A mystical communion with the past … and one of the rudest senses of humour in anyone I have met! |An editor on Rosemary Sutcliff

I once found that an editor of Rosemary Sutcliff once wrote (I could not for a long time locate the source, a website on ancient history, but see Anne’s comment below):

 I knew Rosemary as a friend and, briefly, as her editor…most of her best writing was done in the 50s and 60s, beginning with The Eagle of the Ninth and ending with The Mark of the Horse Lord, which is my own favourite. What she really wanted to do, however, was to write romantic novels full of sex, but here her experience, and imagination, let her down. She was crippled by Still’s disease, contracted as a child – many of her protagonists have physical disabilities of one kind or another. She had no movement in her legs, and hands whose work (including writing and miniature painting) was done with just a forefinger and a tiny, rudimentary thumb.

She had, as did Henry Treece, a mystical communion with the past, which enabled her both to recreate tiny details, and to confound military historians with her understanding of the art of battle in any situation she cared to devise. Her sense of place was uncanny, in that she could get no nearer to a site than the seat of a car on an adjacent road. Friends often served as her eyes, and also as her researchers, but it was the conclusions she drew from the evidence, and her re-creations of them, that made her contribution to the literature about the ancient world so distinctive. Where she was simply embellishing recorded history, she was no better than anyone else.

She also had one of the rudest senses of humour in anyone I have met.”

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.

3 thoughts on “A mystical communion with the past … and one of the rudest senses of humour in anyone I have met! |An editor on Rosemary Sutcliff”

  1. The writer compares Sutcliff with Treece in their “mystical communion with the past”. Sutcliff’s ability to recreate time and place as a visceral experience for the reader has always impressed me. It has been said of Henry Treece that he “had the rare gift of writing about the ancient world as if he were native to it” and I think the same quote could equally be applied to Rosemary Sutcliff.

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