steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

More on "Larkin's Women"

Well, I'm back from Turkey, and have some photographs to prove it. But they'll have to wait, as I'm trying to catch up with email today, and getting ready for a visit from lady_schrapnell.

Oh okay, here are just a couple:



Cultural Discovery Number One. If possible, the Turks have an even sweeter tooth than the Americans, and here's the lunchtime dessert buffet to prove it. I should add in fairness that there was plenty of fruit just out of shot.

I seldom buy a paper these days, but I picked up The Guardian this morning so that I could get up to date with the Spending Review, of which I'd heard alarming rumours from my mountain fastness outside Ankara. It was rather short on detail, in fact - perhaps they felt they'd wrung the story dry? - but I saw with a sinking feeling when I got home that it contained yet another article about Philip Larkin and His Women - this one by Martin Amis. I'm getting a little tired of these by now, but Amis's piece is particularly unpleasant in its facile intellectual snobbery about my aunt Ruth. Here is the first of the two references to her in the article:

Larkin got to know Monica Jones in the late 1940s, at which stage he was wrangling over a ring with Ruth Bowman, who was a 16-year-old sixth-former when they met. The wrangle with Ruth lasted eight years; the wrangle with Monica would last for 35, leading to the same outcome. Ruth's frail yet defiant homeliness can only be described as quite extraordinarily dated.

There's a small prize for anyone who can explain what this judgement even means. As far as I'm able to parse it, it seems to be saying that for a young, bookish and inexperienced woman, and especially one in glasses, to get upset because the brilliant man she fell in love with and who proposed to her then got cold feet (but didn't have the courage to say so) is "extraordinary dated". Is the point that these days no one would be so naive? I'm floundering, because Amis gives no further clue as to what this only possible description is meant to imply. Also, by "dated" does he mean any more than that the mores of 1950 were different from those of 2010? Because if so, so what? (Sleeping around, by contrast, is always bang up to date and terribly dashing.)

The second mention comes quite a few paragraphs further on:

Ruth and Monica shared a certain trait: a restless self-importance unaccompanied by the slightest distinction (Monica, for all her strong opinions, published not a single word in her entire career).

To anyone who actually knows Ruth, as I have done for over 45 years (Amis has never met her), this is simply laughable. A person less motivated by "restless self-importance" would be hard to imagine, although now I think of it that strikes me as being an excellent description of Amis himself. It's telling too that Amis can conceive of distinction only in terms of publication. As a matter of fact, Ruth did publish a book - a charming Sherlock Holmes pastiche based on some of her cats - in 1981. But that's very far from being the achievement on which her sense of self rests. Certainly, no one until now has ever hinted that she saw herself as Larkin's intellectual rival, or whatever Amis is insinuating. Usually the condescension has taken the alternative form of painting her as a naïf.

For all that, Ruth is a clever, warm and generous woman of great distinction. Martin Amis, by contrast, is a shit.
Tags: books, family history, real life, work
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