Philip Larkin's painful partnership with one true love is laid bare

Philip Larkin’s ‘explosive’ 37-year affair with muse Monica Jones is laid bare – after 54 boxes filled with 2,400 love letters are read for the first time

  • Poet Philip Larkin’s personal life has fascinated fans and academics for years 
  • Bachelor never married but had relationships with three women at same time 
  • Previously unpublished letters offer a glimpse inside one of his partnerships
  • Monica Jones died in 2001 and asked that the often fiery correspondence between the two lovers wasn’t read for another 20 years 

Philip Larkin’s ‘painful’ romance with his muse Monica Jones have been read for the first time – and have been described as ‘the last great exchange of letters in literary history’.  

Larkin is one of Britain’s most renowned poets, best known for his darkly humorous prose and tangled relationships with women – once juggling three affairs at the same time.

A confirmed bachelor who never married, although he did once propose to a girlfriend, Larkin’s personal life and attitude towards monogamy and relationships has long fascinated fans and academics.

Now, 54 boxes of 2,400 previously unpublished letters reveal the torturous relationship he shared with Monica Jones, a lecturer in English at the then University College Leicester, where he worked as a librarian.

She was his mistress from 1947 until his death in 1985 and has been described as Larkin’s ‘soul mate’ – despite him having relations with two other women during their partnership.

Philip Larkin’s painful four-decade-long partnership with his one true love has been laid bare in ‘the last great exchange of letters in literary history’. Pictured: The poet with lover Monica Jones in 1984

Larkin is one of Britain’s most loved poets, best known for his darkly humorous prose and tangled relationships with women – once juggling three at the same time. Pictured: Larkin and his mistress Monica 

Monica, who died in 2001, aged 78, left her heart-wrenching letters to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, with the strict rule that they were to remain closed until decades after her death.

Now Professor John Sutherland, a leading scholar and Monica’s close friend, has been granted unrestricted access to the remarkable collection.

Larkin and Monica, who were both born in 1922 and studied at Oxford, met in Leicester in 1946 and wrote to each other until the early 1970s, when they got telephones.

‘He lied to me, the bugger, but I loved him,’ Monica describes the poet in her letters, according to The Observer.  And despite knowing he was unfaithful, she continued: ‘I am so blessed to have you in my life.’ 

But the notes aren’t all love letters, with Monica’s fury and frustrations made clear in many of the texts.

A confirmed bachelor who never married, although he did once propose to a girlfriend, Larkin’s (pictured in 1973) personal life and attitude towards monogamy and relationships has long fascinated fans and academics

‘I don’t want to be and I won’t be an object of pity like a beggar’s sore,’ she wrote to Larkin in one letter. ‘I know you just think of me as a situation, something to be fixed.’

She also spoke frequently of feeling terribly lonely and ‘so frightened’ – with Monica even referring to a bruised shoulder as a ‘kind of company’.

Professor Sutherland, who was taught by Monica, said the letters were ‘explosive in their nature’ and described them as ‘the last great exchange of letters in literary history’.

In 1955, Larkin eventually moved to the University of Hull, where he pursued relationships with two other women.

Sutherland claimed Monica knew of the other ladies but would still live for Larkin’s visits, with the poet fitting in the lecturer when he was visiting his mother in nearby Loughborough.

Now, 54 boxes of 2,400 previously unpublished letters reveal the torturous relationship he shared with Monica Jones (pictured together in 1984)

The couple (pictured together in 1984 in London) eventually moved in together in the 1980s when Monica’s health deteriorated

He added that their once-passionate relationship was blighted by their heavy drinking, and although Larkin once tried to break up with Monica, ‘they needed each other’ as ‘they were both very unhappy people’.

The couple eventually moved in together in the 1980s when Monica’s health deteriorated – with the University lecturer turning the home into a ‘shine’ for her love upon his death.

Larkin dedicated his breakthrough collection, The Less Deceived, to Monica – even though it includes poems about his other intimate relationships – and he also bequeathed the bulk of his estate to her. 

The poet’s three ‘main’ mistresses were said to have each appealed to different aspects of his nature. 

Along with Monica, there was also Maeve Brennan, a devout and deeply romantic Roman Catholic, who was one of Larkin’s library staff in Hull. They were together from 1961, on and off, for about 17 years.

Betty Mackereth, his secretary, was his third mistress and the relationship lasted for five years. Astonishingly, all three remained unfailingly loyal to him, despite his infidelities.

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