22 April 2021, The Tablet

What will survive of us?


 

Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me: Her Life and Long Loves
JOHN SUTHERLAND
(Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 288 PP, £20)
Tablet bookshop price £18 • tel 020 7799 4064

Monica Jones was a complicated person, both highly individual and of her time. She was Philip Larkin’s lover and muse, executor and heir. The cruel portrait of her as Margaret Peel in Lucky Jim (which was written by Kingsley Amis with Larkin’s collaboration) and the offhand insults of Christopher Hitchens, Roger Lewis, Martin Amis and others all suggest an ugly, loud, abandoned woman. The truth is more complex and more painful.

An academic who published very little, she wrote private poems and frequent letters which were left to the Bodleian Library under embargo. The 2,000 previously unpublished letters she wrote to Larkin are long, full of chat about cricket and food, housework and The Archers, but they have sudden swerves into misery: “I dread the whole of the rest of my life”; “I am so lonely I could cry”. A lament, written in 1950 – “I keep a kind of padlock on myself because I am not sure of what you want” – is followed by a flirtatious mention that she is thinking of buying a red suspender belt. The letters reveal a private person unlike the flamboyant, long-legged woman seen in the many photographs Larkin took of her.

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