Rosemary Sutcliff Historical Novels and the North-East of England

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One Alan Myers once compiled an ‘A to Z of the many writers of the past who had a significant connection’ with the North-East of England. It seems now to have disappeared from the web . He writes of Rosemary Sutcliff:

“One of the most distinguished children’s writers of our times, Rosemary Sutcliff wrote over thirty books , some of them now considered classics. She sets several of her best-known works in Roman and Dark Age Britain, giving her the opportunity to write about divided loyalties, a recurring theme. The Capricorn Bracelet comprises six linked short stories spanning the years AD 61 to AD 383, and Hadrian’s Wall features in the narrative.

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is perhaps her finest work and exemplifies the psychological dilemmas that Rosemary Sutcliff brought to her novels. It is a quest story involving a journey north to the land of the Picts to recover the lost standard of the Roman Ninth Legion. A good part of the book is set in the North East around Hadrian’s Wall (a powerful symbol) and a map is provided. The book has been televised, and its sequels are The Silver Branch (1957) and The Lantern Bearers (1959), which won the Carnegie medal. Sutcliff returned to the Romano-British frontier in The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965) and Frontier Wolf (1980).

Northern Britain in the sixth century AD is the setting of The Shining Company (1990), a retelling of The Goddodin (v. Aneirin) a tragedy of epic proportions. The story, however, is seen from the point of view of the shield-bearers, not the lords eulogised in The Goddodin, and treats themes of loyalty, courage and indeed political fantasy.”

6 comments

  1. Someone once asked Rosemary Sutcliff why all her main characters were boys.

    She answered: “It just aways happens like that. I think I’ve got where I can understand boys better than girls. I did try once to write a story in which a girl was the main character – that was ‘The Shield Ring’. Then of course even in that it switched from the girl to the boy”.

    In Jones & Wray (1976) “British Children’s Authors: Interviews at Home”.

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  2. I found The Shield Ring at a used bookstore and just finished it. Now I am excited to find and read her other books (I read Eagle of the Ninth when I was young) and to learn more about her. I am glad I discovered your blog! She sounds like a wonderful person to have as a family member and friend.

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      1. This is just an update to tell you that I just finished Sword at Sunset, which I found at the local library. It was great!

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  3. I have long been a great admirer of Ms. Sutcliff’s books. Yesterday, I finished reading “Sun Horse, Moon Horse” and before that, “Warrior Scarlet”. Although written 20 years apart, the stories have as their main settings and characters the same tribes of peoples of Bronze Age Britain.
    What struck me most in these two novels, and what moves me each time I read Ms. Sutcliff, is the deep and beautiful bond she creates between males. In “Warrior Scarlet”, it is the stunning relationship between Drem and Vortrix. In “Sun Horse, Moon Horse”, it is that between Lubrin and Dara, friends from boyhood, since the moment when Lubrin, scrambling with his brothers under the table for scraps with the dogs, realizes that Dara is someone special in his life, a friend. Dara later calls Lubrin his “brother and more”, “his heart’s brother”.
    Sutcliff’s prose is clear, unsentimental, crisp; resulting in a powerful, deeply emotional impact – at least on this reader.
    However did she do it? How did she know this heart of man so precisely?

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    1. Thanks for comment post. I wish she were here to answer your questions …. but she was a woman of great, instinctive empathy amd insight, for men and women. I was lucky to grow up with her as a close family member.

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