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The female curse


Diana Athill Writer
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Oh we all were sunk in the natural world. We all did, I'm ashamed to say it now, but, we for instance, we collected eggs. Everybody did. And… but with very strict rules that you must never make a bird desert its nest. And you must never take more than one egg out of a nest. And oh, this awful thing that if you found a rabbit in a trap and it wasn't dead, but you thought that it was too badly damaged to live, you've got to kill it.

That was something one always, 'Please God don't let me find a rabbit in the trap'. Because I had actually seen my poor darling Aunt Joyce, who was the most tender-hearted person in the world, steeling herself to get a big stick and kill this unhappy rabbit. But, I mean, we all were constantly involved in the country. If you had a pet who died or anything, there had to be a funeral.

You knew much more about life from animals than you did from about people, really. I mean, you quite early on, knew all about dogs coming into heat and that sort of thing, and stallions going round from farm to farm to mate with mares. So that… my mother, I think, never, ever, ever, although she blamed her mother for not telling her about sex, she never told us, because I think she took it for granted that we were going to know, because there were all these dogs and horses, and there were… and she never forbade us any book. We could read whatever we liked. And so I think she thought, 'Well, thank God, they'll pick it up for themselves', so she didn't have to tell me.

Diana Athill (1917-2019) was a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. She worked with many notable writers, namely Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul. Following the publication of her memoirs, she came to be hailed as an author in her own right.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: nature, eggs, birds, killing, country

Duration: 1 minute, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008