She published eight memoirs of her passions – gardening, fashion, family and her continuing old age – throughout her 90s.
Previously, she had written frankly about her love life, and did not shy away from the subject of sex as an older woman.
She also published a novel and a collection of stories and letters. As an editor, she had worked with the likes of VS Naipaul and Philip Roth.
Her 2008 memoir, Somewhere Towards The End, a frank look at old age, won the Costa Biography Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She was 91 at the time, and the oldest category-winning author in the history of the Costas.
She went on to wrote about living in a residential home, in Alive, Alive Oh!
Ms Athill worked for the BBC through the Second World War and helped establish the publisher, Andre Deutsch. She was the subject of a BBC documentary, Growing Old Disgracefully, in 2010.
She once told Desert Island Discs that she was “constantly falling in love, from the age of four, I think, with the garden boy, who had very beautiful brown eyes and he was pumping the hand pump under the lavatory window and he didn’t look up and I wanted to meet his eyes so I spat on his head.”
She added: “He looked up and our eyes met and I rushed out of the lavatory, scarlet in the face, with excitement.”
Her work was “somehow exactly like herself,” said Sigrid Rausing, her publisher at Granta.
“It is tempting to see one as the counterpoint of the other – sexual passion vs editorial discipline.
“I think the combination strengthened her, certainly as a writer, and probably as an editor and lover, too.
“She had, in any case, the rare ability to grow seemingly stronger, not weaker, with everything life brought her, transcending the prejudices of her day and learning from mistakes.”
Her early first memoirs included Instead Of A Letter in 1963 and After A Funeral in 1986, and she went on to write Yesterday Morning (2002), Make Believe (2004), Somewhere Towards The End (2008), and A Florence Diary (2017).