Instead of a Letter (Paperback)
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When Diana Athill, nearly forty-three and far from a household name, sat down to write Instead of a Letter, the first in her series of trailblazing memoirs, she was looking for an answer to the question “What have I lived for?” In this searching book, she recalls her child-hood on her grandparents’ magnificent estate, the teenage romance that was certain to lead to marriage, her university days coinciding with the Second World War, and the sudden dissolution of her engagement, a loss that became the defining experience of the next twenty years of her life. Athill is as forthright in confessing her faults as she is in celebrating her triumphs. “From this table, with this white tea-cup, full ashtray, and small glass half full of rum beside me,” she writes, “I see my story, ordinary enough though it has all been and sad though much of it was, as a success story.”
About the Author
Diana Athill (1917–2019) helped André Deutsch establish the publishing company that bore his name and worked as an editor for Deutsch for four decades. Her distinguished career as an editor is the subject of her memoir Stet. She is the author of seven further volumes of memoirs—Instead of a Letter; After a Funeral; Yesterday Morning; Make Believe; Somewhere Towards the End; Alive, Alive Oh!; A Florence Diary—and a collection of letters, Instead of a Book. Her only novel, Don’t Look at Me Like That, was first published in 1967. In January 2009, she won the Costa Biography Award for Somewhere Towards the End and was presented with an Order of the British Empire.
Lena Dunham is a writer, director, and actress. Her book Not That Kind of Girl was published in 2014. Her latest film is Catherine Called Birdy.
“Supple, frank, unafraid of contradictions, Athill’s literary voice has all the courageous intelligence one associates with a certain type of British writer but none of the chill. This [is] the author’s scrupulous reckoning of her own single and childless existence . . . her work in publishing and the thrilling discovery that she, too, could write.” —The New Yorker
"Athill writes elegantly about the shabby gentility of her childhood and her later career as a literary editor, but the drama here is in her frankness about the struggle to rebuild a personality taken apart by sadness.” —Susie Steiner, The Guardian
“The reader sees the transformation of the battered soul into a buoyant woman, open-minded and open-hearted.” —Hilary Mantel, Spectator
“Perhaps Athill’s greatest legacy was her refusal to cede to societal expectations as she carved out a persistently unusual world for herself in which the demands of femininity—marriage and children, specifically—were rethought and redefined.” —Lena Dunham, The New York Times