Sean O’Brien at Literary Review:
The earliest letters are sometimes very funny, as Larkin tries on attitudes. At Oxford he claims to be lumbered with ancient and/or mentally defective tutors; his work appears in magazines but is no good; he is upbraided when he reads for pleasure. He tailors his tone to the recipient: bluff and undeluded for Sydney Larkin (‘Pop’), safely and tenderly domestic for Eva (‘Mop’) and affectionately satirical for his older sister, Kitty. He includes some moody Oxford scenery: ‘the playing fields wait for the games of this afternoon; through the unecstatic street the gowned bicycles are whirling.’ This is pretty sophisticated for an eighteen-year-old – partly a parody of the promised bicycle races in Auden’s ‘Spain’, partly the kind of ‘real’ thing that finds its way into Larkin’s poetry and fiction. His description of trying to access a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover at the Bodleian is a small-scale classic that would slot perfectly into Lucky Jim. You enjoy the voice without ever quite believing what Larkin says, but ‘what he says’, the making over of the humdrum world of college and digs into curmudgeonly comedy, is what matters. This spirit of negation persists into his maturity, but it hardens from playfulness into habit.