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This article is taken from PN Review 215, Volume 40 Number 3, January - February 2014.

Vestiges: 6 Philip Larkin Adam Crothers
Letter from The University of Hull

Reproduced by permission of the Society of Authors, as the literary representatives of the Philip Larkin Estate


Guy Lee, classicist, poet and translator, served as Librarian of St John's College, Cambridge between 1961 and 1984. His collection of contemporary poetry passed to the Library upon his death in 2007, but his legacy also includes the beginnings of a scheme to amass a collection of twentieth-century poetry manuscripts and worksheets. Not the least diverting of the items acquired for the latter project is a handwritten copy of Philip Larkin's 'A Study of Reading Habits', joined by a letter from the author that is reproduced here for the first time.

The letter is from one poet to another, but the letterhead insists that it is equally a librarian's missive to a fellow librarian; however much Larkin agrees with Mr Anstey in A Girl in Winter that a librarian is 'an ordinary office boss who happens to be dealing with books', there is a degree of subtle and informal warmth to be found here, especially in the artfully gloomy first paragraph. The Library has happily ignored Larkin's request that the poem not be exhibited 'more than once every 50 years': it is overwhelmingly likely that this was not to be taken seriously, and that Larkin was deliberately adopting a comical degree of self-importance.

Without wishing to over-explain the joke, one might also note that the accompanying poem takes a dim view of the relationship between books and age, ...


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