a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Tony's death


The secret of a successful marriage
Diana Athill Writer
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I would urge anybody who wants to break off an affair, to break it off and to do it quickly. It really does… it does much less damage to someone than trying to be kind.

[Q] Did it bother you that some of these lovers had wives?

No. Not… well, the one who was most married, which was the cheerful one, was… and he was so, sort of, I mean, it was so obvious that he had lots of girlfriends, I was only one of many, and his marriage had survived it perfectly cheerfully. Didn't bother me in the least.

[Q] Did it bother you that he had lots of other girlfriends?

No. I wasn't in love with him. I liked him very much, and we had a lot of fun, but I wasn't in love with him. And that seemed to me, at that stage, to be what one wanted out of life. I wasn't… I didn't expect to fall in love with him… and I think that, you see, one of the reasons that… that Geoffrey went, that this nice one went wrong was because I knew it was going to go wrong. I think I went into it sort of expecting disaster. This is love, and so therefore it's going to be unhappy.

[Q] So one might say that…

Because when I met Barry, which was quite a long time afterwards, there was no question, again, with the falling in love with either of us. It was friendly.

[Q] Barry? This was…

This is having… this is when finally, I'd been cured. I was better. I was happy. I wasn't wanting disaster, but I met this…

[Q] Hang on a minute. You were cured? This means of what? Of romantic illusion?

I was… I was no longer feeling that I was a hopeless failure, because in a way, although I was a successful publisher and I was enjoying my job, taking… thinking of myself as a woman, I was a failure, because I was still feeling that if one hadn't succeeded in getting married and having a family, one hadn't made it properly. I'd stopped feeling that. I now felt that I was perfectly alright. It wasn't that I was… anything dreadfully wrong with me that this had happened. My life was quite enjoyable. And so when I met Barry, I wasn't wanting to be in love, particularly. And I wasn't frightened of the idea of being in love anymore. I wasn't, sort of, fretting about it. I was just meeting someone who we got on terribly well together. And so it turned… it was a different kind of relationship. It was… I've always thought of it, and I think he's always thought about it, as a loving friendship, more than being in love. And that worked terribly well.

[Q] Is that a good thing to be doing? Is that a better… I mean, it's funny to say this, but is that a… really, is that a much better way to be doing things, a loving friendship?

Well, it seemed to me to be better. But that may be simply because of my history. And I think, in fact, that a good… you see, I've known, in my family, a lot of happy marriages, and I think that what happens, if you're very lucky, is that the lovely romantic first love happens to be with exactly the right sort of person, so it turns into a loving friendship. I mean, that I'm sure is what happened… my sister and her husband were as happy as bees together. He died when he was 82, not very long ago, and every time, I used to be so amused whenever I was staying with them. They had been living a long time in Africa, and so their pattern of life was that you had your bath before dinner, because you come in from… and then you had dinner. So that always, when one was staying with them, they pottered off to the bathroom, had their bath before dinner, and I used to listen and hear them talk, talk, talk, talk, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, talk, talk, talk, talk. There they were, they'd been married God knows how long and they had four children, and still had, as much as anyone, to say about… and liked being together. It had worked. And I think a lot of marriages do, thank goodness. You know, the one thing simply naturally develops into the other thing.

[Q] Going back to before you wrote Instead of a Letter, during this period when you had a good job and so on, but there was… as you say, there were these questions you had, or feeling about not being successful as a woman or whatever. I mean, how much was loneliness part of all that, and looking for company and… how does that all balance?

Well, you see I didn't have to be lonely, really, because the job was very full of people, interesting people. I shared a flat with my cousin Barbara, downstairs, who… we were very close and good friends. I wasn't aware, really, of loneliness, much. I think that could be, if circumstances hadn't… I mean, if one had been doing a boring job, that would be awful. But my job was very time-consuming and interest-consuming, and the people I was meeting were interesting. I didn't really need much in the way of any other social life, because it provided it itself, the job did.

[Q] So really, you were… Were you just a very long time, I guess, recovering from just the most terrible…

I was a long time recovering from that blow, but during that time, I had a lot of nice things going on. I mean, I loved my holidays abroad and all that.

[Q] Did you have close friends? I mean, apart from lovers, I mean, did you also have maybe…?

I had close friends. I had close women friends, very good women friends. I didn't have many men friends. I mean, André of course, who was a pain in the neck most of the time. But I mean, I knew him terribly well, just like family. And I had… of course, I had family. I was… I don't think loneliness figured.

[Q] Does it surprise you that you've got such a… a good memory for everything? You know, it's completely… it's impossible, really, to believe that you're 90 now, that you can remember all these things.

Well, people of 90 can remember the past. What I don't remember is what happened yesterday, you know? But I do remember, very vividly. I still, to this day, when I'm back in Norfolk, driving through Halesworth, where that level crossing used to be. It doesn't go there anymore, the train goes underground, I think, now, at that point. But at that point, I can't drive that road without remembering the car stopping there and Tony kissing me. To this day. But with pleasure, now.

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: Norfolk

Duration: 7 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008