Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

"The Importance of Elsewhere" by Richard Bradford (Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2015)

It's a book about Larkin's photos with chapters entitled "Monica", "Lucky Jim", "Celebrity", etc. About 5000 of his prints and negatives are in the Hull History Centre, and some are in the reviews mentioned below. He was serious about photography, owning a "Houghton-Butcher Ensign Carbine no.5", a "Purma Special" then a "Rolleiflex Automat twin lens reflex". There are the expected photos of trains, churches and street signs. He often cropped photos (perhaps so that he didn't need to get too close to the subject). He photographed different woman in similar poses and places. He sometimes cycled miles to photograph gloomy, bleak places.

The complex Larkin-Amis-Monica triangle is only one of the situations where selective secrecy prevailed. There's photographic evidence of Larkin's affairs with married women, who clearly found him attractive both in long-term and short-term ways. Here are some miscellaneous quotes -

  • His father Sydney's council office contained Nazi regalia including a 12 inch Fuhrer which saluted at the press of a button. He had advanced tastes in literature - Eliot, Joyce, etc. "Sydney treated Larkin as his beloved alter ego" (p.24).
  • "Without loathing any person in particular [Larkin] resented the network of relationships and friendships that, daily, demanded some kind of emotional accountability" (p.74)
  • "One does not require any knowledge of psychology to discern a link between Larkin's growing sense of inadequacy as a writer and his new investment [in a camera]" (p.75)
  • "One cannot overstate the effect that the move to Belfast had on his work - it wrought the transformation of Larkin from frustrated novelist to the finest English poet of the last twentieth century" (p.80)
  • "He now felt more confident as an outsider" (p.81)
  • "For the next two decades Larkin and Kitty [his sister] would argue continuously over who should be more involved with the care of their mother" (p.84)
  • "Anything that carried even a remote indication of commitment, including such apparently innocuous activities as buying plates and table lamps, felt ominous to Larkin." (p.125)
  • "Larkin's poetic output between 1956 and 1960 was relatively infrequent - on average two and a half poems a year" (p.153)
  • "for Larkin [Conquest] supplied pornographic magazines ... 'I admire the painstaking realism of it ... the action and standard of definition left something to be desired'" (p.155)
  • "Larkin opened a Scotland Yard embossed envelope informing him that he, Philip Arthur Larkin, should make himself ready to attend court proceedings already being undertaken under the Obscene Publications Act of 1921 ... Larkin ... spent the day in the offices of his solicitor." (p.155). But it was a trick composed by Amis and Conquest.
  • "Often, Larkin placed a large mirror behind the timed camera so that he could form an expression" (p.189)
  • He could compartmentalise his life. When Monica learns of his unfaithfulness, his letters to her are strange - "The sense of empathy and compassion is by parts convincing and bizarre. He has caused her misery yet he seems to have taken a step back to a point where he can console her without a collateral requirement to take responsibility, let alone apologise" (p.197)
  • "he treated [his mother] as his emotional alter ego" (p.241)
  • "He was respected for his [librarianship] achievements throughout the UK by fellow librarians ... He enquired about early retirement, knowing that he could never deal with the prospect" (p.241)

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  1. Dear Tim

    Which just goes to show how artistic merit rarely seems to coexist with moral integrity. In other words, Philip Larkin was both a great poet and a selfish sod. As was Ted Hughes.

    Best wishes from Simon R Gladdish

    1. I knew a bit about Larkin's life before I read this book, but was surprised by some of the details. He must have had some charm otherwise women wouldn't have wanted to run away with him. And he seems to have done his job well (an achievement that should more often be mentioned). Perhaps women knew what they were letting themselves in for when they got involved with him - that they had to play the game on his terms. He was able to compartmentalize his life in a way most of us couldn't.