A reader coming to Blue Remembered Hills from any of Sutcliff’s historical novels will be surprised by many things in the book. The grandeur and the sweeping vision of her Roman stories are, inevitably, missing, as is the unmistakable cadence of their prose. Reticence and restraint are the motifs, as is apparent from the first sentence: “When anybody asks me where I was born, or when I am called on to provide that information in filling in a form, I admit with a distinct sense of apology that I was born in Surrey.” That sense of apology pervades the book, as if the author is astonished that anyone should want to know about her rather uneventful life.
More important even than the natural diffidence that seems to curb Sutcliff’s writing when the subject is herself, the stoic attitude of a lifelong invalid appears on almost every page. She recounts being brought up like “a cross between a Red Indian brave and that annoying Spartan youth with a fox under his cloak” and tells of receiving an award from the Girl Guides for undergoing pain without complaint, called the fortitude badge. (There is even a photograph of this occasion.)
It is apparent that Sutcliff regards her life as a story without a hero—at least, without a hero of the kind that she has celebrated in her novels. She tells this tale mainly in terms of the people and events that surrounded her in childhood and in terms of her reactions to them. Significantly,...
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