Letters from Philip Larkin and Stevie Smith to Anthony and Ann Thwaite, with related material

Scope and Content

This small collection contains twelve letters and cards from Philip Larkin to Anthony Thwaite, fifteen letters and cards from Philip Larkin to Ann Thwaite and thirteen letters and cards from Stevie Smith to Ann and Anthony Thwaite, as well as other related materials including newspaper cuttings and a copy of Departure magazine (1955) containing poetry by Larkin and Anthony Thwaite. Larkin's letters to Anthony Thwaite mainly relate to Larkin's poetry as well as publications and programmes featuring his work, but also include Larkin's thoughts on his contemporary poets and his life in Hull. Larkin's letters to Ann Thwaite mainly relate to his visits to the Thwaites' and also include comments on his own work as well as Ann's and that of other poets. Stevie Smith's letters to Anthony and Ann predominantly relate to her own work and whether the Thwaites could use them in various publications, but also cover other topics such as Stevie's health and her holidays in Devon with her sister. There are also newspaper cuttings including an obituary for Stevie Smith, an extract from the Spectator of Larkin's poem 'Church Going' and a review of the book Stevie Smith: A Selection. Other items include a first edition copy of Selected Poems by Stevie Smith and three letters from Frances [Spalding], Stevie's biographer, to Anthony Thwaite.

Administrative / Biographical History

Anthony Simon Thwaite was born in Chester in 1930 and spent the years of the Second World War with an aunt in Washington DC where he went to school. On his return he was boarded at Kingswood School, Bath, before studying at Christ Church Oxford. While there he edited Isis and co-edited Trio and Oxford Poetry 1954. From 1955 to 1957 he was Visiting Lecturer in English Literature at Tokyo University. On his return to England he became a producer of features for the BBC Third Programme and then from 1962 to 1965 was literary editor of the Listener. From 1965 to 1967 he was Assistant Professor of English at the University of Libya, Benghazi. Later he became editor of The New Statesman, co-editor of Encounter and Director of Andre Deutsch Ltd. He had a sabbatical year as writer in residence at the University of East Anglia in 1972.

Thwaite published his first book of poems with the Fantasy Press in 1953 and his second 'Home Truths' with the Marvell Press two years after Philip Larkin's 'The Less Deceived' in 1957. A collected edition of his poetry was published in 2007 and 'Late Poems' in 2010. He is literary executor of the estate of Philip Larkin, for whom he produced 'Larkin at Sixty' (1982), later editing 'The Collected Poems' (1988) 'Selected Letters' (1992), 'Further Requirements' (2002) and 'Letters to Monica' (2011).

Ann Thwaite was born on 4 October 1932 In London. She spent the Second World War in New Zealand and returned to England to study first at Queen Elizabeth's, Barnet and later at St Hilda's College, Oxford. Having travelled and lived all over the world, she now lives in Norfolk with her husband, poet Anthony Thwaite. She has published several books, with a focus on children's stories and biographies. Her well-known children's books include The Camelthorn Papers (1969), Tracks (1978) and Gilbert and the Birthday Cake (1987) and for a long time, she ran a library for the local children from her own home. Her biographical works include AA Milne: His Life (1990), Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape (1985), Emily Tennyson, The Poet's Wife (1996) and Waiting for the Party (1974) about Frances Hodgson Burnett. Her most recent work is a history of her own family entitled Passageways: the story of a New Zealand family (2009).

Philip Arthur Larkin was born in the Coventry suburb of Radford on 9 August 1922. Larkin began writing while still at school and became joint editor of his school magazine. He went on to study at St John's College Oxford, gaining a First Class Degree in English Literature. After university he took the job of librarian at the public library in Wellington, Shropshire, before moving to the library at University College, Leicester in 1946. Also in 1946, his novel Jill was published by the Fortune Press and his second novel A Girl in Winter appeared on the Faber list to good reviews.

In 1950 he was offered the job of sub-librarian at Queen's University, Belfast. It was whilst he was in Ireland that he had one of his most productive periods as a writer starting two unfinished novels and many of the poems which were to be included in The Less Deceived, such as 'Church Going'. He had a small collection, XX Poems, privately produced by a Belfast printer in an edition of 100 copies in 1951. Larkin's return to England in 1955 to his new appointment as librarian of Hull University coincided with the publication of his first collection of poems The Less Deceived, issued by the Marvell Press, of Hessle, near Hull, owned by George Hartley.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Larkin kept writing poetry. He constantly received requests for poems from editors of magazines and newspapers. Although he refused most of these requests, filing the letters away in refusal files, many of these people become good friends. The most intriguing aspect to emerge from the collection of magazines and journals which published poems by Larkin is their wide political spectrum. Larkin had no problem allowing poems to appear in the right wing Spectator, the left wing New Statesman or less mainstream journals such as the New Humanist. What is clear is that he liked to cultivate the 'poet of the people' impression which continued to grow with his increasing fame. Thus, he gave interviews, judged local poetry competitions as well as national ones, and answered most of the many fan letters he received.

In 1964 The Whitsun Weddings was published by Faber and Faber to excellent reviews. High Windows was published in 1975 and received universally favourable reviews and for the first time Larkin achieved success in the American market. 'Aubade', Larkin's last great poem, was published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1977.

Larkin received numerous awards, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry (1965), seven honorary doctorates, a CBE (1975), the Companion of Literature (1978) and, most significantly, the Companion of Honour (1985). Despite serious illness, Larkin's labours continued practically to the end of his life, with his former library secretary employed to do the typing. His death from cancer on 2 December 1985 produced an enormous outpouring of grief from friends, colleagues, and lovers of his poetry. He remains widely recognised as one of the most significant writers of modern poetry in English, and as an extremely successful university librarian.

Stevie (Florence Margaret) Smith was born in Hull on 20 September 1902. She was the daughter of Charles Ward Smith and Ethel Rachel Spear. When Stevie Smith was three years old her father joined the Merchant Navy as a ship's purser and left home for a life at sea. Following her father's departure Stevie moved with her mother and sisters to Palmers Green in North London, to a house in Avondale Road, which was to be Stevie's home for most of her life. Later when her mother became ill her Aunt, Madge Spear, came to live with them. Aunt Maggie played an important role in raising Stevie and her older sister Molly following the death of their mother in 1918, and was called the 'darling Lion of Hull' by Stevie. She acquired her nickname as a young woman at the age of 19 or 20, whilst riding on one of the London commons with a companion who compared her to Steve Donoghue, a popular jockey of the time. 'Steve' became 'Stevie' and the name caught on among her friends.

Stevie was educated at Palmers Green High School, North London Collegiate for Girls and Mrs Hoster's Secretarial Training College. From 1923 to 1953 she worked as private secretary to Sir Neville Pearson, chairman of Newnes Publishing Company, and later Sir Frank Newnes. She retired from Newnes Publishing Company in 1953 following an attempted suicide.

The first work by Stevie Smith to be published was a collection of six poems, which appeared in the New Statesman in 1935. Later that year, she submitted further poems to the publisher Chatto and Windus but was advised to 'go away and write a novel'. This she did, writing at home and in her office, using the yellow paper used at Newnes Publishing Company for carbon copies. 'Novel on Yellow Paper or Work It Out For Yourself' was published in 1936 (by Jonathan Cape rather than Chatto and Windus) and was an instant success. Her first volume of poetry, 'A Good Time Was Had By All', was published in 1937.

Stevie's poetry was at first less successful than her novels had been and during the late 1940s and early 1950s she was comparatively neglected as a poet. However, following the publication of her best known collection 'Not Waving But Drowning' in 1957 she became more widely known and throughout the 1960s was increasingly popular in Britain and America, as she gave poetry readings and broadcasts that gained her new friends and readers among a younger generation.

Stevie Smith was awarded the Cholmondeley Award for Poets in 1966 and the Queen's Gold Medal for poetry in 1969. Her work was often tinged with sadness and accompanied by whimsical line drawings. Her 'Selected Poems' came out in 1962 and won considerable attention from Philip Larkin who was responsible for assembling the archive at the Brynmor Jones Library. She went on living with her aunt, who died at the age of ninety six in 1968. She herself died in 1971 from a brain tumour.


U DP214/1 Letters from Philip Larkin to Anthony Thwaite, with related items

U DP214/2 Letters from Philip Larkin to Ann Thwaite, with related items

U DP214/3 Letters from Stevie Smith to Ann and Anthony Thwaite, with related items

Access Information

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Custodial History

Purchased through Bertram Rota Ltd, June 2012, total price £8,420 including VAT where applicable. Purchased with the aid of grants of £3000 from the V&A Purchase Fund and £3000 from the Friends of the National Libraries

Related Material

Papers of Anthony Thwaite [U DP155]

Correspondence between Philip Larkin and Anthony Thwaite [U DP181]

Papers of Anthony Thwaite relating to his editorship of Larkin at Sixty [U DP188]

Papers of Anthony Thwaite as literary executor of Philip Larkin [U DAT]

Papers of Philip Larkin [U DPL]

Photographs of Philip Larkin [U DLV]

Papers of Florence Margaret Smith (Stevie Smith) [U DP156]

Stevie Smith Papers [U DP209]

Letters from Stevie Smith to Ladislav Horvat [U DP197]

Stevie Smith Collection, printed material [U SSC]