5 Sep 2017

Larkin’s ‘Creatures’

Philip Pullen shares his thoughts on Philip Larkin’s doodles

Larkin’s letters reveal many things about the poet’s personal life that may come as a surprise.

The exhibition Larkin: New Eyes Each Year, currently on show at the Brynmor Jones Library at The University of Hull, includes examples of these letters seen alongside a number of his personal possessions. These fascinating objects shed light on what it was like to live in the world of Larkin in a completely unique way which has so far surprised and intrigued visitors to the exhibition.

One aspect of Larkin’s letters, revealed by  the exhibition, is that many of them contain doodles depicting various animal figures. They see Larkin imagining himself and the people he wrote to as rabbits and seals. These animals (which Larkin refers to as “creatures”) are most often contained in the 2500 letters Larkin wrote to his mother over a period of more than 30 years. They can also be seen in Anthony Thwaite’s  ‘Letters To Monica’, the edited edition of the letters Larkin wrote to his long-term lover, Monica Jones, who was Larkin’s closest confidante for almost 40 years.  Although Larkin was no Picasso, these drawings add a different take on his creativity, from that seen in his poetry and novels.

Larkin's Letters © Tom Arran

Born and brought up in Coventry, where Philip Larkin was born in 1922, Philip Pullen, the media and publicity officer from The Philip Larkin Society, is very familiar with Larkin’s letter writing. “His first venture with his doodles came about while writing to his friend Diana Gollancz, the daughter of the publisher Victor Gollancz, who he met at the University of  Oxford,” says Philip. “Larkin’s drawings reveal so much about his everyday life thoughts and feelings that people aren’t aware of.”

Philip also noted that the publication of an edition of Larkin’s letters in 1992 and the first biography by Andrew Motion in 1993 altered people’s views on Larkin. “His reputation was diminished to some degree through the publication of the letters,” he says. “The original biography by Andrew Motion revealed that Larkin had a darker side to his personality. Some of the language he used, and some of the views he expressed, albeit in private, shocked people.”

“But It really depends on which biography you read,” he added. “The image of Larkin gets filtered through different lenses. James Booth’s more recent biography did a lot to balance that out in terms of what Larkin was like as a person, and how he was looked upon by those closest to him. He was a very complex man, but a lot of people are like that anyway.

Larkin's Letters © Tom Arran

The doodles create part of an ongoing dialogue and help people connect with Larkin in a different way.

“The illustrations he drew are interesting, as they reveal part of his sense of humour” says Philip. “A lot of the drawings of his mother, Eva Larkin, were intended to cheer her up. It gave him satisfaction to do that. How he got time to write to her so regularly though I’ll never know!”

Philip is currently writing a biography  of Eva Larkin. An essay, based on his research, which will be included in an anthology of Writers And Their Mothers, edited by Dale Salwak, due to be published by Palgrave-MacMillan in February 2018.

To discover more about Philip Larkin and to see a selection of his doodles visit Larkin: New Eyes Each Year at The Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull. The exhibition runs until 1 October.

Larkin's Letters © Tom Arran

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