Anglophiles, take note.
27 October 2010
Any good Anglophile worth their salt should be reading Diana Athill's memoirs.
A while back I read and loved her recent memoir, Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir, about, well, her coming end (she wrote the book while in her nineties), so when I saw a new title by her, Instead of a Letter: A Memoir, in my library catalog, I snapped it up.
Turns out this one was originally published in 1962, but you'd never know that from reading it--unbelievably, it's not dated in any way. It's a coming-of-age memoir; Athill describes her very British childhood (growing up on a country estate, Beckton, even though her parents had no money), her love affair with a family friend named Paul, her years at Oxford, the break-up of her relationship with Paul, her civil work during World War II, and her accidental plunge into the career for which she was destined (book editor).
The country estate and Oxford* alone should make Anglophiles take notice, but outside of those stories, this is a fantastically interesting narrative, although Athill is self-deprecating in the extreme. This was another one where I didn't bother bookmarking good parts, because the whole thing was so enjoyable.** Although, not always enjoyable in a frothy way--more in a "holy shit, that's exactly the way I feel" way:
"Common sense forbade me to consider myself old while still in my twenties, but I felt old, and once past my thirtieth birthday I began to accept the feeling as rational. Most of my thirties were overshadowed, when I allowed myself to notice it, not only by my forties but by my old age: by a sense that there was nothing ahead but old age, by an awareness of the disabilities of old age, a shrinking when I watched an old person stepping carefully, painfully on to the curb of a pavement..."
The paragraph gets more hopeful after that, I promise. But that is a feeling I've had a MILLION times.
*Speaking of Oxford, if you're not watching the Inspector Lewis mysteries on Masterpiece Mystery, you're missing out. Every time they show London or Oxford I get a little homesick, which is awkward, considering I'm not from there.
**Although not always easy to read. Readers should take note: unlike most politicians who act like they are, Athill actually IS a straight shooter; she speaks frankly of her interest in sex as a young woman, as well as an abortion she has. She's not explicit or anything, but I just thought you should know.