Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love
Philip Larkin was that rare thing among poets: a household name in his own lifetime. Lines such as 'Never such innocence again' and 'Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three' made him one of the most popular poets of the last century. Larkin's reputation as a man, however, has been more controversial. A solitary librarian known for his pessimism, he disliked exposure and had no patience with the literary circus. And when, in 1992, the publication of his Selected Letters laid bare his compartmentalised personal life, accusations of duplicity, faithlessness, racism and misogyny were levelled against him. There is, of course, no requirement that poets should be likeable or virtuous, but James Booth asks whether art and life were really so deeply at odds with each other. Can the poet who composed the moving 'Love Songs in Age' have been such a cold-hearted man? Can he who uttered the playful, self-deprecating words 'Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth' really have been so boorish? A very different public image is offered by those who shared the poet's life: the women with whom he was romantically involved, his friends and his university colleagues. It is with their personal testimony, including access to previously unseen letters, that Booth reinstates a man misunderstood: not a gaunt, emotional failure, but a witty, provocative and entertaining presence, delightful company; an attentive son and a man devoted to the women he loved. Meticulously researched, unwaveringly frank and full of fresh material, Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love definitively reinterprets one of our greatest poets.
A fascinating and controversial study of Philip Larkin's world and how it bled into his work, James Booth's biography is a unique insight into the man whose life and art have been misunderstood for too long
James Booth has written a literary biography which is both elegant and moving, conveying the shape of a life - and a love-life - as sensitively as he conveys the shape of the poetic oeuvre ... At the core of the book is the poetry, which Booth analyses in a reader-friendly manner, without verbosity but with passion and precision. He provides new perspectives on the early novels and poems, and explores the symbolist dimension which is so essential for an understanding of Larkin - and there's a particularly fine-tuned discussion of the poet's more controversial views in the chapter on Jazz, Race and Modernism ... This is the first biography which, one feels, Larkin might have admitted to reading - and, even more unwillingly, enjoying Carol Rumens Illuminating ... Booth provides new material drawn from interviews with the various women involved, all of whom are cited in support of the view that Larkin the man has been maligned ... For Larkin fans James Booth's book should be a satisfactory detailed understanding of familiar story told with wholehearted admiration and scholarly command Literary Review For all the shakiness of his efforts to explain away Larkin's private transgressions, his book is much more enjoyable than Motion's **** Daily Telegraph Nobody could tease out more meanings from a Larkin line than he ... Booth usefully highlights Larkin's graveyard humour, his passion for jazz, his capacity to surprise people with kindness, and his tireless poetic search to define "something hidden from us" Sunday Times He provides a detailed picture of Larkin in post, especially in his dealings with mostly female staff Independent Superb ... Booth's psychology is subtler than Motion's and more convincing. His achievement is to paint a satisfying and believably complex picture ... Compelling and makes clear how unmistakeably Larkin belongs among the greats Peter J. Conradi, Spectator Fine-grained, thoughtful ... This biography is full of such wise textual analysis, and for that it should be read Erica Wagner, New Statesman Booth is, quite simply, the ultimate Larkin enthusiast ... Booth is absolutely excellent on the work ... To read this book through, turning back to the poems in sequence, is to appreciate Larkin's development more intimately than has been possible before Evening Standard Booth's diligence is unquestionable and even readers who think they know the poems will see nuances they had previously missed ... Booth's supplement to Andrew Motion's biography - the light to his shadow - should render further attention by biographers superfluous for several years Guardian Engrossing and, at least some of the way, a persuasive account ... Booth also unearths new evidence to establish that Larkin was, to all who dealt with him during his three decades as a librarian, a likeable colleague and a fair boss ... he is excellent on the poetry which is ... the testimony that really matters The Times Challenging the myth that Larkin was a miserable misogynist, drawing on testimony from women friends, university contemporaries and previously unseen letters to reveal him as delightful company in person as well as on the page Daily Telegraph Highly sympathetic biography of Britain's favourite poet Sunday Times Must Reads Booth's achievement isn't just to make us think more fondly of Larkin as a man - it's to send us rushing back to his poems, and to love them anew **** Mail on Sunday A warm portrait Daily Telegraph His examination of the poems is exemplary, always intelligent and free of jargon, and the manner in which he relates them to Larkin's life will enhance many readers' appreciation of the poetry and deepen their enjoyment ... This is a very good biography, both judicious and generous Scotsman Booth's attempt to understand Larkin through his interaction with others is inspired Sunday Telegraph Nails the poetry ... Booth is certainly less sententious than Motion; he leans towards understanding rather than judgment, which seems to me to be the bigger part of the biographer's job Observer Lively and entertaining ... As a literary biography, Booth's book is much closer to the work than Motion's was, and draws on a knowledge of first-hand and archive sources unlikely to be matched by any future biographer Irish Times Thank you, James Booth ... Booth, a long-time colleague, has done an impressive job in his book ... If Booth finally succeeds in correcting the view of Larkin and reminding us of the glories of the poetry, he will have done us all a service. And old Philip, too Herald Booth takes a more human and measured, less judgemental, approach to the contradictions in Larkin's personality than Motion did ... Compelling Yorkshire Post
James Booth edited Philip Larkin's early girls'-school stories and poems as Trouble at Willow Gables and Other Fictions and has published two critical studies of the poet's work: Philip Larkin: Writer (1991) and Philip Larkin: The Poet's Plight (2005). He is Literary Adviser to the Philip Larkin Society and Co-Editor of its journal, About Larkin. He recently retired from the Department of English at the University of Hull, where he had been a colleague of Larkin for seventeen years. www.philiplarkin.com