Rosemary Elizabeth Simmonds has worked as a cartoonist in a number of publications since the late 1960s, and is also an author of children’s books and screenwriter. A wider recognition would come about with the publication of her two long-form novels, Gemma Bovery (1999) and Tamara Drewe (2007).

In 1972 Simmonds began her long collaboration with The Guardian, where she would start a weekly humour strip entitled The Silent Three of St Botolph’s in 1977. At one time upholding the revered tradition of narrative newspaper strips in the United Kingdom and updating it both in terms of content and form, the strip coalesced, becoming informally known as Posy. The series would spawn four books, published throughout the 1980s, and in 1981 an original spin-off book was published, True Love, considered by many as the first British graphic novel. Many of her cartoons have been collected into books, and one of her children’s books was adapted into a 30-minute film by animator extraordinaire Joanna Quinn (Famous Fred, 1996).

Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe were published serially in The Guardian (1999 and 2005-2007 respectively), and share the trait of drawing from literary sources, the first from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and the second from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Yet, they are less straightforward adaptations than a reconsideration of their social structures and affective geometries, transplanted into our contemporary world, as well as giving them the “murder mystery” treatment. The books would be adroitly adapted into film, the latter by Stephen Frears in 2010 and the former by Anne Fontaine in 2014.

Simmonds centres her work on British upper-middle to posh classes, but if the Posy strip could be seen as a perceptive yet mild satire criticism of mundane life, her two “graphic novels” cut deeper into Englishness, paradoxically treated with sarcasm and sympathy, especially where purported antagonisms between city and country folk, national and foreign people, youth and adults are concerned.

One of Simmonds’ strongest suits is her keen observation skills, beautifully distilled into how her distinctive characters speak, dress, move or interact with one another. If sometimes it seems there is a sort of a recurrent cast between books, these are not “stock characters” at all. Whereas many British authors struggle with issues of identity, tradition and modernity, Simmonds focuses almost exclusively in traditional environments to precisely deconstruct them in their own intrinsic contradictions via her lively characters.

The author belongs fully to the delicate, soft tradition of English illustration along with Potter, Shepard, Ardizzone, as well as contemporary Raymond Briggs. Her figures are mostly drawn with soft lines and smooth, natural colouring, with crayon and watercolour. However, many of her compositional choices reveal a post-modern streak, mixing stark different styles of drawing, blocs of text, faux documents, which heighten the texture of her storytelling techniques and the effect of realism.

— Pedro Moura

See also: Gemma Bovery

Further Reading