The Loving Misogynist

Philip Larkin has had something of a rough ride since his biography was published posthumously in 1993.

I remember sitting in the back of a car with a well-respected Australian churchman who was absolutely horrified when I admitted Larkin was my favourite poet. I felt like I’d been caught shoplifting.

Well, nearly two thousand of Larkin’s letters to Monica Jones (his closest confidante of forty years) have just been published for the first time. And already, thanks to the surprisingly tender relationship revealed within, journalists and critics are backtracking. Perhaps, they now say, he wasn’t a misogynist after all.

But why think in such binary terms? Can the poet not be complicated enough, human enough, to encompass loving and loathing at the same time?

Blaise Pascal’s famous statement that humanity is both the glory and the garbage of the universe is all the more remarkable when we understand that it can also be said of a single human being. In a single moment.

“When I want to do good, evil is right there with me… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:21, 24)

Who indeed.

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