Recollections and reflections on reading Rosemary Sutcliff | Inspired by a Guardian editorial

Many people are moved and inspired by UK author Rosemary Sutcliff.

A Guardian editorial in March 2011 “In praise of … Rosemary Sutcliff” prompted various people to comment fondly and intriguingly upon their reading of her books, often in a childhood some years past.

liberalcynic said

I have to say I loved Rosemary Sutcliff‘s books when I was a kid. They opened undiscovered worlds and – perhaps more importantly – they didn’t talk down to my eleven year old self

thegirlfrommarz also “loved Rosemary Sutcliff’s books as a child” and “still loves them as an adult”. Like liberalcynic she thought that ” … they never talked down to you”. The Eagle of the Ninth was one of her favourites, although Continue reading “Recollections and reflections on reading Rosemary Sutcliff | Inspired by a Guardian editorial”

Rosemary Sutcliff, writer of historical fiction and children’s literature, on ‘gadzookery’ and ‘writing forsoothly’

Reader-follower-commenter Anne alerted me a couple of years ago to Rosemary Sutcliff’s comments on ‘gadzookery’ and ‘writing forsoothly’.

Victorian writers, and even those of a somewhat later date…saw nothing ludicrous in ‘Alas! fair youth, it grieves me to see thee in this plight. Would that I had the power to strike these fetters from thy tender limbs.’ Josephine Tey, whose death I shall never cease to lament, called this ‘Writing forsoothly.’ A slightly different variant is known in the trade as ‘gadzookery.’ Nowadays this is out of fashion; and some writers go to the other extreme and make the people of Classical Greece or Mediaeval England speak modern colloquial English. This is perhaps nearer to the truth of the spirit, since the people in question would have spoken the modern colloquial tongue of their place and time.

But, personally, I find it destroys the atmosphere when a young Norman Knight says to his Squire, ‘Shut up, Dickie, you’re getting too big for your boots.’ Myself, I try for a middle course, avoiding both gadzookery and modern colloquialism; a frankly ‘made-up’ form that has the right sound to it, as Kipling did also. I try to catch the rhythm of a tongue, the tune that it plays on the ear, Welsh or Gaelic as opposed to Anglo-Saxon, the sensible workmanlike language which one feels the Latin of the ordinary Roman citizen would have translated into. It is extraordinary what can be done by the changing or transposing of a single word, or using perfectly usual one in a slightly unusual way: ‘I beg your pardon’ changed into ‘I ask your pardon.’

  • Source: Rosemary Sutcliff, History is People (1971), published in Virginia Haviland’s “Children and Literature: Views and Reviews”.
 Edited, August 9, 2014; original version 22 March 2012.

Richard III was a man of ‘wit and courage, but malicious, wrathful, envious & froward (sic)’| Sir Thomas More on Richard Crookback, in 1557

Richard III's grave and skeleton in Leicester

I cannot recall what Rosemary Sutcliff thought about or indeed knew of Richard III— last week it was reported his remains will now be re-buried in Leicester Cathedral, his skeleton having been found under a car park in Leicester City. Over 500 years ago Sir Thomas More was not over flattering. Continue reading “Richard III was a man of ‘wit and courage, but malicious, wrathful, envious & froward (sic)’| Sir Thomas More on Richard Crookback, in 1557”

The history of the IXth or VIIIIth (Ninth) Legion and background to Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth | A reading list

Cover to Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth Original UK edition 1954Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth is rooted in  the history of a real Roman legion. A couple of years back I noted some references about the history from a website that has now disappeared – by one Ross Cowan. He had written that

… to learn more, especially about the evidence for the legion in the period c. AD 118-161, see :

Birley, A. R. The Roman Government of Britain. Oxford: 2005, 228-229.

Birley, E. B. ‘The Fate of the Ninth Legion’ in R. M. Butler (ed.) Soldier and Civilian in Roman Yorkshire. Leicester: 1971, 71-80.

Campbell, D. B. Roman Legionary Fortresses, 27 BC – AD 378. Oxford: 2006, 27-29.

Cowan, R. For the Glory of Rome: A History of Warriors and Warfare. London: 2007, 220-234 and 271-273.  Continue reading “The history of the IXth or VIIIIth (Ninth) Legion and background to Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth | A reading list”

I will choose a good story over absolute historical accuracy | Rosemary Sutcliff on writing historical fiction

Since I am a writer, not an historian, I will sacrifice historical accuracy. I really very seldom have to do it, and then it is only a matter of perhaps reversing the order of two events, or something like that. But if it does come to the crunch, I will choose a good story over absolute historical accuracy.

Source: Interview with Rosemary Sutcliff  by Raymond H Thompson (here, on this blog)