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.


Oscar Wilde


Getting into Oxford
Diana Athill Writer
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

The tedious thing about getting to Oxford was you had to have Latin at which I was very bad. I think Latin was taught in a most terribly, terribly boring way. But I even had to go and have special coaching from an elderly clergyman to try and get me into Oxford, because I had to have a basic amount of Latin. I got just enough to scrape through, and then swept it all out of my mind.

I took it absolutely for granted that when I went to Oxford, I would read English because I knew I would be reading it anyway, you know? I mean, this whole book thing went right through from earliest childhood, right through. The books were what you did for fun, really. Fiction is what I read in those days. And it would be whatever was the latest, sort of, most reviewed novel one… one fell on. One read the Sunday paper reviews. And I think I was still reading poetry then, when I went up to Oxford. I think I still felt that I actually, by choice, liked to read poetry which I don't anymore, now. And I remember, for instance, just before I went up, being given a volume of Oscar Wilde stories and being very thrilled by them. And at the same time, being given TS Eliot by a young man. I was 15, and I'd already fallen in love seriously for the first time, and Tony was rather brilliant at presents and things, and he gave me those two books at Christmas. And I remember he wrote in the TS Eliot, 'I can't make much of this, but I expect you will'. So I think people did think I was quite bright and it was frightfully flattering, being given this modern poetry. And I did, in fact, read it most diligently. I don't think I made a great deal of it, but I tried hard.

[Q] Would that have been Selected Poems, or was it The Waste Land and…?

That was The Waste Land.

[Q] How did you get on with that?

Well, I read it, and I knew it by heart, but how much I really liked it, I don't know. How much it wasn't just that Tony had given it to me, and it was very exciting that he had thought that I would like modern poetry, and so therefore it was up to me to like it. I think I liked better, in fact, Stephen Spender and people who were much more understandable.

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: Oxford University, The Waste Land, Oscar Wilde, TS Eliot, Stephen Spender

Duration: 2 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008