Relationships that influenced Philip Larkin

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Throughout the life of the poet Philip Larkin a number of women had important roles which were notable influences on his poetry. Since Larkin's death biographers have highlighted the importance of female relationships on Larkin: when Andrew Motion's biography was serialised in the Independent in 1993, the second instalment of extracts was dedicated to the topic.[1] In 1999 Ben Brown's play Larkin with Women dramatised Larkin's relationships with three of his lovers,[2] and more recently writers such as Martin Amis have continued to comment on this subject.[3]

Another important influence on Larkin was his long-standing friend Kingsley Amis. The biographer Richard Bradford contends that over the course of Larkin's life the relationship with Amis transformed from one of mutual appreciation and encouragement, and later Larkin "was subterraneously driven by resentment and near hatred" of Amis.[4]

Eva Larkin[edit]

Eva Larkin was Philip Larkin's mother. Born in 1886 she lived until 1977, dying 29 years after her domineering husband. "Reference Back" from The Whitsun Weddings, is a poem written from his mother's viewpoint or his imagination of it.[5]

Ruth Bowman[edit]

Ruth Bowman was a schoolgirl living in Wellington when Larkin moved there in 1943 to become librarian at the public library. They met the following year when she came into the library. She was 16, an academically minded schoolgirl, and the person with whom Larkin had his first sexual encounter – a year later – when he visited her at King's College London.[6] Their relationship continued and in 1948 they became engaged. The engagement was broken in 1950, shortly before Larkin moved to Northern Ireland. These events are referred to sardonically in the poem "Wild Oats", written in the early 1960s.[1]

Monica Jones[edit]

Larkin's long and extremely close relationship with Monica Jones dated from the autumn of 1946, when they met at Leicester University College. Jones had been appointed as an assistant lecturer in English in January 1946 and Larkin arrived in September, as an assistant librarian. "Both had been at Oxford (he at St John's, she at St Hugh's), between 1940 and 1943, but had not met. Both had first class degrees in English. They had been born in the same year, 1922, and came from rather similar provincial middle-class backgrounds."[citation needed] For the first few years of the relationship, Larkin was involved with Ruth Bowman, but when Bowman broke off the engagement, "Monica quickly became central to Larkin's attention."[citation needed] Jones and Larkin had a holiday cottage at Haydon Bridge where they spent many summers together. He left the bulk of his estate to her when he died in 1985.[7] She died on 15 February 2001.

Monica Jones was born Margaret Monica Beale Jones on 7 May 1922 in Llanelli, South Wales.[8] She moved with her family to Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire when aged seven. Educated at Kidderminster High School for Girls, she won a scholarship to study English at Oxford University, a period of her life which was immensely influential to her; she acquired her distinctive accent and flamboyant dress sense whilst studying there.[7]

Jones taught at Leicester University from 1946 until 1981 when she retired. She never published anything during her academic career, she "regarded publishing as a bit showy", though she was noted for "the panache of her lecturing, in which, for example, she would wear a Scottish tartan when talking about Macbeth. "[9] Her literary enthusiasms, (not entirely shared by Larkin), included Walter Scott, Jane Austen and George Crabbe. They shared enthusiasm for Thomas Hardy and Barbara Pym, and swapped scornful opinions of C. P. Snow, Pamela Hansford Johnson, William Cooper, and others.[10] They shared a sympathy with animals, both of them deplored vivisection and myxomatosis, were fond of Beatrix Potter's creations, and of real creatures, in particular cats and rabbits, though Monica Jones had a fear of hens, and of some other birds. Larkin's letters to Jones were sometimes "embellished with [his] skilful sketches", Jones as a rabbit ("Dearest bun"), himself as a seal.

There is evidence that Jones gave Larkin editorial advice on his writing. A copy of 'Jill' he inscribed to her thanks her for making it 'decent, literate'. 'All the evidence suggests he sends her drafts of his work, he’s constantly asking for her opinion.'[11]

Following a fall downstairs in October 1982 in her Haydon Bridge cottage she went into Hexham Hospital, and then convalesced with Larkin in his house in Hull. She returned to Haydon Bridge when recovered, but at Easter 1983 she was stricken with shingles and on leaving hospital this time Larkin, "offered her shelter and care in his house in Newland Park, Hull." Following his death, in December 1985, "Monica hardly left that house in Hull until her own death in February 2001."[12]

She is said to be the model for the character of Margaret Peel, Jim Dixon's manipulative on-again-off-again girlfriend, in Kingsley Amis's novel Lucky Jim (1954).[8] Monica Jones may also be the inspiration for the character Elvira Jones in Robert Conquest's 1955 novel A World of Difference.[citation needed] The book contains other "Larkinesque" references, including a spaceship named after the poet. She has also been suggested as the model for Viola Masefield in Malcolm Bradbury's first novel, Eating People is Wrong.[8]

As with Larkin and Maeve Brennan, Monica Jones was buried in Cottingham Cemetery near Hull. Her white headstone is of identical design to the one situated at Larkin's grave.

Winifred Arnott[edit]

Winifred Arnott was a young colleague of Larkin's at Queen's University, Belfast. They became close friends but she soon became engaged to her boyfriend, and withdrew from the friendship to a degree. Larkin wrote the poem "Lines on Young Lady's Photograph Album" about her, and also "Maiden Name". Both appeared in Larkin's 1955 collection The Less Deceived.[1]

Patsy Strang[edit]

Larkin knew Patricia Avis Strang Murphy (1928–1977) during the 1950s, and wrote her his first love letters.[13][14] At the time, she was married to Colin Strang, a friend of Larkin's and a lecturer in the Philosophy Department at Queen's University, Belfast,[15] where Larkin was Under-Librarian.[16] She became pregnant by Larkin, but miscarried.[15] As Patricia Avis, she is the author of Playing the Harlot (1996, Virago), a roman à clef; the character of Rollo Jute is thought to have been inspired by Larkin.

Strang discovered and read some of Larkin's sexual diaries.[17] Strang would later marry the poet Richard Murphy.[18]

Maeve Brennan[edit]

Maeve Brennan (27 September 1929 – 11 June 2003)[19] was a colleague of Larkin's at Hull University. They first met in 1955 when he moved from Belfast to Hull, but it was in 1960, when Larkin coached her for a Library Association exam, that their relationship became meaningful and romantic. This happened despite Larkin's deep and by then long-standing relationship with Monica Jones. The emotional attachment between the two lasted for eighteen years.[20] Larkin's longest poem, the unfinished "The Dance" was about an evening spent with Brennan. The poem "Broadcast" was also written about her.[1] As with Larkin himself and Monica Jones, Maeve Brennan was also buried in Cottingham Cemetery. Her grave is situated approximately 20 metres from Monica Jones' and the epitaph on its red granite headstone comes from An Arundel Tomb: "What will survive of us is love".

Betty Mackereth[edit]

Betty Mackereth (born 1924, in Hull)[21] was Larkin's "loaf-haired"[22] secretary for most of his time at Hull University, joining the staff in that role in 1957.[23] After his death it was she who, on his wishes, destroyed his diaries, feeding them sheet by sheet into a university shredder. They began an affair in 1975, when they were both in their fifties.[24] She knew about both Monica Jones and Maeve Brennan, and also about his large collection of pornography. In 2002 a poem written to her, "We Met at the End of the Party", was publicised by her, prompted by the discovery of a notebook which contained its opening lines.[25] As depicted in Larkin's little drawings sometimes added to letters Mackereth appeared as a whale – Monica Jones was a rabbit and Maeve Brennan a mouse.


  1. ^ a b c d Morton, Andrew (21 March 1993). "Larkin in love: Part two of the authorised biography of Philip Larkin: He was known as the Hermit of Hull, a loner terrified by sex, marriage and children. But Philip Larkin had several deep and lasting relationships with women. His affair with Ruth Bowman, to whom he proposed marriage, typifies the emotional entanglements he would experience throughout his life". The Independent. London. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Amis, Martin (23 October 2010). "Philip Larkin's women". The Guardian. London. 
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ Burnett, Archie (2012). The Complete Poems. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. pp. 429–430. ISBN 978-374-0-12696-4. 
  6. ^ The Real Philip Larkin, The Observer, 27 June 2010
  7. ^ a b Sutherland, John. Monica Jones, The Guardian, 15 March 2001.
  8. ^ a b c Longworth, Kate and Priestman, Judith. [3], Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2010.
  9. ^ Letters to Monica, Faber, Introduction, viii
  10. ^ Letters to Monica, Introduction, ix
  11. ^ The Guardian, 5 July 2017 philip larkin exhibition fresh insights
  12. ^ Introduction, p.xi Letters to Monica.
  13. ^ Martin Amis (23 October 2010). "Martin Amis on Philip Larkin's women | Books | The Guardian". The Guardian. London: GMG. ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 9 August 2012. Strang 
  14. ^ Penelope Fitzgerald (March 1993). ""Really, one should burn everything" by Penelope Fitzgerald – The New Criterion". Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  15. ^ a b John Gilroy (2009). Philip Larkin: Selected Poems. Humanities-Ebooks. p. 22. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  16. ^ John Banville. "Homage to Philip Larkin by John Banville | The New York Review of Books". Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  17. ^ Richard Bradford, (2005) First boredom, then fear: the life of Philip Larkin. Peter Owen. London. Pages 96–100.
  18. ^ Philip Larkin – A Writer's Life, Andrew Motion
  19. ^ Hartley, Jean (22 December 2003). "Maeve Brennan". The Guardian. London. 
  20. ^ Maeve Brennan reviews Ben Brown's play Larkin with Women
  21. ^ Hull History Centre: Papers of Betty Mackereth relating to Philip Larkin
  22. ^ High Standards: Is the new Philip Larkin poem worthy of publication? ( C.f. "Toads Revisited".
  23. ^ Maeve Brennan reviews Ben Brown's play Larkin with Women
  24. ^ BBC, Philip Larkin and the Third Woman
  25. ^ High Standards: Is the new Philip Larkin poem worthy of publication? (

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