Rosemary Sutcliff Centenary 14 December 2020

14th December 2020 in a few weeks time is the centenary birthday of historical novelist Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992)

I was reminded of this by reading Alan Gruber’s Duchy of Tradgardland blog entry today about acquiring some Asterix and Roman figures from fellow blogger Tidders. Tidders (Allan Tidmarsh) is downscaling his impressive collection of 1:32 / 54mm Romans and Celts / Gauls shown in his Asterix inspired blog By Toutatis! The blog thankfully will remain even when much of the collection is dispersed.

For some reason, Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of The Ninth books are not in this pile of inspiring reading.

Since acquiring the late Stuart Asquith’s hand painted Peter Laing 15mm Roman legion and Celt / Gaulish / Ancient Briton tribes, I have been reading more about Roman times, as part of an ongoing skirmish gaming project called Full Metal Hic Jacet.

Tiny 15mm Peter Laing Romans colourfully painted by Stuart Asquith in my collection.

Asterix is one influence on my ongoing interest in things Roman, along with the tiny Airfix figures and Roman Milecastle Fort, but the strongest emotional connection that I have with Roman Britain is through the imagination and inspired writing of Rosemary Sutcliff.

During this pandemic year, I have reread the Eagle of the Ninth trilogy – The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers – along with her autobiography Blue Remembered Hills.

I first read the Eagle of The Ninth books in the children’s library in the late 1970s / early 1980s, inspired no doubt like many others by the BBC TV Children’s teatime dramatisation of The Eagle of The Ninth in the late 1970s.

Although I have reread the first book The Eagle of The Ninth several times since then, I had read the other two long enough ago that I couldn’t remember much of the storyline. It was like reading and enjoying them anew.

Her autobiography Blue Remembered Hills was published in paperback by Oxford University Press in 1984. I had not read this and knew very little about the author at the time of reading these books as a child. Maybe it was not mentioned in her author biography in the hardback and paperback versions I would have encountered then. I had no idea of the challenging life that she had, living with a progressively wasting illness called Still’s Disease.

Oddly, for a book about an increasingly frustratingly restricted life, my overall memory of this book which I read earlier this year is of sunshine and landscape. Maybe it was her observational skills as both an artist and writer that created such a strong sunny impression.

Looking through the Wikipedia entry of her published books and the website to 2018 and website to 2020 ongoing maintained by her godson and literary executor Anthony Lawton, I am surprised by how much that she wrote and also how much of it I cannot recall having read.

As well as the ongoing WordPress blog on Sutcliff, Anthony Lawton maintains an active Twitter account for Sutcliff’s life and works: https://mobile.twitter.com/rsutcliff

Sadly only a small amount of her work is currently in print for her centenary, seen at the Oxford University Press website https://global.oup.com/education/content/children/authors/rosemary-sutcliff/?region=uk

However, a fair amount of recent paperback copies can be found online including the one I will be reading for her centenary month, another Roman title called The Capricorn Bracelet (1973).

Three things I like about Rosemary Sutcliff’s work:

1. the storymaps with Roman place names such as in the Eagle of The Ninth

or the story map with Roman names in The Lantern Bearers

2. I also liked the historical note of what inspired each book such as The Silver Branch combined with mini map

from Sutcliff’s The Silver Branch (OUP)

Or in The Eagle of The Ninth, the discovery of the wingless Silchester Eagle, which is now on show in Reading Museum.

I have both of these features – historical note and place names – to look forward to in The Capricorn Bracelet, but sadly no map.

From Sutcliff’s The Capricorn Bracelet (Red Fox)

3. The sense of time passing, of generations and of places and objects linking families through generations

The story maps of the books, characters and places overlap in ways that make her Roman and post Roman landscapes more convincing.

In the case of The Capricorn Bracelet, the title names the object that connects the series of short stories (originally radio plays) that span AD 61 to the Roman Legions leaving Britain AD 383.

In the Eagle of The Ninth trilogy, it is a family dolphin signet ring and tattoo that transcends the generations. This seems to become the motif of Rosemary’s signature seen here and on the back of her autobiography.

The equivalent now would be a family story connected by an object stretching back into the 18th Century or forward into the 24th Century.

So happy centenary birthday Rosemary Sutcliff for 14 December 2020!

Some Roman Recommendations

Update: Penguin appear to have some more Sutcliff titles in print

https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/1001982/rosemary-sutcliff.html

There are some great Roman sites to visit in Britain to get down to Roman floor level such as Roman Bath (good AV, models and living interpreters) but also small settlements such as Ambleside Roman Fort (English Heritage, free) and the beautifully preserved mosaic floors of the tiny family run Bignor Roman Villa in Sussex.

For further Roman reading, I also recommend the Marcus Didius Falco Roman detective books by Lindsey Davis (serialised / dramatised and available sometimes on the BBC radio and coming to TV soon) and Robert Harris’ Pompeii.

Further Rosemary Sutcliff blog (to 2017?) http://blueremembered.blogspot.com

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN on 21 November 2020

Author: 26soldiersoftin

Hello I'm Mark Mr MIN, Man of TIN. Based in S.W. Britain, I'm a lifelong collector of "tiny men" and old toy soldiers, whether tin, lead or childhood vintage 1960s and 1970s plastic figures. I randomly collect all scales and periods and "imagi-nations" as well as lead civilians, farm and zoo animals. I enjoy the paint possibilities of cheap poundstore plastic figures as much as the patina of vintage metal figures. Befuddled by the maths of complex boardgames and wargames, I prefer the small scale skirmish simplicity of very early Donald Featherstone rules. To relax, I usually play solo games, often using hex boards. Gaming takes second place to making or convert my own gaming figures from polymer clay (Fimo), home-cast metal figures of many scales or plastic paint conversions. I also collect and game with vintage Peter Laing 15mm metal figures, wishing like many others that I had bought more in the 1980s ...

15 thoughts on “Rosemary Sutcliff Centenary 14 December 2020”

  1. I read ‘eagle of the ninth’ as a child and it stayed with me ( I only discovered the bbc tv version on YouTube during lockdown and was very impressed) I read my son ‘Beowulf, dragonslayer’ by Rosemary Sutcliff when he was a toddler, and he still talks about it 27 years later , that’s the power of writing!

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  2. Ah, you’ve got me intrigued now and I’m instantly attracted to the lady’s subject. I can’t recall reading any of her works, but the memory fades these days. One thing I do recall is that the legend of the ‘lost’ ninth legion also featured as a key narrative in a book I read at school by Alan Garner called Red Shift.

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    1. I had forgotten Red Shift had its Roman Lost legion element – there must be some common folklore element – Redshift was a book that I could not get into as a child on the odd occasion I could get hold of any of Garner’s work from the library.

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  3. A worthy writer getting a “heads up “ here from you. I am glad my blog post was in some way a catalyst to writing this post. I really like her work and have done so since way back. I blame my father as he was Roman daft and would take me to the National Museum of Scotland ( then housed in the National Portrait Gallery building which in itself is a glorious place with fantastic murals depict Scottish history) on a Sunday. I was fascinated by the Roman shoes and armour not to mention the model broch and reconstructed Celtic chariot. He also took me to Hadrians Wall where I got Roman nails and tesserae for my museum in a Fablon covered, wood effect box. I had some cheap Roman coins. All gone over time ? Reading Sutcliff and holding Roman artefacts connected me to the past, not to mention Airfix.
    When I taught I was always a wee bit sad to see Sutcliff books unused in the school library ( didn’t represent the zeitgeist) or be disposed of by Council advisors/librarians as no longer fit for purpose. I rescued some along with Ladyirds from the skips.
    Over the years I built my collection via secondhand/ charity shops as well as skips. I was particularly moved by the Arthurian book she wrote as well as the Lantern bearers. The idea of keeping “culture “ alive in a dark age exerted a powerful influence on me.
    I will play a game or two to honour her and reread a book or two as the Centenary approaches. Great Post Mark!

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    1. I am surprised that she has gone out of fashion and print as much as she has, considering the market that there is for dystopian fantasy. I always found them very easy reading. If it’s not in the library and not in print on the bookshelves, how else is she going to be discovered by young readers today? The Dark Ages, Arthur, the end of the Roman Empire – what could be more dystopian or fantastic than that? Tolkien I struggled with as a child and still do, Rosemary Sutcliff I got.

      Obviously she is not around to do the promotions and media stuff etc anymore that boosts your profile as a writer but least OUP to their credit have some in print – not sure what has happened to Red Fox Classics.
      A Roman or dark ages game is a good way to remember her, as well as your choice of her books to reread.

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    1. Steve Thanks for the Slightly Foxed link – highly attractive copies – but do I want more copies of these books? Probably yes. Do I need more copies? Probably not. I think of it as – That’s £70 of toy soldiers. But they should sell well as Christmas and birthday gifts etc, what lovely copies! Mark Man of TIN

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  4. Hi Mark, as a side-issue to the books, bet you are pleased to have something from Stuart Asquith’s collection. A few years ago I acquired a unit of his 25mm ECW cuirassiers. He was a kind soul, and generous too. In the 1980s he kindly sent me some AWI uniform prints by Marion. To think I started reading his articles in military modelling in the 1970s. As far as I’m concerned, his impact on military hobbies in the UK is absolutely enormous.
    Michael

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    1. I was really pleased to acquire some of Stuart’s hand painted Peter Laing figures as I saw little use of Peter Laing figures in the newer colour glossy published magazines of the 1980s onwards. I began to think I had invested my pocket money unwisely in a poor choice or range of figures or period (ECW / 18th Century). Likewise you rarely saw plastics esp. Airfix plastics used by the ‘grown ups’ (except for Don Featherstone). Stuart’s Mil Mod Introduction to wargaming etc and other supplements / books featured the Laing Marlburians amongst others so I knew then that I had made a wise choice of figures. Likewise Stuart’s interest and promotion of things ECW.

      It was a great pleasure to have a brief email correspondence with assigning his Peter Laing legion and tribe into my generalship and safe keeping. In return I managed to photocopy a prized old Mil Mod Wargames Manual that I had which he had lost track of, so he could reread the many interesting articles again (including a article by Brian Carrick on Big Wars 54mm gaming which Stuart supported). I too find it weird that I have been reading such things since the early 80s and now correspond by blog comment with these same authors – that’s one absorbing hobby!

      I hope you show your Stuart Asquith 25mm cuirassiers on your blog.

      I did consider an anniversary tribute solo game or post for Stuart but didn’t have anything prepared or the time on the days concerned, now furlough is over and work returns (3rd November 2019 was his death or 18 November his funeral with its many tributes and fine toy soldier display).
      I hope that some more Stuart Asquith tribute games get played each November when people are able to gather again more in person again. Mark Man of TIN

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      1. Yes I did, Mark. they’re on my 25mm Medieval/Renaissance blog, so you won’t see them on the one you occasionally visit. I’m proud to have those cavalry in my collection, presently serving with my Muscovite army against the Turks and Tartars. He really did support the hobbies of so many.
        Michael

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