Rosemary Sutcliff The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Rosemary Sutcliff is a master of the concrete detail which brings home to us that our ancestors, though men like ourselves, lived in very different conditions…. [Knight's Fee] which tells how a poor dog-boy rose by faithful service to knighthood under King Henry I….

The reader is told what people ate and at what times, as well as what they wore. The characters are not deeply explored, but the sketches of chivalrous knights and turbulent barons are adequate for the purpose of an exciting story.

In fact this would be a perfect introduction to the Middle Ages, from which older children might learn all they need of its daily life, if one great medieval preoccupation had not been completely omitted. We are told almost nothing about religion or the Church….

Miss Sutcliff does not suggest that her Saxons and Normans were agnostics; she supposes that most of them practised a pagan fertility cult. On the last page she writes flatly: "William Rufus belonged to the Old Faith", as though it were a fact universally admitted by historians. But the clerks who knew William Rufus personally wrote him down a wicked Christian or perhaps an atheist. Thus to state as a fact the fancies of modern anthropologists is to incur the danger of misleading untutored minds, even in a work of fiction.

"The Blanket of the Dark," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1960; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3065, November 25, 1960, p. xv.∗