Monday 25 June 2018

Mary Kenny: Sons and lovers

How a mother's influence can cloud a man's view of marriage

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Philip Larkin's most famous poem is a catchy but sour disquisition on the malign influence of parents ("They f*** you up, your mum and dad/They may not mean to, but they do"). It now emerges that his reflections were all too autobiographical: he seems to have inherited his gloomy and misanthropic view of family life from his own mother, Eva.

A book to be published later this year about writers and their mothers claims that Larkin's mother repeatedly discouraged him from marrying by presenting matrimony as a limiting, mundane and prosaic station in life. "It is marriage that kills the heart and keeps it dead," she wrote to him, after reading a novel by George Bernard Shaw (who was himself happily, if sexlessly, married). Larkin, who was born in Coventry, had had an early romance with a young woman called Ruth Bowman, and they were at one point engaged - but, although he seems to have loved her, he wriggled out of the commitment.

Lest he contemplate repeating the exercise, his mother warned him against wedlock again, with a depressingly utilitarian vision: "Marriage would be no certain guarantee as to socks being always mended, or meals ready when they are wanted. Neither would it be wise to marry just for home comforts. There are other things just as important."

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