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This review is taken from PN Review 71, Volume 16 Number 3, January - February 1990.

TRAVELLING COINCIDENCE Jean Hartley, Philip Larkin, The Marvell Press and Me (Carcanet) £12.95

Jean Hartley's book begins with an account of her childhood in the heart of Hull's fishing community and ends with her still in Hull fifty-odd years later, contemplating a full retirement 'now that I have grown up'. I by the tide of Humber would complain? No, indeed: for this is the story of an interesting and cheerful life, valuable for itself, and given a finger-grip on fame by its collision with the life and writing of Philip Larkin.

The collision was partly due to fate (Larkin became Librarian at Hull University in 1955) but equally to do with what Jean calls 'the whim of iron' possessed by her husband George. How Jean and George netted the major poet of the mid-twentieth century from their two-up two-down house, on £4 a week and two children by the age of twenty-one, is the extraordinary centre to this tale of provincial life. It is something of a fairy story because, of course, Jean and George were the genuine thing - working-class intellectuals with a passion for literature and the kind of naive audacity (particularly on George's part) to make 'a bloody marvel' happen - and their prince did come, first as the contributor of three poems (including the hugely liked 'Toads') to the second issue of the Hartleys' poetry magazine Listen, and then as a visitor - dignified, slim, death-suited, casting White Rabbit glances at his watch - anxiously willing, after his rejection by other presses, to risk his collection ...


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