Rosemary Sutcliff Biography

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Born in West Clanden, Surrey, England, on December 14, 1920, Rosemary Sutcliff was educated privately and traveled widely until she was ten, when her father retired from the navy and the family settled in Devonshire. When she was young, Sutcliff suffered from an ailment that left her permanently disabled. She lists her interests as painting, needlework, dogs, and travel.

She published her first book, The Chronicles of Robin Hood, in 1950 and began a literary career characterized by a wide range of historical fiction for both adults and children. She set her next three works in the Renaissance era and then began the trilogy about Roman Britain for which she is best known: The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, and The Lantern Bearers. The Eagle of the Ninth won the Phoenix Award of the Children's Literature Association in 1985, and The Lantern Bearers won the Carnegie Medal for the outstanding children's book of 1959.

Critics most often praise Sutcliff for the accuracy and detail of her historical settings and actions. Careful renderings of dress, food, custom, and place recreate vivid worlds of times past. Many critics have commented on the tragic themes in her books; Sutcliff responded to this in her acceptance speech for the Phoenix Award: "I don't believe one should make allowance for young readers, feed them pap.... Children should be allowed the great themes, which they can receive and make use of better than most adults can."


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Rosemary Sutcliff was born on December 14, 1920, in West Clanden, Surrey, England. Because Sutcliff s father was an officer in the Royal Navy, the family moved frequently during her early life. When he retired in 1930, they settled in Devonshire, where Sutcliff was labeled "educationally subnormal." Her subsequent success demonstrates that, on the contrary, she was not subnormal, but rather an exceptionally gifted painter and writer. Today, several of Sutcliff's miniatures hang in London's Royal Academy of Art.

By the early 1950s Sutcliff gave up painting and devoted herself entirely to writing. Intrigued by a revival of interest in historical fiction, she created a trilogy of novels—The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, and The Lantern Bearers—that recounts the history of a fictional family during the Roman occupation of the British Isles. The last book in the series, The Lantern Bearers, won the Carnegie Medal in 1959 as that year's most outstanding British children's book. Like Sutcliff's other works, The Lantern Bearers features close attention to historical detail combined with a sympathetic treatment of characters. Sutcliff achieves in her writing what is the hallmark of the best historical fiction: insights about the consequences of collisions between public affairs...

(The entire section is 659 words.)