The History Centre houses a number of important collections relating to Philip Larkin, including:
Papers of Philip Larkin (Larkin Estate Collection) (ref U DPL)
This major collection has been kindly deposited by Larkin's Trustees. It contains, amongst other things, Larkin's workbooks (numbers 2-8, along with a microfilm of number 1 which is held in the British Library), in which he painstakingly drafted most of his poems from the late 1940s until the last dated entry in November 1980.
There are also his seven little notebooks, dating from between 1939 and 1942, the typescripts of the collection entitled In the Grip of Light, and of Round the Point, a play from 1950, and the annotated covers of Larkin's diaries, 1949-80, which survived the destruction of the diary contents in December 1985.
Other files contain numerous typescripts and worksheets, including early and variant drafts of poems and plays. The collection also includes two draft novels and a book of poems written in 1943 under the pseudonym Brunette Coleman. The correspondence in the collection includes photocopies of 43 letters to Kingsley Amis written between 1942 and 1947.
Unusual items include a number of recordings of Larkin reading poems and plays, including an amusing reading with Monica Jones of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest, and a conversation with his mother in his Pearson Park flat in Hull.
There are some personal papers of Larkin's parents Sydney and Eva, including diaries and letters to their son, 1943-1974.
The Philip Larkin Book Collection (ref P/L)
Established in 1973 to include, if possible, all published works by and about its subject, it now comprises over 500 items and is probably the most complete collection of its kind in existence. As well as first editions of all Larkin's publications and many of his contributions to journals, there are copies of more ephemeral works, foreign editions and translations, plus juvenilia from The Coventrian in the 1930s.
Of particular interest are several audio- and videotapes, including a recording of his interview on Desert Island Discs in 1976, and the BBC Monitor television programme Philip Larkin meets John Betjeman from 1964. All published biographical and critical works are normally acquired automatically.
Papers of the Larkin family (ref U DLN)
This small but important collection includes over 80 letters and cards sent by Larkin to his sister, Catherine Hewett, and his niece, Rosemary Parry, between 1940 and 1983, plus numerous family photographs from the early 1900s onwards. In addition, there are some 29 travel and wartime diaries of Larkin's father, Sydney, including accounts of family holidays in Devon, Cornwall, Jersey and Germany. Sydney Larkin's life as City Treasurer for Coventry is also well documented, most notably by articles and notes he made whilst in office.
The letters written by Larkin to his parents over several decades have recently been added to the collection but are not yet available to researchers.
Philip Larkin's letters
Philip Larkin had a huge postbag. Researchers wrote to him for bibliographies, prospective poets asked him to look at their work, colleagues in the literary world and antiquarian booksellers prized his advice, fans thanked him for his poetry. His efforts to reply to as many letters as possible are recorded in several collections.
Interesting bundles include correspondence with John Betjeman, Brian Cox, Donald Davie, Fay Godwin, Seamus Heaney, Vikram Seth and various poetry editors during the 1970s and 1980s. The total now runs to several thousand items. The major collections of letters relate to the following correspondence:
- James Sutton: this remarkable collection represents the single most important body of evidence relating to Larkin's formative years. It comprises over 200 letters written between 1938 and 1952 to Sutton, a friend from schooldays. They include numerous poems and drawings. The other side of the correspondence was purchased in 1998 and comprises 80 replies sent by Sutton over the same period, as well as over 40 postcards and cards between the two friends, some correspondence from the 1980s when they re-established contact, and some early typescript poems by Larkin. [U DP174 and U DP182]
- Colin Gunner: some 34 letters (1971-1985) to another friend from schooldays, to whom Larkin was particularly frank about political and personal opinions. [U DP179]
- John Norton-Smith: 36 letters and cards (1964-1984) from Larkin to a former colleague and professor of English. [U DP176]
- Kenneth Hibbert: over 30 letters and cards (1959-1985) to his insurance adviser and fellow (but somewhat more active) member of the Hull Literary Club. [U DPL2 and U DX176]
- Ted Tarling: 24 letters and cards to the editor of the Hull-based poetry magazine Wave between 1970 and 1985. [U DP177]
- Barry Bloomfield: copies of some 113 letters and cards to his bibliographer, written between 1958 and 1985. [U DX213]
- Anthony Thwaite: over 170 letters and cards to the poet and writer between 1958 and 1985. Also the photocopied correspondence assembled by Thwaite during his work on Philip Larkin: selected letters. [U DP181 and U DP188]
- Douglas Dunn: many letters and postcards (1967-1985) to the Tayside poet who studied English at Hull University and worked for Philip Larkin in the Brynmor Jones Library. [U DDD and U DPL2].
- Gavin Ewart: letters from Larkin to this much loved poet are constantly emerging from the Larkin Estate Collection. In return many of Ewart's missives include poems written especially for his friend. [U DP163 and U DPL2].
- Jazz letters: extensive correspondence with Steve Race, Stuart Wright, Campbell Burnap and John White (1983-85) [U DPL2 and U DP190]. Philip Larkin's opinions and advice were frequently sought on jazz matters as well as poetry.
- Professor A. T. Tolley: 19 letters to and from Larkin about Tolley's study of the poetry workbooks, 1981-1986; also available are Tolley's transcripts of the workbooks. [U DP193 and U DX281]
- Andrew Motion: 46 letters and cards from Larkin to his fellow poet, and 56 replies from Motion, over the period 1978 to 1985, including discussion of their respective literary work. [U DP207]
- Brenda Moon: 57 letters and cards from Larkin to his Deputy at Hull University Library, 1962-1985, with a printed keepsake celebrating the Library's 50th anniversary. [U DX257]
Larkin had extensive contact with those critics associated with the coinage of 'the movement' as a literary category. Stylistically 'movement' writers were said to share the desire to substitute rhetoric for colloquial idiom. They cultivated a witty and ironic stance and wrote from experience. The anthology of poems which was generally considered to be most representative of the movement style was Robert Conquest's New Lines (1956).
He included poems by Kingsley Amis, DJ Enright and John Wain. All four men (including Conquest) featured heavily in Larkin's correspondence [U DPL2] and his own selection of poetry for the 1974 Christmas supplement of the Poetry Book Society [U DX73]. Larkin also corresponded with one of the women whose work came under 'the movement' banner, Elizabeth Jennings [U DPL2 and U DX73].
Library administration files [U LIB]
Larkin was a superb administrator in the traditional style, and his activities were copiously documented in the form of letters, memoranda and minutes. The surviving numerous boxes of archives cover every aspect of his Librarianship, and much more besides, ranging from day-to-day library matters, such as cataloguing backlogs, to University matters, such as staff appointments and the University bookshop, to national activities, such as his work for the Arts Council, and other bodies.
There are literally thousands of carbon copies of letters and memoranda, covering topics as far-ranging as the banning of stiletto-heeled shoes in the Library in the early 1960s, to Library sit-ins in the early 1970s, to computerisation in the 1980s. In addition, there are hundreds of photographs.
The Philip Larkin Society
The History Centre has several boxes of materials deposited by the Philip Larkin Society. Please note, this collection is currently uncatalogued.
A brief biography of Philip Larkin and a further reading list are also available.
You can view summaries of the collections and PDF versions of the catalogues on our online catalogue:
U DPL - collection summary, catalogue (PDF format)
U DLN - collection summary, catalogue (PDF format)