A Dose of Diana Athill

snip20161215_1I read about this wonderful woman author from London in someone else’s blog. I wasn’t familiar with her though I had heard her name. I jumped on line to our state library and found several of her books. The one I chose was Alive, Alive Oh!

It is a memoir published in 2015 of her times during WWI, WWII, the loss of her child at age 43 and then her decision to move into and her thoughts about moving into aged care.

Ms Athill was born in 1916 which means she turns 100 years of age this year. I enjoy reading books about older people. Especially women in their 90’s and beyond. I find it interesting that several women, including Sarah and Bess Delaney of Harlem, New York who lived to be 109 and 104 respectively and now Diana who will be a hundred never married, never had children and worked in careers of their choosing.

Do you think that could be the reason for their longevity? It always makes me laugh as though I am happily married we have never had children and I am sure I will live longer because of it. Mind you, that is only a personal opinion I generally keep to myself as most of my friends and close relatives have children. No more said.

Diana was a writer and worked in various jobs over the years usually related to the field of publication or writing.
Although she has had tragedy in her life she doesn’t seem to dwell on it long and enjoys a great deal of pleasure with little responsibility that the rest of us might consider important.

It makes one think if you live in a culturally productive city (London), have no children, friends who never or seldom see you in a negative light and jobs that you really enjoy on top of a successful writing career your life may be charmed. I know myself I don’t have the nature for such undirected pleasure but I do wonder about people who do.

I love structure, I love responsibility though don’t get me wrong I love my get togethers with friends who never judge, family most of the time and I had a job that gave me great satisfaction for the most part for almost 40 years.

We hear that variety is the spice of life but I wonder if too much spice is something we would all cope with.

Her memory talking about dealing with her pregnancy at age 43, unmarried and not having much money was interesting. None of that appeared to bother her. What really frightened her was telling her mother about the pregnancy. Mind you this was 1960. She talked casually about aborting two pregnancies previously as though it was as simple as walking down the street.  The reason she did not abort this pregnancy was because she couldn’t decide whether she wanted a baby or not, she pushed the thought of all of it to the back of her mind and she didn’t want to go through the cumbersome position one must be in at the doctor’s surgery to have an abortion. She found that humiliating.  She stopped her religious beliefs around age 15 so she didn’t have any religious guilt. She didn’t see abortion any different from the sperm not quite meeting the egg and talks about the difference between ridding a mass of cells and that scenario.

Many people, especially those who are firm believers in God would probably be upset towards her cavalier attitude towards abortions. However as I am a pro choice person and just don’t get involved in the decisions of others whether they accept abortion or not I just kept reading.

I enjoyed hearing about her trips abroad, in particularly Greece and later the Caribbean, Tobago to be exact. She did feel uncomfortable being one of the ‘have it all’ people dealing with the poverty around her. I enjoyed her discussions around the social topics.

Considering she was born in 1916 and never fit the model of growing up, giving up her educational success for home and hearth and children I enjoyed her will to live life as she wanted. She never talks about loneliness though I would think her string of married lovers might contribute to that more than she acknowledged. Though, who knows,maybe it didn’t. Perhaps that is my white middle class, midwest American upbringing talking.

She always talked of the English person as to dealing with unpleasantness or conflict as pushing it to the back of one’s mind and just moving forward. The stiff upper lip translated so to speak.

Having grown up in the United States where hearts are worn on sleeves and strangers know your life story in the time it takes to fly from Chicago to New Jersey I don’t relate much to stiff upper lip. Though I do find 30 years of life in Australia has tempered me somewhat.

I really enjoyed this book. The writing was very good and she didn’t linger too much on any one topic. It was interesting hearing about her life around the world wars and I loved seeing what direction her life took at every twist and turn. She was blessed with many good friends. I find when one doesn’t have children of one’s own to discuss it is wonderful to spend time with other like minded people. Hearing about little Gracie’s toilet training or how they are doing in school wears thin after awhile.  I could never have been a  yummy mummy but it is fun to watch them in the cafes.

As always, each to their own and I enjoyed this book.

 

Author: travellinpenguin

I live in Tasmania, Australia. I ride a 350cc Piaggio scooter as I travel the state and sometimes the world searching for vintage Penguin books to add to my archive. My goal is to keep them out of landfill as they are wonderful old books. I travel, socialise, read a lot and have my friend the Travellin' Penguin who accompanies as I traverse through life and books.

8 thoughts on “A Dose of Diana Athill”

  1. Wonderful review! I’ve been wanting to read something by Diana Athill and may just start here. My husband’s great aunt lived to 104… sharp as a tack, read the WSJ every day… we always joked that her longevity was due to the fact that she never had children 😉

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    1. Thank you JoAnn. I would like to read more by her. I have heard that theory before about longevity related to no children. Some children can age their parents more than others. I admire sharp women that are around 100. Hope I live to experience it.

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  2. I agree with you on so many things. Jack and I are childless by choice, and from observing other families, neither of us has ever had any regrets. I recently read Fifty Days of Solitude by Doris Gumbach, written when she was older. I like reading about the lives and thoughts of older women. They give me hope that all is not over when you stop being young, something I struggle with. Much, of course, has to do with health, but, even then, attitude makes such a difference.

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    1. I like reading the wisdom and thoughts of older people. The older the better. You are right about attitude. You just keep on going on don’t you. There is certainly enough to do and to learn. Always happiest when learning something new.

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  3. she sounds like a mature and wise person and the book sounds interesting as well… in this world of burgeoning people, pro-choice is the only way to save the planet, ultimately; better that than killing off millions in war… i can’t remember if i recommended Monica Dickens or not; she’s Charles’s grand daughter and wrote entertaining and humorous autobiographical books, some about surviving the blitz; i found her very readable and charming…

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