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Extract from Oxford Encyclopaedia of Children’s Literature on Rosemary Sutcliff.

Critics of Sutcliff’s work sometimes comment on its difficulty both in terms of the language she employs and in terms of the historical depth her novels embrace. But for Sutcliff herself, these sorts of evaluations of her writing were welcomed as compliments. She prided herself on never writing down to her readers, expecting them instead to be enticed into enjoying a compelling and demanding tale by the pageantry of history and the warm humanity of people in every era.

She carefully creates dialogue in her novels that recollects the speech of a bygone era without falling into what she termed ‘gadzookery.’ Sutcliff also researched her novels with exquisite care, and they reflect her vast knowledge of military tactics, religious practices, landscapes, and the material conditions and artifacts of everyday life whether in a Bronze Age village or in a Roman legion on the move.

Other commentators have noted the limited role that female characters play in her novels. Except for a few volumes that focus on a young woman, like Song for a Dark Queen (1978), which tells the tale of Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni who led a revolt against the Romans in a.d. 60, this is certainly true. Sutcliff often includes energetic and courageous women among her secondary characters, but providing insights into women’s roles in history is not among her greatest strengths.

The film The Eagle (2011), based upon Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), involves the same start but a different final ending from the book. At the time of the film’s release I commented to reviewers and journalists that I thought Rosemary would have understood that film story-telling had its own needs, and that it was not the same as book story-telling. However, I have come to wonder if that was the appropriate reply. More recently  I came across this quotation from Rosemary Sutcliff, speaking of something else:

I do not think that you can be changing the end of a song or a story like that, as though it were quite separate from the rest. I think the end of a story is part of it from the beginning.

There is a detailed entry on “children’s literature” in the Brittanica Library (Ex Encyclopedia Brittanica?). Of UK children’s literature it claims:

The English have often confessed a certain reluctance to say good-bye to childhood. This curious national trait, baffling to their continental neighbours, may lie at the root of their supremacy in children’s literature. Yet it remains a mystery. But, if it cannot be accounted for, it can be summed up.

It also argues that:

In two fields … English post-war children’s literature set new records. These were the historical novel and that cloudy area comprising fantasy, freshly wrought myth, and indeed any fiction not rooted in the here and now.

Of Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical fiction:

There was fair reason to consider Rosemary Sutcliff not only the finest writer of historical fiction for children but quite unconditionally among the best historical novelists using English. A sound scholar and beautiful stylist, she made few concessions to the presumably simple child’s mind and enlarged junior historical fiction with a long series of powerful novels about England’s remote past, especially that dim period stretching from pre-Roman times to the coming of Christianity. Among her best works are The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), The Shield Ring (1956), The Silver Branch (1957), The Lantern Bearers (1959), and especially Warrior Scarlet (1958).

 

I have found an article from 1982—which is new to me— by ex-MP and Minister Roy Hattersely about Arthurian legend, and  Rosemary Sutcliff ’s The Road to Camlann.

Roy Hattersely writes about Rosemary Sutcliff

 

Within our family I always knew my relative  and god-mother (and in later adult years close friend) Rosemary Sutcliff as ‘Romie’ and spelled it like that. But just today I realise she spelled it Romey (sic), as I used a brief note she wrote me and my family when she gave me a copy of The Shining Company. The letter itself reveals her preference for the American edition of the book.

Letter from Rosemary Sutcliff to relative Anthony Lawton and family

 

 

 

A new post on Twitter by the ‘husband of an artist’, set me thinking about Rosemary Sutcliff’s life as an artist. She started out as a painter, trained at Bideford Art School. Her miniatures were exhibited, including at the Royal Academy.

Note on Rosemary Sutcliff as miniaturist

 

Sadly, I do not know where most of them are. This I found in the records of an auction site.

Rosemary Sutcliff miniature paining The Falconer 1952

 

She was a member of the Royal Society of Miniaturists, but they have none of her pictures. They do have pictures by Edwin Morgan, who she studied with.

 

Charles Marks Esq by Edwin Ernest Morgan, miniature painter

 

Her start as a painter influenced her writing: she once said she found she needed to work on a bigger canvas—hence novels, but she retained a painter’s eye for detail and creating a picture in the reader’s eye. She also took a great interest in the illustrators of her books , such as Charles Keeping.

Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff was illustrated by Charles Keeping

 

 

In earlier times The Carnegie Medal used to have “commended” and “highly commended” books each year, as well as a winner—I do not think it does now.

Rosemary Sutcliff was awarded the medal in 1959 for The Lantern Bearers. But she was several times commended too. In:

1954 for The Eagle of the Ninth
1956 for The Shield Ring
1957 for The Silver Branch

And highly commended in:

1971 for Tristan and Iseult

 

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