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The secret of a successful marriage

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Falling in love again
Diana Athill Writer
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Well, what happened, in fact, was that actually, you see, the Tony thing was made, sort of, worse by the fact that, after… before I got into publishing, it was still during the war, but rather towards the end of the war, someone… the big house was commandeered by the army and people were stationed there, and, on the whole, because we lived across the park in the farm, you know, we got to know various people who were there, stationed. And one of them was an Irishman who, to my great… I mean, this was wonderful. It seemed like life coming back. I fell in love with him. And Tony, by that time, was more than two years, I had really enough recovered from Tony, and I fell in love again. But in a way, it was completely… it was sort of... it was sort of suicidal. I mean, I knew that he was married. I knew that he, quite quickly, I realised that he was not the sort of man who would want to break his marriage up or anything. And he hadn't quite expected to be having this affair at all. He was much older than me. He was… I don't know how much older, but I suppose about 15 years older, maybe. I was 23 by then. I suppose he was nearly 40. A very intelligent and very nice, amusing man. And a very attractive man. It was a brief affair, because he was soon moved away, but it was an affair. I mean, I was head over heels in love with him. He was sort of in love with me, although I, you know, when he said that, I knew perfectly well what he was saying wasn't what I was feeling, quite. And anyhow, I didn't actually want him to go overboard. I respected him too much. I mean, I thought that this would have been out of character if he'd, sort of, said, 'Let's break my marriage up and get you… get married'. I thought that would have been just… it would have been wrong. And he would have… he wouldn't have done that. But nevertheless, the fact that then, when he had to go away, which he did, and sensibly enough, didn't continue writing, because what would have been the point? And it was again another blow on the same place, as it were. So that by the time I got my job, I really did feel pretty… pretty finished.

But the job was wonderful. First of all, the job, I had a very good, amusing job within the BBC, nice people working with, in a sort of team of people. And then I began… then I thought to myself, well, look, it's no good just sitting here feeling dimmer and dimmer and iller and iller, which I did. I mean, I was getting… I was anaemic. I was very, very low, physically. Once I got to a point of being so low, physically, that I had to go home for three weeks on sick leave. And when I got back, I thought well, now, the thing to do, I've got to snap out of this somehow. The next chap who offers, I will take up, like it or not, just to cheer me up. And a very merry chap, who used… had been having an affair with a friend of mine, and she'd gone away, turned up. And so I said, 'Alright', I would go ahead with this. And it was wonderfully cheering up. I mean, it didn't make me feel, like writing the book, that everything was over and better, but it was cheering up. It got one through a lot of time because it was fun. And that one went on for quite a long time.

[Q] Was he married?

He was married, yes. He was married and a naughty old womaniser, if ever there was one. But funny, very funny. We used to have a lot of… we used to laugh a lot together, which was a great help. And that did me a lot of good. I mean, there's no question about it, it was a naughty affair and it did me good. And so after that, I was quite sort of prepared to go in for more affairs. And did, from time to time. None of them were such fun as that one, but that was the best. And they did… I mean, they restored one's self-confidence to a certain extent. And there was no danger in them. One wasn't going to fall in love again. And when I did finally, after the war, once more fall in love, that didn't work either, you see, actually. He… that was very sad, in a way, because it might have worked. He wasn't illegible, I mean… not illegible, what do I mean? Inedible?

[Q] Eligible?

Ineligible. He was someone who would have been a very good match, actually. He was rather rich and a very nice man. And all that went wrong there was that, although he liked me, we got on quite well together, but he never fell in love with me, not quite. Nearly. He thought he might be going to, but he didn't. And he was a nice, brave man. He had the nerve to say, 'Look, it's not going to work. I'm not falling in love with you'. Which takes quite a lot for a young man to do, you know? I really do admire a person who has that nerve. And as a result, it was pretty shattering, but I got over it quite fast, because it was… I knew where I was. You know, there was no false hopes. Tony had been so long, I'd been thinking, 'Well, it may be going to be alright. He may come back, he may… but this one, with this nice man, finito'. Cry, cry, finish. And that was much better.

Born in 1917, Diana Athill is a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. She has worked with many notable writers, namely Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul. Following the publication of her memoirs, she is now 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: love, affairs, marriage, womaniser, relationships

Duration: 6 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008