Midsummer Night in the Workhouse by Diana Athill

This is a book I borrowed from the library, purely because it’s a Persephone really although I vaguely recognised the name of Diana Athill. It turned out to be a collection of twelve short stories, the third one of which, called The Return won her first prize of £500 in an Observer competition in 1958, an awful lot of money in those days.

The stories are about relationships between men and women and although they were written 50 odd years ago it’s striking how the women are just like women nowadays except they sometimes wear long evening gloves. Their attitudes to the men in their lives seemed very modern, to me anyway the stories didn’t seem dated but I suppose that might say more about me than the stories.

They’re mainly written from the woman’s point of view and are at times funny and always observant about ‘types’. It’s so easy for each generation to think that they are the ones to have really discovered sex but these stories prove that it was all going on even before the 1960s, which is always put forth as the time when everything changed in society and morals went to hell in a handcart.

Anyway the book was an enjoyable read which has made me want to seek out Athill’s memoirs. She was born in 1917 and after graduating from Oxford she became a literary editor and helped Andre Deutsch set up his publishing company. She worked closely with lots of authors: Jean Rhys, John Updike, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Brian Moore and Simone de Beauvoir, to mention a few, not a bad bunch!

2 thoughts on “Midsummer Night in the Workhouse by Diana Athill

  1. I read some of her short stories in a different volume and just loved them. Some of the stories were different than in the Persephone and they were so good, I wonder why Persephone didn’t include them. It’s called An Unavoidable Delay and it’s really worth looking for if you enjoy her work.

    • Karen K,
      Thanks, I will look for it as I did enjoy her stories. I’m hoping to get some of her books through the library, I think her memoirs will be really interesting.

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