eiana Athill was very confident. She understood the social class from which she came, and she could stand outside her, looking everywhere she wanted. As she wrote in Stet, her memoir of her years in publishing, she was a member of the caste: "one of London's English-educated, high-grade university graduates who subsequently conquered publishing. from the 19th Century by the bookstores who used it. " But she was also a white woman who had some black lovers in an age when this type of relationship could be regarded as a political declaration; and she despised the "self-conscious beautiful writing" of "the typical caster writer" Virginia Woolf. For her, "camp standards – should not be said – have no right to be considered sacred."
Her confidence helped her to be a writer, of course – she stands somewhere between "talent" and "link" in the list of useful attributes – but she also made her a great editor. He was clear in his judgment and sure in his promotion. For the first time, we met in the early 1980s when a book I claimed to write about her publishing company, André Deutsch, has long passed the date of delivery. I took the work that has not progressed in the office where Diana read the first chapter aloud with such an elegant statement that I was almost (though not quite) convinced to continue with the rest. At that time I did not know she was a writer, but then I read her two memoirs instead of a letter and a funeral, and she was struck, like many others, with her frankness and clarity and the glorious rhythm of her prose.
Then our roles are changing. At Grant I was an editor and she was the writer. Through mutual acquaintance, she sent a letter to the magazine about her professional friendship with Jean Ris. I did not think the song was something like that – I was wrong about it – but she mentioned it was taken from a book she wrote. I asked to see the whole text of Stet's book. He was 82 and was about to take his summer as a writer. Here are a few other books and a piece or two magazines, and we're reissuing her list. Very little editing is required. I can say honestly that I could start reading at any point on one of her pages and never want to stop, pushing through a sentence after a sentence of the delightful power of her story as if she was talking to me.
Very rarely, I suggested a change. There was too much sex, I thought, at the beginning of what was her most successful book, "Somewhere to the End." It seemed odd to say to a writer who was then close to 90, but I thought we did not need so many pages to find the author's pleasure in sex as a mechanical rather than psychological or emotional activity; an activity that in any case left Diana behind. Diana agreed and the book was corrected. My second offer had more interesting results.
I wondered Diana if her book approached, her tone sounding too complacent. "Let me think," she said, and soon afterwards she gave a new passage that began: "A friend recently told me I should be careful not to sound complacent," she added politely, "you did not agree with an anonymous friend I assumed it was me). She said she did it was complacent. It has begun, she writes, "wrapped in my family's belief that we are the best kind of people who have no glamor: faith common in the upper levels of the English middle class and confirmed by the pride that it is English." And while "tribal complacency" and "wicked bullshit" were broken when her first and most important lover left her, the complacency of another species had returned with her late success. If it was complacency and she could not help to feel that she was, then she had to say that "though it was a disgusting witness, it was a much more comfortable situation. to be inside from the opposite ".
So she was happy to be complacent – it can be complacent about it – because comfort was what she needed to "get down" in old age. Masked in his attractive and conceived sentences, there was sometimes a lively approach by a governess who wants to settle every question of his ass as reasonable. What is sex? What is death? What was the point of hurrying after the first one or being afraid of the second? She knew her nature – she admitted she was "cold cold" in her center, but she was still shaking me when she could make fun in a conversation ("Funny!") In the memory of a dying old man crying out of fear in a hospital bed or other evidence of irrational human behavior. It can be difficult. You did not want her to think of you as "sentimental" or as a "saccharin".
Although she was a partner in a publishing company and is often rightly described as one of London's best book editors, she never makes a lot of money. She lived in a cousin-rented apartment, journalist Economist Barbara Smith, at the top of Smith's house in Primrous Hill, and drove a small car. We have paid significant advances to her books, and the age-dependent approach has been rising without the benefit of children or the large bank balance. But somewhere in the end he won a prize and became a bestseller. Diana could hardly believe: a book of aging would make it easier for her to grow old. She had found a retirement home, which was "amazingly acceptable," and with her new income she could afford to move. As it was written to me, it was "Bye geriatric ward!" And it was.
I went to meet her on Wednesday at a hospice at Belsize Park. Her last room – she lay there 101, she returned to the pillow and opened her mouth in frozen yawn. Her silver hair was thin, but her skin was clear as ever. We pulled the chairs to the bed and talked because the people around the apparently unconscious tend to do it, hoping that she can hear even if she can not speak. The conversation was for her. Her nephew, Phil, remembered her disappointment at the lack of attention during her recent hospital visit and, unusually for her, her rank. "I write about the Guardian, you know," she said.
She was breathing. I took her hand briefly, and then Pru Rowlandson of Grant took her for life. Diana made three or four sounds in her throat and her eyes opened a little. Her breathing stopped. Pru said her hand was cold. Dead or Alive? It was difficult to be sure for a few minutes, and then it was certain. Phil closed his eyes.
Diana always remembered that her mother's last words, after being asked to attend a nursery school in Norfolk, were: "It was absolutely divine." She hoped she would end her days with something like that in her mind. And it seemed. This was the easiest transition: a small bird would make more noise.
• Ian Jack is a Guardian journalist