Rosemary Sutcliff Marcus Crouch - Essay

Marcus Crouch

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Rosemary Sutcliff is an intuitive historian. This is not to say that she is not most careful and exact in research, but that her ability to think herself back into the past transcends scholarship. Her acknowledged master is Kipling who had the same gift for feeling history through his nerves and seeking it through the soil. Rosemary Sutcliff began her career with The Queen Elizabeth Story [1950], a gentle, charmingly written story with an element of fantasy and a pervading sweetness which bordered on sentimentality. This was the vein of several succeeding stories until suddenly, in Simon [1953] the author found her strength in a brilliant realistic picture of life in the civil wars. In later books she developed her gift for strong vigorous narrative and replaced the sentimentality with an increasing harshness. The Eagle of the Ninth [1954], a story of Roman rule in Britain, and The Shield Ring [1956], which described the last stand of the Viking settlers in Buttermere against the Normans, represent the finest flower of her early maturity. In later stories, like Warrior Scarlet [1958] a story of the Bronze Age, and The Lantern Bearers, a pendant to The Eagle of the Ninth, describing the break-up of Roman Britain after the departure of the Legions …, she has introduced difficult social and emotional motives which seem to threaten that she is ceasing to be a writer for children; but in the splendidly Kiplingesque Knight's Fee [1960], a story of England under William Rufus, she has returned to the powerful striding narrative of her finest manner.

Rosemary Sutcliff is one of the very few major writers to appear in England since the war. She is a master of the declining art of storytelling with an exact sense of timing, pace and invention. She has at times shown a weakness for 'fine' writing which is her only sign of immaturity. Her most remarkable quality is an ability to create atmosphere, to let the reader see and hear and smell the past. (pp. 127-28)

Marcus Crouch, "Widening Horizons," in his Treasure Seekers and Borrowers: Children's Books in Britain 1900–1960 (© Marcus Crouch, 1962), The Library Association, 1962, pp. 112-38.∗