Born 29 June 1920, New York, New York; died 25 September 1991
Daughter of Percy C. and Nell Andersen Sprague
Rosemary Sprague was the only child of a comfortable Episcopalian family that stressed both manners and the arts. Her early years in Cleveland, Ohio, were filled with the best that city had to offer from the Hathaway Brown School for Girls in Shaker Heights to concerts, museums, and instruction in piano, dance, and fine embroidery. Sprague received her B.A. from Bryn Mawr and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Western Reserve University, where she specialized in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Victorian literature. Further study was done at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-on-Avon; Oxford University; and the University of London. Sprague lectured at colleges and universities in England and the U.S.; she was the Board of Visitors Distinguished Professor in English at Longwood College, Virginia, where she taught beginning in 1962.
Well-researched historical novels for young adults comprise the bulk of Sprague's literary production. Her characters range from a ballerina in the court of Louis XV to the great grandson of Aeneas, who in legend escaped Greece to found a kingdom in Britain. Sprague's characters have pluck and energy whether they are historical people or fictitious participants of actual historical events.
All of Sprague's books are action-filled, but the characters are given believable motivation and emotions and Sprague always provides authentic history along with high entertainment. An example is Fife and Fandango (1962), in which a young convent-reared Spanish aristocrat suddenly loses her family and fortune, due to the invasion of Napoleon and the English. Because of her courage and resourcefulness, Juanita reveals the traits necessary for survival in chaos. And in Red Lion and Gold Dragon (1967) young Alfred, who has been carefully taught to avoid violence, is suddenly forced to make decisions about supporting the last king of the Saxons at the time of William's 1066 invasion of England. The conflicts between relatives, beliefs, and, of course, the two armies are backdrops for the interior suffering and growth of Alfred.
Sprague has written excellent biographical studies for young adults, of Robert Browning and George Eliot. In Imaginary Gardens (1970), she writes about five American poets: Emily Dickinson, Amy Lowell, Sara Teasdale, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Marianne Moore. As in all her work, Sprague avoids sentimentality and substitutes concrete accuracy. Her writing reveals the human in her subjects and she avoids letting any one aspect of a subject's life (such as Browning's romance) distort her presentation.
Sprague's work emphasizes the importance of honor, courage, and fidelity in human lives. She connects the exterior system of manners to the interior morality of her characters, as she creates believable characters in historical situations. She had a good ear for language and successfully shifted from one culture or period to another. Her universe has order, meaning, and hope. Her young villains see the errors of their pasts, and adult villains, once caught, are disposed of quickly. Sprague's books give young adults a positive introduction to history while providing role models who handle realistic human problems with dignity.
Northward to Albion (1947) A Kingdom to Win (1953). Heroes of the White Shield (1955). Heir of Kiloran (1956). Conquerors of Time (1957). Dance for a Diamond Star (1959). The Jade Pagoda (1964). The Poems of Robert Browning (Crowell Poets Series; edited by Sprague, 1964). Forever in Joy: The Life of Robert Browning (1965). George Eliot: A Biography (1968). Imaginary Gardens (1970). Longwood College: A History (1989).
CA (1968). Ohio Authors and Their Books (1962).
Best Seller (15 May 1968). Book Week (7 May 1967). Chicago Sunday Tribune (27 April 1958). Horn Book (May 1947). KR (1 March 1956). LJ (15 Sept. 1965). NYHTB (31 July 1955). NYT (12 July 1953).
—JO LESLIE SNELLER