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The Open Cage

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by Phoebe Raddings


ISBN 0 9543316 3 X
Anna Brown Associates, 2000
88pp, paperback
No price

One of the usual criteria for the inclusion of a book on these review pages is that it should be less than two years old. In the case of The Open Cage, there is good reason to make an exception, as, sadly, we are not likely to see any more titles from Phoebe Raddings. Mrs Raddings was already eighty-eight when she began the book.

In addition to having been written by a lady who was close to the end of her life, there are at least two remarkable things about The Open Cage. One is that Mrs Raddings was completely deaf from her early childhood, and went on to lead an almost normal life, breaking the pattern for disabled people in the early years of the twentieth century, who were normally packed off to an institution.

The other remarkable thing about the book is the whole philosophy of life it expresses. At no point does Mrs Raddings express self-pity or even any apparent regrets. On the contrary, having realised, in her early teens, that she was "different" from her contemporaries (she had got this far believing that speech was simply a matter of movements of the lips and that music consisted purely of vibrations), she went on to enjoy as full a life as anyone could hope to. She worked as a kennel-maid and later as a Land Girl, got married and lived through two world wars. One of her brothers was killed in the First World War, and she relates this incident with the same quiet acceptance as any other misfortune. Having been brought up in a Christian home, she has no thought of recrimination. Nor did a series of miscarriages dent her religious belief.  It is hard to imagine anyone in the twenty-first century taking such a patient and stoical view of life – and we are much poorer for that.

As with other titles from the series published by Anna Brown Associates, this volume is cheaply produced and wastes no time on a fancy cover design or illustrations. It is essentially a "no-frills" publication. For all that, and taking into account that Mrs Raddings’ grammar and punctuation are not always perfect (though still probably superior to those of the average reader), this is a classic of its kind. From page one, I was enchanted, and I read on with the same fascination as might have been aroused by the autobiography of any household name. Phoebe Raddings was clearly an exceptional person, barely aware that she had lived an exceptional life, one that could serve as an example and an inspiration to anyone fortunate enough to read about it.

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

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