At the start of last year I posted about historical novelist and children’s writer Rosemary Sutcliff‘s autobiography Blue Remembered Hills. I noted that a reviewer on the Amazon site – intriguingly at Leicester University in the town where I write this – wrote a decade ago:
This is a fascinating book on several levels. First it is the story of a young girl, an only child born in 1920, growing up with middle-class parents, but in a fashion which combined the usual practices and mores of the time with the unusual. As she was crippled (her word) at the age of three, her mother insisted on bringing her up herself rather than delivering her to a nanny, and, due in part to her disabilities, and the long periods of treatment made necessary, she had little formal education. However, she discovered books at an early age, initially through being read to, and was a consummate observer of both people and landscape, particularly on a small scale – the play of light on a dagger blade, the petals of a flower.
Second, it is story of the development of a writer, up to the time her first book was accepted for publication (what a pity she stopped there – I wanted her to go on!)
Third, for me as the child of Service parents (father in the RAF) it is the best representation I have ever seen of the life of the Service child. Rosemary’s father was a naval officer, and she, like me, absorbed unconsciously the traditional values and mores of the British Armed Services while moving every two or three years according to her father’s postings. These values, which have a timelessness about them, in particular the reciprocal loyalties of officer to man and man to officer, the duty of an officer towards his men, come through very clearly in all her fiction. As with all her books, the descriptions are superb (she trained as a miniature painter.
The fourth element, I suppose, relates to the disability and her acceptance of it, in an atmosphere very different from that of today. She says that her mother in particular sought as far as possible to bring her up as a normal child, and so she never really thought of herself as crippled, even though in practical terms she was quite badly disabled. I was lucky enough to correspond with her, and to meet her on one occasion before she died, and I was quite surprised to see how disabled she actually was – she was a person who was incredibly alive.