Rosemary Sutcliff Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Road to Camlann] Rosemary Sutcliff has assumed a bardic style, rhythmic and full of poetic archaism and reflecting in some ways the manner of medieval poetry. From this source, perhaps, come the delicate natural touches that refresh a tale of intrigue and cruelty—the flowers that herald spring, the dark forest reaches: but the author uses nature for something more than decoration. [For example, the] last battle at Dover in which Mordred and Arthur strike their last blows is full of the harshness of winter, used almost as a symbol….

Battles and single combat are described strongly but in formal tones, and in formal terms, too, Rosemary Sutcliff outlines the love between Lancelot and the Queen in its latter years, bringing tension to her tale with a felt contrast between their passion and the courtly restraints in which it has to be expressed. The destructive element in this love is recognised as one cause of the final dispersal of Arthur's knights and, with equal importance, the incestuous parentage of Mordred, a parentage which caused his jealousy and led him to undermine Arthur's power and peace of mind. This romantic interpretation of historical chronicle and fifteenth century narrative is finely done in its grave, pictorial style.

Margery Fisher, "Imagined Past," in her Growing Point, Vol. 20, No. 6, March, 1982, pp. 4030-33.∗