Diana Athill on Jean Rhys

Legendary literary editor Diana Athill, speaking during an interview about the process of aging—the subject of her award-winning book Somewhere Towards the End—had this anecdote about Jean Rhys. This is what Athill had to say:

You should never utter the words: ‘I am too old for that.’ For many years, I had a friend who had a hopeless outlook. I would say to her: ‘You must replace your fridge,’ and she would reply: ‘I don’t think it is worth it at our age.’ She collapsed, poor darling, and died some time ago.

My good friend Jean Rhys, the novelist, was also one of my object lessons, demonstrating how not to think about getting old. She expected old age to make her miserable – and so, of course, it did.

For my part, I waste no time worrying about death. I am more concerned with the experience of living during one’s last years.

What is old age like physically? You become more limited, but essentially I don’t feel any different now. The only thing I mind horribly is that I am very deaf.


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