My dearest biographer, don’t believe a single word of this letter

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My dearest biographer, don’t believe a single word of this letter

Just how revealing is private correspondence? With Philip Larkin back in the news, here’s a note of caution

Rupert Christiansen

The reading public’s insatiable fascination with Philip Larkin and his amorous affairs has spiked again with the widely reported news that more than 2,000 previously unpublished letters from Monica Jones, his mistress, will serve as a primary source for a forthcoming biography of her by John Sutherland.

This comes only two years after the publication of 600 of Larkin’s own letters to his parents and sister and 10 years after a fat volume of his letters to Monica – not to mention in 2000 Zachary Leader’s selection of Kingsley Amis’s correspondence with Larkin, and Anthony Thwaite’s substantial 1992 selection of Larkin’s letters across the board. All this on top of several biographies and memoirs by his associates.

Not since the massive trawl of Bloomsbury’s remains in the 1970s has there been such a literary feeding frenzy. Partly, of course, this can be explained by the popularity of Larkin’s poetry and by the fact that so much manuscript material has been preserved (something which Larkin would surely have blenched at – his diaries were incinerated after his death in 1985). But what fuels it most is the awkward fit between Larkin the romantic melancholic whose writing encapsulates so much of the soulful inner life of Middle England, and Larkin the saturnine university librarian who turns out to have been simultaneously busy in several women’s beds and the victim of a penchant for juvenile pornography...

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