Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992)

Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992)

About Sutcliff: http://rosemarysutcliff.com/rosemary-sutcliff-brief-biography-sutcliff/

In praise of Rosemary Sutcliff: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/29/rosemary-sutcliff-in-praise-of

A selection of some of her historical works, her body of work is huge:

For summaries and synopses go here: http://rosemarysutcliff.com/summaries-and-synopses-of-rosemary-sutcliff-books/

The Queen Elizabeth Story (1950) set C16-17th
The Armourer's House (1951) set C16th
The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) The Lantern Bearers (1959) and The Silver Branch (1957)
Outcast (1955) set in Roman Britain featuring a hero named Beric (Henty wrote Beric the Briton)
Sword at Sunset (1963)
Dawn Wind (1961)
Sword Song (1997)
The Shield Ring (1956)
Tristan and Iseult (1971) is a retelling of the story of Tristan and Iseult
The Arthurian Trilogy: The Sword and the Circle (1981) The Light Beyond the Forest (1979) The Road to Camlann (1981)
The Shining Company (1990) is a retelling of Y Gododdin story (earliest mention of Arthur)
The Chronicles of Robin Hood (1950)
Brother Dustyfeet (1952) C16-17th
Simon (1953) set in English Civil War (C17th)
Warrior Scarlet (1958) is about Bronze Age Britain
Knight's Fee (1960)
Bridge Builders (1960) is set in Roman Britain about the building of Hadrian’s Wall
Beowulf: Dragonslayer (1961) is a retelling of Beowulf
The Hound of Ulster (1963), illus. Victor Ambrus; retells the story of Cúchulainn
A Circlet of Oak Leaves (1968)
The Truce of the Games (1971)
The Capricorn Bracelet (1973)
The Changeling (1974)
Blood Feud (1976) is about Vikings and C10th England
Sun Horse, Moon Horse (1977) Bronze Age Britain
Shifting Sands (1977)
Song for a Dark Queen (1978) is about Boudica,  Bronze Age Britain
Eagle's Egg (1981)
Bonnie Dundee (1983) is a story of the Jacobite rising (1715)
Flame-coloured Taffeta (1986)
Black Ships Before Troy (1993) retells the Iliad
The Wanderings of Odysseus (1995) retells the Odyssey
Heroes and History (1965)
A Saxon Settler (1965)

From Rosemary Sutcliff’s ‘History Is People’* Haviland, Virginia. Children and Literature: Views and Reviews. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1973.

In Chapter 9: ‘The Creative Use of History and Other Facts’

*a previously unpublished paper distributed at a conference on Children’s Literature in Education, Exeter,, England, 1971.

(306) My kind of book, the historical novel, is sometimes looked on as being an easy retreat from the complications and restrictions inherent in writing a


(307) modern story for the young. This is unfair! It is true that one has greater freedom in some ways. In Roman Britain or Norman England a boy of fourteen or fifteen can play a man’s part, which is unlikely in the modern world; and the writer can make use of situations which would be far-fetched or even impossible in the present day; and there’s a kind of safety barrier which makes it possible to deal with harsher realities than most children can take in their stride, if one were writing of people and events in their own world as they know it. The safety barrier is, I think, becoming less important, both to children themselves and to parents, teachers and librarians; but I don’t believe that I could make my hero kill himself, as I did in The Mark of the Horse Lord, in a modern story set in everyday England. (One might get away with it in a story set in a far-off and very “different” place, say New Guinea, but this would merely be to substitute distance of place and culture for distance of time, as a safety barrier.

This is all true, but greater freedom is not in itself a bad thing; and there are plenty of extra problems to set against it, beside the obvious ones of research and historical accuracy. There is the ever-present danger of spilling over into cloak-and-dagger. There is the necessity to keep the people from being engulfed in the trimmings. (This can happen very easily, especially if the garnered results of the writer’s research have not been properly digested before being used—nothing is worse for a historical story than undigested fragments of historical background!) There is the problem of making the people as real and individual as their modern counterparts, while at the same time not turning them into modern men and women in fancy dress. There is the problem, too, of the spoken word. Victorian writers, and even those of a somewhat later date, had no difficulty. They 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 translate into. It is extraordinary what can be done by the changing or transposing of a single word, or using a perfectly usual one in a slightly unusual way: “I beg your pardon” changed into “I ask your pardon.” . . . But I would emphasize that this is not done by any set rule


(308) of thumb; I simply play it by ear as I go along.

I seem to have written the word ‘people” a great many times; and this I think must be because I feel so strongly that history is People—and people not so very unlike ourselves. This is a favourite thumping-tub of mine, and I now propose to thump it for a while.

The way people act is conditioned by the social custom of their day and age—even the way they think and feel with what one might call their outer layers. To take a very simple and obvious example: The men of the first Elizabethan age (and, Heaven knows, they were a tough enough lot!) cried easily and without shame in public. The rising generation of this second Elizabethan age are returning to much the same feeling, that one’s emotions are not for hiding; but the men of my generation, my father’s and grandfather, were so conditioned in their extreme youth to the idea that men simply didn‘t, that by the time they were fifteen or sixteen they couldn’t, even in private, except for such things as the death of a wife or child. But that’s not to say that they feel, or felt, any less about the things they would have cried about, four hundred years ago.

I know there are two schools of thought about whether or not human nature actually changes, some maintaining that it does, some—me amongst them—that it doesn’t. I believe most strongly that People Don’t Change, that under the changing surface patterns of behaviour, the fundamental qualities and emotions and relationships remain the same. —Very much the qualities and emotions and relationships, incidentally, that one finds in Westerns; which is one reason why I like Westerns, and why most of the people in my own books would be perfectly at home in Laramie, while I would have no hesitation in sending The Virginian north of Hadrian’s Wall to recover the Eagle of a lost Legion.

But even the surface patterns don’t alter perhaps so much as one tends to think; and it is possible, sometimes, through a letter or a line of ancient poetry or some small object held in the hand, to catch glimpses of people separated from us by two hundred or two thousand years, so like ourselves that for the moment it is almost frightening because for that moment it makes nonsense of time.

About ten years ago, on a Hellenic cruise, I visited the museum at Heraklion, and spent a happy afternoon among the treasures excavated from the Palace of Knossos: octopus and dolphin jars, inlaid weapons, jewellery of intensely yellow gold, ivory bull-dancers in mid-leap. In the corner of one room was a case of little ornaments and children’s toys; amongst them a tiny pottery tree with five or six branches, each ending in a fat little bird. It was painted in stripes, pale and pretty as an old-fashioned peppermint stick, the most completely charming thing. My first feeling on seeing it was a small sharp shock of delight, and my first thought, “How I should have loved to have that when Iwas a little girl!” It wasn’t until the moment after, that I remembered that the little girl who must have loved it, and felt that same shock of delight on first seeing it, had been dead for three thousand years or so.

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