Cover image for Philip Larkin : life, art and love
Philip Larkin : life, art and love
Booth, James, 1945-
Personal Author:
First U.S. Edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury Press, 2014.

Physical Description:
[xi], 532 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
In one of the most comprehensive pictures of the poet yet published, James Booth examines the people, the places and the chance encounters that influenced Larkin and shaped his poetry. From Larkin's early life, his academic studies and his aspirations as a novelist, an image emerges of a reserved and gentle man greatly affected by those close to him. Delving into his fluctuating relationships with Maeve Brennan and Monica Jones, two of the many women in Larkin's life, and analysing their varied effect on his work, Booth sheds fresh light on one of Britain's best loved poets.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR6023.A66 Z366 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PR6023.A66 Z366 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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A revelatory, intimate, and sympathetic study of Philip Larkin, an iconic poet and a much misunderstood man, offering fresh understanding of the interplay of his life and work.

Philip Larkin (1922-1985) is one of the most beloved poets in English. Yet after his death a largely negative image of the man himself took hold; he has been portrayed as a racist, a misogynist and a narcissist. Now Larkin scholar James Booth, for seventeen years a colleague of the poet's at the University of Hull, offers a very different portrait. Drawn from years of research and a wide variety of Larkin's friends and correspondents, this is the most comprehensive portrait of the poet yet published.

Booth traces the events that shaped Larkin in his formative years, from his early life when his his political instincts were neutralised by exposure to his father's controversial Nazi values. He studies how the academic environment and the competition he felt with colleagues such as Kingsley Amis informed not only Larkin's poetry, but also his little-known ambitions as a novelist.

Through the places and people Larkin encountered over the course of his life, including Monica Jones, with whom he had a tumultuous but enduring relationship, Booth pieces together an image of a rather reserved and gentle man, whose personality--and poetry--have been misinterpreted by decades of academic study. Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love reveals the man behind the words as he has never been seen before.

Author Notes

James Booth is the literary adviser and coeditor of the Philip Larkin Society. He is the author of two studies of Larkin's work, Philip Larkin: Writer in 1991 and Philip Larkin: The Poet's Plight . He has also edited a collection of Larkin's early girls' school stories and poems and a volume of critical essays, New Larkins for Old . He has recently retired from the Department of English at the University of Hull, where he was a colleague of Larkin's for seventeen years.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Larkin is, by common consent, the best-loved' British poet of the last century, reads the first sentence of Booth's biography. A principal preoccupation thereafter is demonstrating why that best-love attests good literary judgment. Booth treats each important poem cheek-by-jowl with the nonliterary events in Larkin's life, professional as librarian of the University of Hull in Yorkshire, he oversaw construction of one of Britain's first fully modern academic libraries and personal. The latter far more than the former informed his poetry. Larkin was the longtime lover of one woman, who understood poetry as he did; nurtured a nearly-as-long platonic love for a second, whose devout Catholicism negated physical consummation; and had a passionate late-midlife affair with a third, a library colleague. He valued marriage and family but felt incapable of them. Mostly, he valued life and was terrified and enraged by death. Severely self-critical, he left unpublished as great a body of verse as he published. He customarily polished a poem for weeks or months, setting some aside for more than a year before completing them. Booth shows how and why, besides the images, every important word, rhyme scheme, and meter of Larkin's poems are as they are. He shows Larkin's variety, from near-religious adoration (Larkin was an unbudging atheist, however) to lasciviousness to slashingly witty. He gives us a consummated dream of a literary biography.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Booth (Philip Larkin: The Poet's Plight), coeditor of the Philip Larkin Society and former Larkin colleague at the University of Hull, delves deep into the poet's writing life and sexual history in this overlong biography. By examining the context of how Larkin's poems were constructed, Booth offers a complex study of England's "best-loved" poet. Throughout, Booth hews close to Larkin's text-hardly a page goes by without quoting a verse, novel, or letter. Booth is not an impartial observer, though; he staunchly defends "Larkin's contradictions" against claims of racism, misogyny, and pornography, admitting that there is "no requirement that poets should be likeable or virtuous." Indeed, Larkin's poetry parallels his life in many ways, but his life outside writing is a rich source of narrative, and Booth is at his most energetic when he tells the straightforward story of Larkin's librarianship and relationships with women. Despite his critical and popular success, Larkin was "haunted by failure" and Booth neatly traces the origins of the poet's psychological pain. According to Booth, "the key to Larkin, the poet and the man, is an ingenuous openness to life's simplest pleasures and pains." (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

The tone of much of the writing on Philip Larkin's (1922-85) personal and professional life was set in Andrew Motion's unfavorable 1993 biography of the poet Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life. Other scholars-A. Alvarez, Richard Bradford, Lisa Jardine-have painted similar pictures of a depressive man whose casually racist views and attitudes toward women were often less than admirable. Now comes a corrective biography by an author who was Larkin's workmate at the University of Hull for 17 years. Booth (Philip Larkin: The Poet's Plight) provides a more nuanced but still unattractive image of this complicated man, especially his description of the poet's callous manipulation of the multiple women whom he wooed simultaneously. Booth parses the poems in detail. His narrative on how events influenced the writing of several of Larkin's near-confessional poems is solid, but, other more general passages interrupt and detract from the well-based biography surrounding them. Still, this account is the best depiction we have to date of the complex life of an exceptional modern poet. VERDICT The book will appeal to lovers of literature. Larkin knew everybody in his day so the net this work spreads is wide. [See Prepub Alert, 5/12/14.]-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.