Diana Athill Quotes
“To me it was plain silly. It is so obvious that life works in terms of species rather than individuals. The individual just has to be born, to develop to the point at which it can procreate, and then to fall away into death to make way for its successors, and humans are no exception whatever they may fancy.”
“All through my sixties I felt I was still within hailing distance of middle age, not safe on its shores, perhaps, but navigating its coastal waters. My seventieth birthday failed to change this because I managed scarcely to notice it, but my seventy-first did change it. Being 'over seventy' is being old: suddenly I was aground on that fact and saw that the time had come to size it up.”
“Looking at things is never time wasted. If your children want to stand and stare, let them. When I was marvelling at the beauty of a painting or enjoying a great view it did not occur to me that the experience, however intense, would be of value many years later. But there it has remained, tucked away in hidden bits of my mind and now it comes, shouldering aside even the most passionate love affairs.”
“Dwindling energy is one of the most boring things about being old. From time to time you get a day when it seems to be restored, and you can't help feeling that you are 'back to normal', but it never lasts. You just have to resign yourself to doing less--or rather, taking more breaks than you used to in whatever you are doing. In my case I fear that what I most often do less of is my duty towards my companion rather than indulgence of my private inclinations.”
“You don't always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they'd be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it's the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.”
“How, then, does the written word work? What part of a reader absorbs it - or should that be a double question: what part of a reader absorbs what part of a text?
I think that underneath, or alongside, a reader's conscious response to a text, whatever is needy in him is taking in whatever the text offers to assuage that need.”
“They brought home to me the central reason why books have meant so much to me. It is not because of my pleasure in the art of writing, though that has been very great. It is because they have taken me so far beyond the narrow limits of my own experience and have so greatly enlarged my sense of the complexity of life: of its consuming darkness, and also – thank God – of the light which continues to struggle through.”
“If we are lucky enough, as I am, to be from time to time in quite close contact with young people, they can sometimes make it easier to hang on to this notion when they function, as every person does vis-a-vis every other person they come up against, as a mirror.
Always we are being reflected in the eyes of others. Are we silly or sensible, stupid or clever, bad or good, unattractive or sexy...? We never stop being at least slightly aware of, if not actively searching for, answers to such questions, and are either deflated or elated, in extreme cases ruined or saved, by what we get. So if when you are old a beloved child happens to look at you as if he or she thinks (even if mistakenly!) that you are wise and kind: what a blessing! It's not that such a fleeting glimpse of yourself can convert you into wiseness and kindness in any enduring way; more like a good session of reflexology which, although it can cure nothing, does make you feel like a better person while it's going on and for an hour or two afterwards, and even that is well worth having.
The more frequent such shots of self-esteem are, the more valuable they become, so there is a risk - remote, but possible - of their becoming addictive. An old person who doesn't enjoy having young people in her life must be a curmudgeon, but it is extremely important that she should remember that risk and watch her step. Or he, his.”
“It marked a turning point for me. It marked the point where I recognized that I must never - not even when he was 'well' again - expect from Didi what one normally expects from a friend. When he gave anything to other people - as he often did, as he had done earlier to me and was to do again - it was by the happy accident of their chancing to appreciate what he chanced to be 'giving off'. If he happened to be in a mood to charm, to find things amusing, to respond lovingly, to use his intuition (which could be sharp) on people's behaviour, to apply his intelligence, then whoever was around would benefit; but he was so hermetically walled up in himself that he was unablee to discover inother people any constant reason to attend to them, still less to be considerate of them, and he couldn't answer their demands.”
“What brought us to heel morally far more effectively than talk of Right and Wrong was the word that had such remarkable potency in our family: silly. It was the word most often used by grown-ups when they were scolding, and it worked so well because while "naughty" or "bad" added drama to a situation, and even hinted at forces which might be beyond your control, "silly" was something you could easily be (very likely had been, in whatever was the case in point); and silliness was, or you felt it ought to be, within your control. It was a maddening, snubbing little word, and you often raged against it, but in the end it contributed a great deal to giving us the idea that people are responsible for their own actions, and ought to be prepared to accept their consequences. Far more than God, up there in His marvellous world of all-embracing love, and of magic, it belonged to the world we understood.”
- Date of birth: December 21, 1917
- Died: January 23, 2019
- Born: in Norfolk, The United Kingdom.
- Description: Diana Athill was a British literary editor, novelist and memoirist who worked with some of the greatest writers of the 20th century at the London-based publishing company André Deutsch Ltd.
She was born in Norfolk in 1917 and educated at home until she was fourteen. She read English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and graduated in 1939. She spent the war years working at the BBC Overseas Service in the News Information Department. After the war she met André Deutsch and fell into publishing. She worked as an editor, first at Allan Wingate and then at André Deutsch, until her retirement at the age of 75 in 1993.
Her books include An Unavoidable Delay, a collection of short stories published in 1962 and two 'documentary' books After A Funeral and Make Believe. Stet is a memoir of Diana Athill's fifty-year career in publishing. Granta has also reissued a memoir Instead of a Letter and her only novel Don't Look at Me Like That. She lived in Primrose Hill in London.