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  (Margaret) Monica Beale Jones (1922–2001), by Philip Larkin (Margaret) Monica Beale Jones (1922–2001), by Philip Larkin
Jones, (Margaret) Monica Beale (1922–2001), university teacher and friend of Philip Larkin, was born on 22 May 1922, at Harwood, New Road, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, the only child of Frederick James Jones (1896–1959), tool-maker and later engineer, and his wife, Margaret Lily, née Peart (1888–1959). Monica's mother was originally from Weardale, co. Durham; it was this region that later came to mean most to Monica and where, at Haydon Bridge, near Hexham, she bought a cottage in 1961. When she was seven the family moved to Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, and from the age of thirteen Jones attended Kidderminster High School for Girls. From there, in October 1940, she won a scholarship to read English at St Hugh's College, Oxford. She was the first member of her immediate family to go to university.

Wartime Oxford left an indelible mark on Jones. Her distinctive accent and abrupt, easily mocked, manner of speech were evidently acquired in these three years. Drab ‘utility’ uniformity inspired her—as an act of resistance—to a flamboyant extravagance in dress. As Rachel Cooke has written, ‘Monica did not wear clothes, she wore outfits’ (The Observer, 27 June 2010), and in the 1960s her mini-skirts were shorter than those of many of her women pupils. After graduating in 1943 with a first-class degree Jones taught for several years at Brereton Hall school, near Stourport. The post-war absence of male competition in a traditionally male-dominated profession made it possible for her, in January 1946, to take up an assistant lectureship in English at the University College of Leicester. Following an unpleasant internal feud, the Leicester English department was taken over in the mid-1950s by a new head, Arthur R. Humphreys. He got on well with Jones and was the most courteous and learned of scholars. However, in contrast to his predecessor, Humphreys embodied new standards of professionalism appropriate for an expansionist era of British higher education. Jones had little time for new things and this was especially so in university life. One of the cleverer members of a very clever department, she published nothing in her long career—not out of timidity or a lack of ability but because, as she put it, ‘in this day and age it is more distinguished not to publish’ (The Guardian, 15 March 2001).

Jones's tastes in literature were traditional. She revered Jane Austen, Walter Scott, W. M. Thackeray, George Crabbe, William Barnes, and Thomas Hardy the poet (the novelist less so). Jones's disinclination to publish—even on writers whose work she knew intimately—meant that she never, in a long career, rose above the lecturer grade. But that rank was appropriate. She was a brilliant, if sometimes eccentric, performer at the lectern. She was less comfortable in the tutorial chair.

In autumn 1946 Jones met the poet and novelist , who had arrived in Leicester in September to take up a junior position at the college library. Born in the same year, Jones and Larkin had been contemporaries at Oxford, though were unknown to one another at this time. They became lovers in 1950, just before Larkin was appointed sub-librarian at the Queen's University, Belfast. He eventually found his career berth at the library of the University of Hull from 1955. Jones was doggedly faithful to Philip, despite the opportunities available to a single woman of her gifts and attractions. Philip, by contrast, was serially unfaithful to Monica—seemingly incapable of creativity as a poet without the tensions of infidelity and uncertain commitment in his emotional life. Marriage, as his poem ‘Dockery and Son’ puts it, would have meant ‘dilution’. Jones acquiesced with Larkin's chronic reluctance as best she could. He visited her, usually at weekends, en route to and from visits to his aged mother in Loughborough. They also took their annual holidays together. A stream of gossipy, sometimes malicious, letters and phone conversations kept them in touch. Following Jones's death items received from Larkin (comprising more than 1420 letters and 520 postcards) were sold to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and these have since provided the foundation of Anthony Thwaite's edited collection Letters to Monica (2010). The letters reveal both the tender side of the relationship and the clear influence, as a critical reader, which Jones exercised on Larkin's verse. The dedication to her of his most influential volume of poems, The Less Deceived (1955), is less a compliment than an act of gratitude. That the relationship was tender is further confirmed by the unpublished love poems (typically addressed to ‘Bunny’, in witness of their mutual love of Beatrix Potter) which first appeared in the appendix to Larkin's Complete Poems (2012, edited by Archie Burnett).

After the death of her mother and father in late 1959, and in growing disillusion with the profession (though never with English literature), Jones lived principally for her relationship with Larkin, which included notable highpoints, among them the remote Scottish holidays and the annual mid-June jaunt to the Lord's test match. Since this invariably clashed with the final examination meetings at Leicester, her getaway to the cricket added the excitement of truancy to the end of each academic year. She was, it may be recorded, a conscientious examiner. It was a matter of pride that ‘her’ questions were often lifted by other English departments.

Jones retired early, on grounds of ill-health (and, doubtless, private disillusion), in 1981. When her health failed dramatically in 1983 Larkin finally took her into his house, 105 Newland Park, Hull. It was not marriage, but a gesture in that direction. In their last years together both drank heavily. Their views on England went beyond conservatism into intolerance for a country whose new multiculturalism they detested.

Larkin died, prematurely, on 2 December 1985, leaving the bulk of his estate to Jones. On his death Jones took it on herself to interpret her partner's final wishes, and destroyed his thirty volumes of diaries and private papers. Larkin's will was, as Andrew Motion points out, ambiguous on this matter. She was not. She lived on in his house (now hers) for fifteen reclusive and unhappy years until her death there on 15 February 2001. She was buried close to Larkin's grave in the municipal cemetery, Cottingham, Hull.

There is a rich collection of photographs of Jones in the Larkin collection at the University of Hull. He was a keen photographer and she was more than competent; the most famous portrait of him, sitting on the national signpost on the Scottish-English border, was taken by her with his Rolleiflex. She is depicted—with near-libellous caricature—as ‘Margaret Peel’ in Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim (1954), as ‘Elvira Jones’ in Robert Conquest's science-fiction novel A World of Difference (1955), and as ‘Viola Masefield’ in Eating People is Wrong (1959) by her former student Malcolm Bradbury. Some of her other students, colleagues, and friends remember her more fondly. There is no easy term to describe Monica Jones's complex, intimate, and (for him) formative relationship with Philip Larkin. Uneasily, the terms ‘muse’, ‘mistress’, ‘partner’, and ‘girlfriend’ have been applied. None reflect Jones's importance in the evolution of Larkin's mature verse, nor her status as co-conspirator—and often instigator—in the couple's standing apart from an academic-literary world about which they shared eloquently jaundiced views. Larkin generally disregarded critics, but he carefully heeded the opinions of trusted friends: Kingsley Amis in his early career, and Monica Jones in his middle and later years. To the above list of her epithets one can add ‘mentor’.

John Sutherland

Sources  

A. Motion, Philip Larkin: a writer's life (1993) · P. Larkin, Letters to Monica, ed. A. Thwaite (2010) · Z. Leader, The life of Kingsley Amis (2006) · The Independent (24 Feb 2001) · The Times (7 March 2001) · The Guardian (15 March 2001) · R. Cooke, ‘In search of the real Larkin’, The Observer (27 June 2010) · Philip Larkin letters, Bodl. Oxf. · b. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

Bodl. Oxf., Larkin MSS; Jones MSS; corresp. · Hull History Centre, corresp. and papers · U. Hull, Brynmor Jones L., Larkin MSS

 

SOUND

 

Hull History Centre, play reading with Philip Larkin


Likenesses  

P. Larkin, photographs, c.1947–c.1950, repro. in Motion, Philip Larkin · P. Brooker, group portrait, photograph, 1984 (with Philip Larkin), Rex Features, London · group portraits, photographs, 1984, Getty Images, London, Hulton Archive · P. Larkin, photographs, Hull History Centre, Hull [see illus.] · obituary photographs · photographs, University of Hull, Hull, Brynmor Jones Library, Larkin MSS · photographs, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Wealth at death  

£1,012,622: probate, 17 Oct 2001, CGPLA Eng. & Wales