Thinking of readers, I remember, with gratitude and some pain, a class of girls in a London secondary school in the early seventies. The parents of most of them had come from the Caribbean; I guess their own children are now in school. Then they were the first of their kind to speak out their awareness of the complications we now call `multi-cultural’. They were reading with their gifted teacher, Joan Goody, The Eagle of the Ninth (by Rosemary Sutcliff). On this particular day they ignored the dashing young Roman hero, recovering from a battle wound in his uncle’s house in Bath, and concentrated on the girl next door, Cottia, a Briton. Cottia’s uncle and aunt were taking her to the games, and in their hankering after Roman ways had tried to insist that she wear Roman clothes and speak Latin. Cottia protested, and so did the readers, on her behalf. I’ve never heard a more spirited discussion than that one, when those girls spoke indirectly of their nearest concerns in arguing on behalf of Cottia, who existed only in a book.
Schoolgirls argue for Cottia, who lived only in The Eagle of the Ninth
February 13, 2012 by Anthony Lawton