News | February 2, 2023

Philip Larkin's Letters and Cards to Auction

Richard Winterton

The lot includes an order of service for Larkin’s memorial at Westminster Abbey on February 14 1986

Handwritten personal correspondence from poet and novelist Philip Larkin to his cousin in Lichfield, England, is coming up for auction in the city. The archive goes under the hammer in Richard Winterton Auctioneers’ Fine Art Sale on February 15, at The Lichfield Auction Centre.

It includes one of the final Christmas cards Larkin would have sent, postmarked December 17, 1984 – he died the following year on December 2 aged 63.

The correspondence to Larkin’s cousin Vera Thorpe nee Larkin, newly come to light after being discovered in an attic in Sutton Coldfield, begins with a letter from 1977 to an address in Beacon Street, Lichfield, signed ‘Philip (Larkin)’.
The others were all sent in the early 1980s to a home in Longstaff Croft, Lichfield, and are simply signed ‘Philip’.

Although the literary figure himself was born in Coventry, Larkin’s father Sydney’s family lived in Lichfield since the 18th century, trading as tailors, coach-builders and shoe-makers, and the poet continued an association with the cathedral city until his death. In a 1977 letter on headed notepaper discussing the death of his mother, Larkin tells ‘Cousin Vera’: “We hope her ashes will eventually be interred beside those of my father in St Michael’s Churchyard in Lichfield.”

Other correspondence includes a postcard sent to Vera in August 1984 thanking her for a birthday card. The postcard is illustrated with a picture of Princes Dock in Hull as it was in 1887 and Larkin wryly signs off: “Hull doesn’t look like this nowadays, worse luck!”

He describes himself as "alright but too fat and deaf" and confesses that his "memory has mislaid your [married] name". “Please let me have it and I will put it in my book,” he asks – a request which was granted, given the next communication.

In that letter dated October 9 1984, also on headed notepaper, Larkin writes: “Thank you for your letter, letting me know your married name. It is nice to know there is at least one Larkin in Lichfield but perhaps there are more? While uncle Alfred was alive my mother and I used to visit him from time to time. I liked Lichfield but the streets seemed very narrow for the traffic. Perhaps they have changed.”

The final correspondence is a Christmas card with envelope postmarked December 17 1984. “Thank you for [the] Lichfield card,” Larkin writes, adding: “Afraid this isn’t Hull, worse luck.”

In addition to the letters and cards, the lot includes a first edition of the book Required Writing – Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982 signed by another Larkin cousin, Edgar; a photograph of Mrs Thorpe holding said book; an order of service for Larkin’s memorial at Westminster Abbey on February 14, 1986; and a ticket stub from the Lichfield Festival’s celebration of Philip Larkin in July of that year. There are also 20 David Garrick Theatre programmes dated 1949-1952 and vintage guides to Lichfield Cathedral and the city’s St Michael’s Church.

Ephemera valuer Robert French said: “Whilst tinged with a somewhat moribund air at times – unsurprising given Larkin’s typical preoccupation with mortality – the letters and cards are also peppered with self-deprecating wit and genuine affection for his relative. The repetition of ‘worst luck’ is interesting – perhaps it was a private joke between Larkin and Vera?

“In the letter dated October 1984, Larkin adopts a rather wistful tone, discussing his memories of Lichfield and expressing his surprise at having lived in Hull for almost 30 years – ‘something I can hardly believe’, he says, adding "and am 62 – can’t believe that either". He goes on to discuss his sister Catherine’s family, refers to his mother’s death some eight years prior and ends by asking for more information on Vera and ‘the rest of the family’."
The archive is estimated to sell for around £300 to £500 when it goes under the hammer on February 15.