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The Jean Rhys Committee

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Love and madness
Diana Athill Writer
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Well, I think that, in fact, he's not far off it when it comes to romantic love, because I do think that when you fall in love, you are not in a natural state. You are as mad as a coot, half the time. You really know less about that person, at that stage, than you ever will again, because you're not seeing that person, you're seeing your need, I think. And so I'm very dubious. One of the things that we used to… It was interesting, though, you see, because one of the things that we used to talk about a lot, Jackie and Brian and me, he had had a terrible romantic passion for a woman who he met in Poland after the war. He was working for UNRRA [United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration]. And she was an alcoholic, and it had been a desperate, desperate thing. He was absolutely crazy about her. And then she'd left him and gone back to Canada. That's why he left Ireland and went to Canada, he was chasing her. And when he… and she would have nothing to do with him. And he then married… he thought: well, that's… I've finished romantic love for me. And he married Jackie, because he liked her very much and they got on terribly well and it seemed like a sensible love. But, you see, no sooner does the very, very beautiful… What is? Oh, I think it's so awful of me, I must be blocking her name, for some reason. She turns up, and off he went again, you see. And that time, it worked. That time, it suited him very well. And her. It was a good marriage, that second marriage. They were… it worked perfectly well. But I think, really, that being in love is a sort of unnatural and lunatic state. I mean, you're going to have a happy marriage if you're lucky enough to fall in love with someone who really does suit you. And fortunately, it happens quite often. And I can… I've seen enough happy and successful marriages, even in my own family to know that you really can hardly have anything better, and it can well start as being perfectly romantic and end up being very good all around. But on the other hand, it can start by being very romantic and end up being hell, because you've just not been able...

I look back at my second great love. Tony, I think, the first one, I think I understood him very well, on the whole. The second one, well, I would have gone through fire for him, I was so in love with him. I knew nothing about him at all. Really nothing. I mean, he was stationed across the park from me. We met, I suppose, in all about ten times. We knew…  I mean, I knew about him, what he was… what one could see, which was that he was a lovely man to look at and that I liked making love with him. I knew that he was intelligent and well-educated and funny. But I didn't know whether he believed in God or didn't believe in God. I didn't who he voted for when there was an election. I didn't know how patient he could be, how kind he was. I knew nothing about him. And yet, if he had said to me, 'Come and marry me tomorrow', I would have gone like a shot. And I think it is a form of madness. I think it should be tried out, and you should never marry anyone until you've had a bit of a trial first.

[Q] Until you've stopped being in love with them?

Well, stopped being madly in love with them, till you know the, you know, the things about each other which are quite annoying in many ways, which you are prepared to put up with, and that sort of thing.

If you're young and you do happen, in a romantic way, to marry the right person, that's fine, because you're there together, and you shape yourselves together. And so that you really do belong together in an extraordinary way. But it is largely a matter of luck. But I think that happened to my sister, for instance. She married when she was 21 and I think was, you know, quite properly in love. And they were… it was an absolutely admirable marriage, couldn't have been happier.

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: Brian Moore, Jacqueline Scully

Duration: 5 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008