In most historical novels plot is secondary to theme and subject | Rosemary Sutcliff Discovery of the Day

cover of Scent of Cloves with Rosemary Sutcliff introductionIt has probably been long forgotten, indeed unknown to most people, including current staff at her publishers Hodder and Stoughton, that around 1970 they published The Hodder and Stoughton Library of Great Historical Novels, chosen by Rosemary Sutcliff. One was Scent of Cloves by Norah Lofts (first published in 1958). At the end of her introduction, Rosemary Sutcliff wrote:

This is a very difficult book to write about. There is so much that one would like to say, and yet one cannot say too much without betraying the plot. With the majority of historical novels the plot is of secondary importance to theme and subject; often it is perfectly well known to anyone who has ever read a history book or even kept awake through their history lessons at school. There is no harm in betraying the fact that Henry V was the visitor of Agincourt, or that the Marquis of Montrose ended on the scaffold; but the Scent of Cloves, though an historical novel by period and setting, has also the elements of a thriller; and to betray the plot of a thriller is quite another matter.

So I must remain this side of the locked door.

Author: Anthony Lawton

Chair, Sussex Dolphin, family company which looks after the work of eminent children’s & historical fiction author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). Formerly CEO, chair & trustee of various charity, cultural & educational enterprises in UK.

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