23 Oct 2011 by bucksstar
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost an Autobiography
This marvellous book is the closest we'll ever get to an autobiography of Larkin, and is fitting consolation for those infamous diaries that he had burned, the contents of which... Read more
Published on 20 April 2011 by Roger Keen
4.0 out of 5 stars Monica's monikers
Dearest Bun, Dearest, My Dear, Dear Rabbit and occasionally - when Philip Larkin's fear of exchanging his oneness for twoness is at its lowest - Darling... Read more
Published on 10 Mar 2011 by Potus and Flotus
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