Academic John Withrington wrote to The Independent (London) newspaper (August 20, 1992), to comment on their obituary of Rosemary Sutcliff.
Last year I interviewed Rosemary Sutcliff on the Arthurian theme in her fiction. The published text arrived a matter of days before her death and on re-reading the transcript I was reminded of her vitality and enthusiasm, of an honest approach which combined scholarship with an unsentimental attitude to pain and suffering.
As Julia Eccleshare observed of her writing, allusions to historical sources are present but never signposted, the battle narrative magnificent yet never glorifying the strife it depicts. These traits were most apparent perhaps in her adult novel Sword at Sunset, the ‘autobiography’ of King Arthur, and the work of which she was most proud. But as Sutcliff herself acknowledged, she also had “a feeling for the mending side of life”; and whether writing of the physically and emotionally crippled, or, when following in the footsteps of her beloved Kipling, of the healing which happens when clashing cultures learn to live together, her prose was always characterised by compassion.
She felt that as the years progressed she had become a tougher writer, a belief reinforced by a reading of The Shining Company, itself based upon the poem Y Gododdin, which celebrates the annihilation of an army at Catterick in circa AD600 (sacrifice was always a theme which fascinated her). Yet for all her seriousness, she remained a cheerful and remarkably modest author, seemingly surprised by her success. “You’re always terrified that the books you write are going to go downhill,” she once said. It seems unlikely that those books which remain to be published will disappoint.
Writer, journalist, and very knowledgeable Rosemary Sutcliff critic Amanda Craig has lost her job as children’s book reviewer at the Times newspaper. The role is to be brought “in-house”.
“Children’s literature is one of Britain’s greatest national treasures and it’s not something you can hope to cover well in-house,” she told The Bookseller for their article covering her firing.
Around the time of the release of the film The Eagle (of the Ninth) based upon the best-selling The Eagle of the Ninth she wrote about the “rediscovery” of “this great writer”. I am with the comments of living writers reported in the Bookseller:
Neil Gaiman said he was “enormously disappointed” by the decision to lose her, calling her “a perceptive champion of children’s books”. Francesca Simon said Craig had been one of her early champions and called the newspaper “crazy to lose her expertise”.
Let us hope Amanda moves, as she hopes, to another national “with a more far-sighted vision of how readers are made”.
See here for her Times article
I missed out posting on the anniversary of historical novelist and children’s writer Rosemary Sutcliff’s death. One obituary was in The Independent newspaper.
Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novels opened the eyes of a generation of children to the past. They also set a new standard for children’s historical fiction because of their insight, passion and commitment.
Sutcliff was a demanding writer who expected a lot from her readers which is why her books are also wholly satisfying for adults. She evokes time and place with an incredibly sure touch and – once she had found her true voice with The Eagle of the Ninth in 1954 – a sharp ear for the dialogue of the past.Read More »
Rosemary Sutcliff crafted her historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth from two starting points: a small bronze eagle found at Silchester, which is now in Reading Museum; and the unknown fate of the Roman Ninth Legion, which, based in York, had apparently vanished from the historical record in the early years of the 2nd century. Written, as always, “for children aged 8 to 88” The Eagle of the Ninth is about a young centurion, Marcus Aquila, who takes up his first command on the edges of the Roman empire in south-west Britain. Severely injured during a fight with local warriors who have been inflamed by a travelling druid, he has to give up his military career. However, he hears rumours of sightings of the standard of his father’s lost legion – the eagle of the ninth – north of Hadrian’s wall. He realises that if he can find it, he will restore the honour of his disgraced father and the legion he commanded.
Last year, at the time of the release of the film The Eagle, Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer of The Guardian newspaper, wrote a long, affectionate article about her children’s favourite.
… In an interview in 1992, the year she died, she said: “I don’t write for adults, I don’t write for children. I don’t write for the outside world at all. Basically, I write for some small, inquiring thing in myself.” I have read The Eagle of the Ninth dozens of times; and as the reading self changes, so does the book. When I last read the story, it was the quality of the prose that delighted, the rightness with which Sutcliff gives life to physical sensation. A battle fought through the grey drizzle of a west country dawn is illuminated by “firebrands that gilded the falling mizzle and flashed on the blade of sword and heron-tufted war spear”. Read More »
Sadly no mention of Rosemary Sutcliff as Lucy Mangan asks why some children’s stories survive multiple generations of young readers, while others enjoy short-lived glory
via What makes a classic? | The Observer.