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.Read More »
There can be nothing nicer than being asked to write an introduction to a favourite book, but at the same time it is a difficult task. It is like being asked to describe the charm of a face you love. If you did not love the face so much, and even more the person behind the face, it would be easy. But as things are, what can you possibly say? I can only say, baldly and inadequately, that I love this book. It may not be such a great book as Sword at Sunset but it has qualities of poignancy and gentleness that make it unforgettable.
A Rosemary Sutcliff historical novel which was written for adults was The Rider of the White Horse, set in the English Civil War, about Sir Thomas Fairfax and his wife. This is the first paragraph of the introduction by the renowned historical novelist Elizabeth Goudge. Read More »
Someone recently asked me if there were other novels by Rosemary Sutcliff set in the Bronze Age , apart from Warrior Scarlet. This set me thinking. Helped by a livejournal posting I came across a while back, and based on my own reading (some of it too long ago), I came up with this list—exceluding the re-tellings such as Beowulf. I imagine regular readers here can improve it? Anything missing?
Bronze and Iron Age
The Chief’s Daughter
Sun Horse, Moon Horse
The Flowers of Adonis
The Truce of the Games (A Crown of Wild Olive)
Song for a Dark Queen
The Capricorn Bracelet
The Eagle of the Ninth
The Mark of the Horse Lord
A Circlet of Oak Leaves
The Silver Branch
The Dark Ages
The Lantern Bearers
Sword at Sunset
The Sword and the Circle
The Light Beyond the Forest
The Road to Camlann
The Shining Company
The Shield Ring
The Witch’s Brat
Elizabethan and 16th century
The Armourer’s House
The Queen Elizabeth Story
Lady In Waiting
English Civil War and 17th century
The Rider of the White Horse
Blood and Sand
Julia Eccleshare, expert on children’s and young adult’s fiction and literature (and Book Doctor at The Guardian), recently wrote a piece for theguardian.com with recommendations for historical fiction for children and teenagers which is not about the world wars. Of Rosemary Sutcliff she said:
In her many novels, Rosemary Sutcliff charted the making of Britain from the simple living of the upland shepherds of the Bronze Age in Warrior Scarlet to Elizabethan England in The Queen Elizabeth Story. She concentrated particularly on Roman Britain reflecting the many attitudes and experiences around the coming together of different cultures as the Romans and the indigenous population learned to live together and to blend their two very different ways of life.
In a loose series of titles which includes The Eagle of the Ninth and Dawn Wind Rosemary Sutcliff writes of Romano-British occupation and skirmish but she also details the home life of both sides describing the cooking, weaving and celebrations of the British tribes and the more advanced home comforts of the Roman invaders such as the installation of central heating in their villas.
Rosemary Sutcliff was reviewed with affectionate insight by Veronica Horwell in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.
Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.
And then you would gulp her titles —’Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?’—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)
She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth – that nothing is wholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life. So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present.
When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.
Source: The Guardian, 3 August 1992. Used with the author’s permission