detoxifying Philip Larkin

Noel_08_14Jeremy Noel-Tod at Literary Review:

Like the Thatcherite Tories he supported in his later years, Philip Larkin, who died in 1985, has now undergone two decades of detoxification. The contamination was quick and calamitous. Anthony Thwaite's volume of Selected Letters in 1992 and Andrew Motion's biography in 1993 both provided ready evidence that Britain's favourite postwar poet had been – as well as a charming and witty personal intimate – a pornography-hoarding philanderer and casual racist. As he signed off in prophetic mockery to one correspondent: 'Ooh, Larkin, I'm sorry to find you holding these views.'

James Booth recently retired from the English department at the University of Hull, where Larkin worked for most of his life as librarian. Since the 1990s Booth has been one of the poet's most diligent posthumous restorers. A leading figure in the Philip Larkin Society and its neatly named magazine, About Larkin, he has written two previous books about the poet. Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love, evidently a magnum opus, sets out to supersede Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life with the benefit of further research. 'Motion', indeed, pops up throughout to be twitted on various points of fact, such as whether Larkin's father really owned a twelve-inch mantelpiece statue of the Führer which performed a Nazi salute at the touch of a button (Sydney Larkin's sitting-room Hitler was, it seems, significantly littler, with no button, and possibly only one ball).

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