Rosemary Sutcliff researched her historical novels for children, young adults and adults with exquisite care

Extract from Oxford Encyclopaedia of Children’s Literature on Rosemary Sutcliff.

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.’ Sutcliff also researched her novels with exquisite care, and they reflect her vast knowledge of military tactics, religious practices, landscapes, and the material conditions and artifacts of everyday life whether in a Bronze Age village or in a Roman legion on the move.

Other commentators have noted the limited role that female characters play in her novels. Except for a few volumes that focus on a young woman, like Song for a Dark Queen (1978), which tells the tale of Boudicca, the queen of the Iceni who led a revolt against the Romans in a.d. 60, this is certainly true. Sutcliff often includes energetic and courageous women among her secondary characters, but providing insights into women’s roles in history is not among her greatest strengths.

2 thoughts on “Rosemary Sutcliff researched her historical novels for children, young adults and adults with exquisite care

  1. Everyone’s read one of those books where the story has been spoilt by overwhelming detail the author just couldn’t resist squeezing in willy-nilly.

    Rosemary Sutcliff always judged to a nicety how to apply her research for maximum impact. She once said, ”The terrible temptation is to try and use everything you’ve found out in the research. That can be absolutely fatal, because you really only need to use about a tenth. It’s rather like an iceberg . . . It has to be there, because it gives you the freedom of the period. But you don’t use it.”


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