James Booth

Fathers and sons

The ghost stalking this selection is Martin Amis’s father, Kingsley, who, Martin tells us in his introduction, ‘loved Philip with a near-physical passion’, and mused: ‘I sometimes wonder if I ever really knew him.’ Ruth Bowman, to whom Philip Larkin was engaged in the late 1940s, remembers that Kingsley was ‘possessive of Philip and tried to keep me separate from him’. Kingsley always remained slightly offended by Larkin’s soft, feminine side, never understanding what the latter called ‘the dear passionately sentimental spinster that lurks within me’, and insisted that his friend be consistently masculine, abrasive, philistine.

Martin Amis’s selection reflects his father’s version. It includes ‘This Be The Verse’ (‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad’), but omits both the exquisite elegy on Larkin’s father, ‘An April Sunday brings the snow’, and his heart-rending evocation of widowhood, ‘Love Songs in Age’.

Among other rivals only Monica Jones, the neurotic Margaret Peel of Lucky Jim, features with any prominence, in ‘If, My Darling’, ‘An Arundel Tomb’ and ‘Talking in Bed’. Larkin’s first love, Ruth Bowman, is glimpsed in the self-excoriating ‘Deceptions’ and the sour ‘Wild Oats’. But ‘Wedding-Wind’, an ecstatic aubade in a woman’s voice, is excluded.
Moreover, as far as this selection is concerned, Larkin never met Winifred Arnott, the muse of ‘Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album’ and ‘Maiden Name’, nor Maeve Brennan, to whom ‘Broadcast’ is addressed, nor Betty Mackereth, subject of the poignant love poems ‘When first we faced, and touching showed’ and ‘We met at the end of the party’. Mackereth is present only as the ‘loaf-haired secretary’ of ‘Toads Revisited’. Of the personal poems which came to light after Larkin’s death, Amis includes only ‘Letter to a Friend about Girls’ (often read as addressed to Kingsley), and the bleak ‘Love Again’.

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