Feeds:
Posts
Comments

This is news to me, although it is probably originally in her memoir Blue Remembered Hills: the name Esca for the slave in Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth comes from Victorian novelist Whyte-Melville’s The Gladiators. Rosemary’s mother used to read her this aloud.

Image

  • Source: Talcroft, B. L. (1995). Death of the corn king: King and goddess in Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical fiction for young adults. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press.

Veronica Horwell wrote about the life and writing of historical novelist and writer for children and young adults Rosemary Sutcliff with affectionate insight in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles—“Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?”—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth—that nothing iswholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life.So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present. When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s books are popular in Japan, (although I am not always accurate in judging which cover is which book—on Twitter today I have been told that what I, via Google, thought was The Mark of the Horse Lord was actually The Lantern Bearers …).

I am reminded that I was surprised to discover a few years ago that  Her Imperial Majesty The Empress Michiko of Japan linked Rosemary Sutcliff,  J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, and Philippa Pearce in the same breath in her keynote speech to the 26th (2001) Congress of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).

Keep linking children and books…Books are children’s valuable friends and are a help to them. So that children have firm roots within themselves; so that children have strong wings of joy and of imagination; so that children know love, accepting that at times love calls for pain; so that children see and face the challenge of life’s complexities, fully taking on the life given to each, and finally, upon this earth which is our common home, become, one day, true instruments of peace.

Anne wrote long ago at the Tab ‘Write!” above about the song The Girl I Kissed At Clusium. (Write - do use it, so many readers and visitors here are vastly more insightful and knowledgeable about Rosemary Sutcliff than I ).

As for why Rosemary Sutcliff used (Clusium—an ancient Etruscan city, one of the Etrurian confederacy that fought it out with Rome for supremacy in the early days)  for her famous legionary marching song in The Eagle of the Ninth, I think the answer lies in her early schooling. She mentions in her autobiography, Blue Remembered Hills, just how much she and her classmates enjoyed declaiming Macaulay’s stirring poem, ‘Horatius (at the Bridge)’. Who could forget that image of Horatius and his two comrades gallantly holding the Pons Sublicius against the invading army of Lars Porsena, king of Clusium in the late 6th century BC, during the war between Rome and Clusium?

Meanwhile the Tuscan army, right glorious to behold,
Came flashing back the noonday light,
Rank behind rank, like surges bright of a broad sea of gold.
Four hundred trumpets sounded a peal of warlike glee,
As that great host, with measured tread, and spears advanced, and ensigns spread,
Rolled slowly towards the bridge’s head where stood the dauntless Three.
Source

Here are Rosemary Sutcliff’s own words, so you can see the effect Macaulay’s poem had upon her young sensibilities.

We learned verse upon verse of Macaulay’s ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’ and proclaimed them with glorious fierceness, stiffening the sinews, summoning up the blood and lending the eyes a terrible aspect under the beetling brows of imaginary helmets:

‘Lars Porsena of Clusium, by the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin should suffer wrong no more.
By the Nine Gods he swore it, and named a trysting day,
And bade his messengers ride forth,
East and West and South and North,
To summon his array.’

Who were the Nine Gods? What wrong was the great house of Tarquin suffering? We had no idea. But the lines have the true trumpet ring to them yet; the purposeful tramp of a legion’s feet on the march.

The snatches of the legionnaires’ song in The Eagle of the Ninth are

Oh when I joined the Eagles
(As it might be yesterday)
I kissed a girl at Clusium
Before I marched away
A long march, a long march
And twenty years in store
When I left my girl at Clusium
Beside the threshing-floor

The girls of Spain were honey-sweet,
And the golden girls of Gaul:
And the Thracian maids were soft as birds
To hold the heart in thrall.
But the girl I kissed at Clusium
Kissed and left at Clusium,
The girl I kissed at Clusium
I remember best of all

Someone recently asked me if there were other novels by Rosemary Sutcliff set in the Bronze Age , apart from Warrior Scarlet. This set me thinking. Helped by a livejournal posting I came across a while back, and based on my own reading (some of it too long ago), I came up with this list—exceluding the re-tellings such as Beowulf. I imagine regular readers here can improve it? Anything missing?

Bronze and Iron Age
The Chief’s Daughter
Shifting Sands

Warrior Scarlet
Sun Horse, Moon Horse

Ancient Greece
The Flowers of Adonis
The Truce of the Games (A Crown of Wild Olive)

Roman Britain
Song for a Dark Queen
Eagle’s Egg
The Capricorn Bracelet
The Eagle of the Ninth
The Mark of the Horse Lord
Outcast
A Circlet of Oak Leaves
The Silver Branch
Frontier Wolf

The Dark Ages
The Lantern Bearers
Sword at Sunset
The Sword and the Circle

The Light Beyond the Forest
The Road to Camlann
Dawn Wind
The Shining Company

Vikings
Sword Song
Blood Feud

Norman
The Shield Ring
Knight’s Fee
The Witch’s Brat

Elizabethan and 16th century
The Armourer’s House
The Queen Elizabeth Story
Brother Dusty-Feet
Lady In Waiting

English Civil War and 17th century
The Rider of the White Horse
Simon
Bonnie Dundee

18th century
Flame-Coloured Taffeta

19th century
Blood and Sand

(Additions  9/3/14)

Portrait of Rosemary Sutcliff by Mark Gerson

I have just discovered, courtesy of Bing search and never found on Google,  two portraits of Rosemary Sutcliff which I had not seen for many a year. They are  at The National Portrait Gallery. I have applied for full size reproduction rights. Meanwhile two thumbnails must suffice. The one below is by Lord Snowden, for the Sunday Times who I think had compiled a list of top twenty authors of the 20th Century

Rosemary Sutcliff in a poprtrait at The National Portrait Gallery

The others in the photo are:

  • Dame Beryl Bainbridge (1932-2010), Novelist and actress.
  • Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984), Poet Laureate, writer and broadcaster.
  • Sir Malcolm Stanley Bradbury (1932-2000), Novelist and critic.
  • Anthony Burgess (John Burgess Wilson) (1917-1993), Novelist and critic; composer.
  • Leon Garfield (1921-1996), Writer.
  • Laurence Edward Alan (‘Laurie’) Lee (1914-1997), Poet and prose writer.
  • Rosamond Nina Lehmann (1901-1990), Novelist.
  • Sir Victor Sawdon (‘V.S.’) Pritchett (1900-1997), Writer and critic.
  • Sir Laurens Jans van der Post (1906-1996), Writer, farmer, explorer and conservationist.

Source: National Portrait Gallery

Julia Eccleshare, expert on children’s and young adult’s fiction and literature (and Book Doctor at The Guardian), recently wrote a piece for theguardian.com with recommendations for historical fiction for children and teenagers which is not about the world wars. Of Rosemary Sutcliff she said:

In her many novels, Rosemary Sutcliff charted the making of Britain from the simple living of the upland shepherds of the Bronze Age in Warrior Scarlet to Elizabethan England in The Queen Elizabeth Story. She concentrated particularly on Roman Britain reflecting the many attitudes and experiences around the coming together of different cultures as the Romans and the indigenous population learned to live together and to blend their two very different ways of life.

In a loose series of titles which includes The Eagle of the Ninth and Dawn Wind Rosemary Sutcliff writes of Romano-British occupation and skirmish but she also details the home life of both sides describing the cooking, weaving and celebrations of the British tribes and the more advanced home comforts of the Roman invaders such as the installation of central heating in their villas.

Other authors she recommended were: Geoffrey TreaseLeon Garfield, Jill Paton Walsh, Berlie Doherty, Sally Nicholls, Adele Geras, John Rowe Townsend, and Melvin Burgess .

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,389 other followers