Rosemary Sutcliff was very ill as a child with juvenile arthritis. She spent much of her time when very young in hospital or a spinal carriage ‘rather like a coffin’, only went to school aged nine, and was disabled from the disease all her life.
A spinal carriage was rather like a coffin; it was very uncomfortable, and you lay flat out in this thing, and of course all you could see were the branches of the trees or the roofs of the houses going by overhead. And it was extremely boring. With any luck you were perhaps allowed to sit up on the way home from a walk.
I didn’t go to school for a very long time …My mother used to educate me herself, chiefly by just reading to me the books that she liked. But I did go to school, and I’ve always been very thankful that I went to an ordinary school, I never got incarcerated with other disabled children.
My parents did not trouble to find other children for me to talk to, to have around in the home. This is odd, because they were very understanding; nobody could have had nicer parents. But they were very sufficient unto themselves—neither of them seemed to want a social life themselves—and I think it honestly never occurred to them that a child growing up and going through her teens required other young people. Hospital used to be the one place where I did meet young children, children of my own age. And of course at school. But I was never allowed to bring friends home.
… I think people’s feelings were very different in those days to what they are now, about anybody with a disability being allowed to have any emotions….
- Source: Original recording of Desert Islands Discs interview in the BBC Archives; transcripts at http://sutcliff-talk.livejournal.com .