There is something irreducible about old age, even now when, in the West at least, the several stages of life have become blurred. The Ages of Man, which until the 1950s seemed as distinct as the life cycle of the frog, have blossomed into a Venn diagram of intermediate phases. From kidulthood to the Third Age one man in his time can now play several parts at once. Yet nothing can disguise the fact that old age comes last, for it comes not alone but shackled at the ankle in a three-legged race with death. The shadow of mortality that looms over oldness makes it repulsive to some people, morbidly attractive to others. Kingsley Amis, who was only 52 when he published Ending Up, his brilliant farce of old age in all its nuance, went at least halfway to meet it, developing from middle age onwards his own style of old devilry. The bad temper, the dislike of the young, the inflexibility, the walking sticks, what Jane Miller, in her beguiling series of meditations on being old in life and in literature, calls the 'theatrical props' of later life, enabled Amis to achieve old age before it could be thrust upon him, dying as he did at 73.
LRB 21 October 2010 | PDF Download