Eilís Dillon D. W. Taylor - Essay

D. W. Taylor

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Arguably, children may find Roman history more palatable when peopled by assorted cardboard characters with 'suitable', if arbitrary, names such as Quintus, Octavian and Julia. My own feeling is that such attempts as [Living in Imperial Rome] fall rather painfully between two stools: neither history nor historical novel, they tend to lack precise, authentic detail, and imaginative colouring. This may be a personal prejudice: Eilis Dillon has written several children's books, and may have judged her audience better than I. But there are other irritants, too: a fair sprinkling of printing errors, and plausible generalisations masquerading as facts; Pliny the Younger, worthy man, elevated to almost supernatural grandeur (no doubt because of his claims as chief witness); a moralising coyness about the games; and a rather disjointed narrative style. However, there is some real Roman atmosphere, and at least the writer has got away from the temptation to assume that all boys were senators' sons—there is a cross-section of society. Also there are several delightful glimpses of rural and urban life—and for these alone the book merits consideration. But I still feel that readers will be left with a confused miscellany of scraps.

D. W. Taylor, "Eleven to Fifteen: 'Living in Imperial Rome'," in The School Librarian, Vol. 23, No. 2, June, 1975, p. 155.