Photographs of Philip Arthur Larkin

19th cent-20th cent


Admin History:
Born in Coventry in 1922 and educated at King Henry VIII School there, Philip Larkin first showed his literary talent in regular contributions to the school magazine, The Coventrian. He gained a first class honours degree in English at St John’s College, Oxford, in 1943. He then became a librarian, working successively in the public library at Wellington, and the libraries of Leicester University College and, from 1950, Queen’s University, Belfast. In 1955 he was appointed Librarian of the University of Hull, where he remained until his death at the age of 63 in 1985. His first poem to achieve a national circulation was ‘Ultimatum’ in The Listener in 1940. Other poems were published in anthologies of Oxford poetry before his first personal collection, The north ship, appeared in 1945. This was followed by two novels, Jill (1946) and A girl in winter (1947). A lean period followed after the rejection by publishers of In the Grip of Light (1948), but he continued to write, and his next collection, The less deceived (1955) established him as a major poet. The Whitsun weddings (1964) won him the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He edited The Oxford book of twentieth-century English verse (1973), and the last collection of his poems, High windows, appeared in 1974. The posthumous publication of his Collected poems (1988) and Selected letters (1989) revealed a much more prolific writer than had previously been imagined. He received many honours, including the CBE in 1975 and the Order of the Companion of Honour just before his death in 1985.

The deposit substantially comprises photographs in the following formats and types: framed photographs (mostly of Larkin's immediate and antecedent family), photograph albums, wallets of developed prints and negatives, professional photographs of Larkin (taken for press and publicity purposes) and numerous sets of negatives. The deposit also contains a number of interesting non-photographic items, such as his letter of acceptance from St John's College, Oxford, in 1940, a copy of Eva Larkin's will and a copy of the resolution for the award of OBE belonging to Sydney Larkin.

It has, in some instances, proved difficult to distinguish between those photographs which are Larkin's and those which belong to Monica Jones. Monica herself was not in the practice of taking photographs. We do not know whether or not she owned a camera, but there is no evidence within this collection of photographs with annotations in another hand, which could be hers. Some of the items in U DLV/3, for example, have been sent from Larkin to Monica's address (and as such strictly speaking form part of her photographic archive rather than Larkin's). With regard to those prints in which Larkin appears, his liking for delayed-action shots sometimes means it is difficult to tell which he has taken and which have been taken by someone else with his camera, or by a professional photographer. Larkin the professional librarian adopted, in the main, a careful and methodical approach to his photography, labelling many of his prints, marking some for selective enlargement, organizing others into albums and repeatedly returning to certain subjects of concern or of inspiration. The custodial history, however, has meant that something of the internal logic and coherence of the material has inevitably been lost.