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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poetic Voyeurism, 31 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica (Hardcover)
I doubt that Larkin ever expected these personal letters to the fascinating and long-suffering Monica Jones to be published. After all he took great care to ensure that his diaries were destroyed. It seems to be an accident of fate that led their editor to discover them and there are suggestions that by then Monica was possibly not in a fit state to consider whether she or PL would have wanted them in our hands. Certainly this reader - admittedly amongst all manner of other feelings - felt at times discomfort at the intrusion. Of course now they are an institution and within one, The Bodleian, I believe. The argument goes, I imagine, that such materials throw light on what really matters - the poems. There are, of course, a number of references to particular poems during the course of their taking their final shapes. Whether this enhances our understanding/appreciation is another matter. Would we value Monica's favourite Shakespearian play, "Antony and Cleopatra", the more highly if we knew more of WS and the circumstances of his life at the time of writing? Very much I doubt it. What matters is the work. I've no doubt that Larkin is the finest British poet who stated creative life post WW11. His enthusiam for cricket is immaterial.

I think Thwaite should be commended for the disciplined, restrained and always helpful information he provides and for his self-effacing introduction. It would be good to think that at least in Larkin's personal letters to someone he certainly cared for he dropped his masks. Sometimes, during his fears about his illness he seems to. Elsewhere I wonder if he does no more than hide from us yet again behind his shared loves/prejudices/whimsies with MJ. On the face of it he comes across most unsympathetically to this PC brain-washed world. He is open about his racial and other prejudices and makes no attempt to hide his contempt for most of his fellow creative practitioners alive and dead. Lawrence, Hardy and Beatrix Potter apart, there is scarcely any writer for whom he can sustain any kind of respect. This can be bracing if also an invitation to wallow in our own non-PC prejudices. Some of his judgements surprise, his enthusiasm for D.H. Lawrence for example. He never makes clear here whether it is the novels or poetry that command his assent - surely not the latter - but........

With a book of this kind, especially one that can never bypass a judgement, I found myself looking for witty destructions that invite "yes","yes", yes"! "The Guardian" and C.P.Snow for example, and also for shared enthusiasms , "Take it from Here", but then I find myself caught by attacks on Tony Hancock and more significantly F. R. Leavis, and by his liking for C.S. Lewis. Personal considerations no doubt account for his over-rating of Kingsley Amis , certainly a highly intelligent man, a witty one, too but not a poet of say Gunn's standard, who PL dismisses as "dull", without suggesting that his tongue is in his cheek.
There was clearly another side to PL that gets short shrift here. He was a conscientious and able administator and a more shrewd negotiator re his poetical output than he pretends here. In the last analysis what really matters are the poems - many very fine ones. That is why PL is important and of what we need to remind ourselves when we find ourselves poking our noses into a sensitive personal relationship. ogh ogh ....
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