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Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681376134
Pages: 224
Publication Date: August 15, 2023

Instead of a Letter

by Diana Athill, introduction by Lena Dunham

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Diana Athill was brought up in the Norfolk countryside, where she had an idyllic childhood. At the age of fifteen, she fell in love with a young undergraduate. They became engaged and traveled to Oxford. Then everything fell apart in the cruelest possible way.

In this classic modern memoir, Athill dissects the terrible consequences of loss and her struggle to rebuild a personality destroyed by sadness. Yet for all its unhappiness, Instead of a Letter remains a story of hope, written with the frank intelligence and lack of self-pity that have become the hallmarks of her writing.


The reader sees the transformation of the battered soul into a buoyant woman, open-minded and open-hearted.
—Hilary Mantel, Spectator

Her first and still most perfect perfect book.
—Carole Angier, Literary Review

This classic memoir . . . well deserves another airing.
Daily Mail

Above all, she was praised for her candor. Ms. Athill was noted in particular for her cleareyed, unflinching honesty about her sexual appetites—long deemed a taboo thing for women to have, much less write about—and the exquisite pleasure, and exquisite pain, that they had engendered.
—Margalit Fox, New York Times

Fantastic in her openness, her honesty, her humour, her complete lack of interest in what are commonly supposed to be life’s ordinary proprieties, but which are, usually, simply stultifying convention. To be in her presence was to be reminded that every day of one’s life is a gift and that it’s never too late.
—Erica Wagner, The Guardian

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