What do your parents do to you? This correspondence, edited by James Booth, reveals a new side of Larkin, as he tries to make up for how much he hated visiting his mother
“My very dear old creature,” Larkin wrote to his mother Eva in August 1968, “a man has just presented me with a copy of The Letters of Wilfred Owen … Most of his letters are to his mother! The book is 629pp long. He starts his letters ‘Sweet my Mother’, which takes some living up to. I like mine better – my beginnings, I mean. My mother too probably.”
James Booth’s selection of Larkin’s letters home, most of them written to his mother, is 688 pages long. “Dear Mop,” the early ones begin – he addressed his father, Sydney, as “Pop” but “Mop” also evoked Eva’s role as domestic drudge. His letters include drawings of her as a seal-like creature, often wearing a servant’s mob cap. After his father died in 1948, he began addressing her differently, as “My Dear Mop-Monst-Haugh” or “Dear creaturely one” or, most often, “My dear old creature”. The drawings are sweetly affectionate and the letters never less than dutiful; the burden of looking after their widowed mother fell mostly on his sister, Catherine, but Larkin wrote to her every weekend, visited regularly and, while working at Leicester University in the late 1940s, lived with her for two years. With a library to run and literary ambitions to pursue, he couldn’t have done much more. Still, the subtext of the letters is guilt: he spent so little time with her and couldn’t help her feel less lonely.
Larkin’s mother was one reason he remained single – if he married, there might be pressure for her to move in with himContinue reading...