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Signature of Rosemary Sutcliff showing her name is not Sutcliffe with an E

Helen has posted  a comment on her choice of best Rosemary Sutcliff book which speaks of “the features which make up the ‘sum of parts’ that are a Rosemary Sutcliff  novel” and  “the indefinable minstrel’s magic that makes it all alive”:

  • A hero, set apart from his peers both by his injury and his past
  • Landscape and the seasons as living entities in themselves
  • Friendship
  • Adventure
  • Scenes of slow tension and thrilling escape
  • Flashes of both humour and horror
  • The sense and quest for justice and fairness
  • The clash of two worlds and the places where the distance narrows to nothing between them
  • The relationship between man and dog, and to a lesser degree, man and horse
  • The slow romance
  • Understanding of a military world
  • The hopeful, ‘song of new beginnings’ ending
  • Devon. Of course, Devon!

And what, dear reader and Rosemary Sutcliff enthusiast, do you think? Do post a comment below.

I am trying to collect here in the comments (and via Twitter @rsutcliff) people’s views about which is Rosemary Sutcliff’s best book, and why….

List of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books

Albert Einstein on Fairy Tales

From the cover of Rosemary Sutcliff's autobiography The Blue Remembered Hills

Rosemary Sutcliff‘s 1954 children’s classic The Eagle of the Ninth (still in print more than 50 years on) is the first of a series of novels in which Sutcliff, who died in 1992, explored the cultural borderlands between the Roman and the British worlds – “a place where two worlds met without mingling” as she describes the British town to which Marcus, the novel’s central character, is posted.

Marcus is a typical Sutcliff hero, a dutiful Roman who is increasingly drawn to the British world of “other scents and sights and sounds; pale and changeful northern skies and the green plover calling”. This existential cultural conflict gets even stronger in later books like The Lantern Bearers and Dawn Wind, set after the fall of Rome, and has modern resonance. But Sutcliff was not just a one-trick writer.

The range of her novels spans from the Bronze Age and Norman England to the Napoleonic wars. Two of her best, The Rider of the White Horse and Simon, are set in the 17th century and are marked by Sutcliff’s unusually sympathetic (for English historical novelists of her era) treatment of Cromwell and the parliamentary cause. Sutcliff’s finest books find liberal-minded members of elites wrestling with uncomfortable epochal changes. From Marcus Aquila to Simon Carey, one senses, they might even have been Guardian readers.

Michael Rosen commented on this editorial:

Interesting that she was writing about the end of an empire at the end of…er…an empire. And does the search for the lost legion echo/refract Conrad’s Heart of Darkness?

Some of us drank in The Eagle of the Ninth two ways: once as a BBC Children’s Hour serial and second time as the book. I can remember hurrying to get home to hear it – moody, dangerous, mysterious – a quest for something real but long gone, a possible solution to an unsolved story…and somehow it had something to do with events that happened a long time ago just where you walked when we were on holiday: on moors, or on wet fields where we were camping. The book made a connection for me between a past and that particular present.

A Guardian editorial in March 2011 “In praise of … Rosemary Sutcliff” prompted various people to comment fondly and intriguingly upon their reading of her books, often in a childhood some years past.

liberalcynic said

I have to say I loved Rosemary Sutcliff‘s books when I was a kid. They opened undiscovered worlds and – perhaps more importantly – they didn’t talk down to my eleven year old self

thegirlfrommarz also “loved Rosemary Sutcliff’s books as a child” and “still loves them as an adult”. Like liberalcynic she thought that ” … they never talked down to you”. The Eagle of the Ninth was one of her favourites, although Continue Reading »

 

Rosemary Sutcliff, historical novelist

Rosemary Sutcliff , internationally-acclaimed writer of historical fiction, children’s literature and books for children, wrote for an exhibition for The International Year of Disabled People in 1981 (at  The Roundhouse, London, UK) about being disabled, and living with physical disabilities.

Career-wise, I’m one of the lucky ones. My job, as a writer of books, is one of the few in which physical disability presents hardly any problems. I would claim that it presents no problems at all but my kind of book needs research, and research is more difficult for a disabled person. Continue Reading »

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature has an entry on historical novelist and writer of literature for children, Rosemary Sutcliff. It comments on her use of language:
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.”
  • Source: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Ed. Jack Zipes. Oxford University Press, 2006.
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