Diana Athill, editor of VS Naipaul’s books, dies at 101
Diana Athill, who edited 18 books of Nobel laureate VS Naipaul, had called some of his comments “ridiculous” and later wrote books on growing old, has passed away at the age of 101.Updated: Jan 25, 2019, 15:51 IST
Diana Athill, who edited 18 books of Nobel laureate VS Naipaul, had called some of his comments “ridiculous” and later wrote books on growing old, has passed away at the age of 101.
Athill worked at the BBC’s World Service during World War 2 and helped Andre Deutsch establish the publishing house Allan Wingate in 1946, before becoming the founding director of the publishing company Andre Deutsch in 1952.
She worked with some of the most popular writers during her 50 years in publishing, including Philip Roth, John Updike, Simone de Beauvoir and Norman Mailer, before retiring at 75 and writing books such as Somewhere Towards the End, Stet: A Memoir, and Instead of a Book.
In 2011, a row broke out when Naipaul made critical remarks about women writers.
Naipaul, who passed away in 2018, did not name Athill, but said: “My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”
Athill responded at the time by saying that Naipaul, who was seen by editors as a “high maintenance writer”, was “losing his grip”, and termed his comments about women writers as “ridiculous”. The row went on for some time in literary circles.
Athill said: “He (Naipaul) always tended toward irritability, and it seems he is losing his grip. It is ridiculous. Taking myself out of it, you only have to think of authors like George Eliot, or Jane Austen - you cannot take it seriously”.
“The books may be slightly different in nature because of different experiences, but I don’t think gender has anything to do with quality. There is some terrible female writing and terrible male writing. He has been asked what he genuinely feels and what he feels seems to me to be foolishness.”
In 1975, Athill read the manuscript of Naipaul’s work of fiction, ‘Guerrillas’, which seemed to her to be undeveloped and incoherent. She told him, in a gentle way, that it was not up to his best, which prompted an angry Naipaul to withdraw the book from Andre Deutsch.
Athill wrote about Naipaul’s angry departure: “It was as though the sun came out. I didn’t have to like Vidia any more.”
Athill said it was of “no great concern” to her that they no longer speak, adding: “It became tedious because of his depression and bad temper. When he decided to leave the firm I was relieved - it made my life much easier.”
As her 100th birthday approached in 2017, Athill told The Guardian that she had been lucky in life: “Things have come out so well for me that I’ve been able to have a very relaxed philosophy, which is enjoy yourself as much as you can without doing any damage to other people … I can’t think many centenarians are still living by their pen.”