long-standing, complicated relationshipsnwith Maeve Brennan and Monica Jonesnhe sometimes wrote each of them thensame day, and often on successive days,nplaying them off against each other andnkeeping himself less than fully committednto either of them.nObvious as it is that Thwaite’s andnMotion’s fat but selective volumes mustnrepresent editorial and authorial perspectivesnrather than any kind of objectivenview of their subject, one fact emergesncleariy from both: the much-loved poeticnpersonality that people first encounterednin I.,arkin’s three small publishednvolumes. The Less Deceived, The WhitsunnWeddings, and High Windows, was asnmuch the result of disciplined selectionnas the poems themselves. That sad,nclearheaded, reclusive librarian whonshared lower middle-class tastes andnspeech-habits with the majority of hisncountrymen was the public, presentablenLarkin. As Thwaite’s edition of thenCollected Poems suggests, and as the lettersnnow reveal, the private, unselectednLarkin was—as one might have expected—anmore complex, far less assimilablencreature.nThe publication of these letters innEngland in 1992, with their revelationnof Larkin’s fears, prejudices, weaknesses,nand tastes, some peculiar to him,nothers typical of his class and time, producedna campaign of denigration thatndid no credit to its authors and raisednonce again a C]uestion that has becomenperennial in these days of revelatory biography:nwhy should we pry into a writer’snprivate life? As Larkin himself wrote onnreading lives of Auden and Day-Lewis,n” [I] was rather depressed by the remorselessnscrutiny of one’s private affairs thatnseems to be the fate of the newly dead.nReally, one should burn everything.”.nLarkin sold his writings publicly; he keptnhis private life to himself and his friends.nHis critics, on the other hand, frothing atnthe mouth with righteousness, evidentlynbelieve that a man must be certifiednmorally and politically correct before henmay write a poem, let alone sell it.nEven readers better able than Larkin’snEnglish critics to distinguish between lifenand art, between private thoughts andnpublic actions, will find that this intenselynprivate collection of letters puts themnin a difficult position. It reveals morenthan we have any business knowingnabout a number of private lives. It tellsnus that, young and old, Larkin was timid.nfoul-mouthed, obsessed with sexual fantasy,nterrified of death, and capable ofnextraordinary mean-spiritedness—asnwhen he wrote of one of his womennfriends, “Wish I had some of the moneynback I spent on her, and the time: especiallynthat.” But for readers able to absorbnthis kind of knowledge while resistingnthe temptation either to judge ornpatronize, there are compensations.nIn these letters, self-caricaturing witncontinually redeems misery; as Larkinnwrote to one correspondent, “And thennmy sagging face, an egg sculpted in lard,nwith goggles on,” and to another, “Nonenof my clothes fit, either: when I sit downnmy tongue comes out.” The literarynjudgments are sure and bracing, too. OnnWilfred Gibson: “never wrote a good poemnin his life . . . People like this makenRupert Brooke seem colossal.” OnnFussell’s The Great War and ModernnMemory: “an extremely confused bookn. . . morally as well as intellectually uncentered.”nAnd although the letters tonmale friends like Amis and Conquest arenspoiled by hobbledehoy bravado, theyncan also be cruelly truthful. On old age,nto Amis: “My mother, not content withnbeing motionless, deaf and speechless, isnnow going blind. That’s what you get fornnot dying, you see.” On his own aging,nalso to Amis: ” [I] feel my mind’s NOTnON MY SIDE any more.” The letters tonwomen friends, however, are consistentlynthe best, those to Judy Egerton the mostncandid and straightforward, and those tonPatsy Strang, with whom he seems tonhave been most happily in love, the mostntouching as a record of human experience,nas well as of promise and failure.nPhilip Larkin: A Writer’s Life, thoughnlargely based on Motion’s own selectionnof letters, is best used as a guide tonThwaite’s collection. As a book in itsnown right, it is too long for so uneventfulna life, and it provides yet another examplenof a biographer out of sympathy withnhis subject, in this case probably scarednstiff of being caught approving of a mannwho collected girlie magazines, adorednMrs. Thatcher, and did not like to seenEngland being overrun by immigrants.nInstead of approaching his subject as anhistorian and placing Larkin in his classnand time, which might have produced anfascinating essay in cultural and literarynhistory. Motion has taken the easiernroute of providing a simple chronologicalnnarrative of the life and judging his subjectnby the standards of the present moment.nAnd although he is himself a po­nnnet, his comments on the poems are generallynflatfooted, sometimes even plainnwrong, as in the case of “The WhitsunnWeddings”: “But while he admires thentrainload of just-married couples, henknows he cannot join them. Alone in hisncarriage, sealed behind his window, he isnconscious of loss but appreciative of hisnsingleness.”nTo begin with, the day of the poemnwas a hot one, and-the train windowsnwere down, which is why Larkin noticednthe weddings in the first place. If he wasnconscious of loss, there is no mention ofnit in the poem, which is actually aboutnthe happy, rollicking, unselfconscious releasenof joy and energy in all those ordinary,ncommon, or garden weddings on anhot day in England: “fathers had nevernknown / Success so huge and wholly farcical.”nThat is why so many people enjoynthe poem so much. “I hope it conveysnsomething of the impressiveness of thenoccasion; it really was an unforgettablenexperience,” he wrote to Judy Egerton.nInformative, interesting, amusing, andnmoving as both books often are, onenleaves them hoping that Larkin’s poemsnwill survive the revelations of his lettersnand the judgments of this biography.n<5>nDispatches fromnThe Last DitchnAnarcho-pessimists,ncrypto-Copperheads,npost-neo-Objectivists,nand other enemies of thenpermanent regimenopining monthly, fromnindividualist and European-nAmerican perspectives, onnthe end of civilizationnWrite for free issuenTrial subscription (4 issues), $15n12 issues, $42 24 issues, $77nWTM EnterprisesnP.O. Box 224 DeptCHnRoanoke, IN 46783-0224 •nMARCH 1995/33n