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Philip Larkin Life, Art and Love by James Booth

Philip Larkin Life, Art and Love

Biography / Autobiography   

Sue Baker's view...

Philip Larkin has the reputation of being a curmudgeon, a racist and misogynist. Is that what the people who knew him really thought or was his public persona a shell to hide the man within? James Booth reinterprets the life of Philip Larkin shedding much of the negativity that has grown around the poet’s reputation.

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Who is Sue Baker

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. Phillip Larkin is one of the best-loved British poets of the 20th century. The Librarian at Hull University, famous in his lifetime and notoriously anti-literary-establishment, he had complicated relationships with women, although he never married. These well-known basic facts of Larkin’s life are unpeeled in Art, Life and Love, revealing a complicated character who had intense friendships with men and women throughout his life. Larkin’s sense of humour mixed with a wry bitterness is often apparent in his writing: ‘Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three / (which was rather late for me).
~ Eleanor MacFarlane


Philip Larkin Life, Art and Love by James Booth

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 dour pessimism, he disliked exposure and had no patience with the trappings of 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 vile? The negative public image is rejected 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.


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

About the Author

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.

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Book Info

Publication date

30th November 1999


James Booth

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