Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

“The Queen of Historical Romances” is no more


Rosemary Rogers (Jansz), born and raised in Sri Lanka, the well-known American novelist, who was once called “The Queen of Historical Romances” died at the age of 86 on November 12, 2019. Born on December 7, 1932 in Panadura, the eldest daughter of Cyril A. Jansz (Jnr), the Principal and owner of St. John’s College Panadura, Rosemary spent her entire youth in Sri Lanka.

Rosemary authored quite a few bestseller­s. Her first book, The Crowd Pleasers was followed by Sweet Savage Love and Insiders. Her first three novels sold a combined 10 million copies. The fourth, Wicked Loving Lies sold three million copies in its first month.

Rosemary had her education at St John’s College Panadura, where she honed her literary skills. She was a vivacious young person with a natural curiosity about everything around her, the hallmark of any good writer. She was beautiful, talented and much aware of what she wanted to achieve in life. At the height of her writing career, Time magazine called her writing “porno in purple prose”.

My oldest friend, Rosemary and I grew up together, sharing a love for reading and writing, starting when we were in Grade Seven or Eight when we became partners in scribbling (not crime!). Being best friends and conspirato­rs we sat together at the back of the class, of course, and compiled a rhyming dictionary. These were the beginnings of her love affair with words. Yes, we wrote. While we lesser mortals began sending our outpouring­s to the children’s papers, Rosemary kept her epistles to herself. They were far too long and far too fiery for a children’s page. I don’t remember Rosemary writing anything childish. Many were the times we were reported to the Principal for neglect of work but he, the wise man, allowed us the privilege of using the senior library which was a treasure-trove of literary marvels. Rosemary plunged into it like the proverbial duck to water. Soon she was marching through the Waverly novels -- those blood and thunder tales by Sir Walter Scott, with me following at a slower and gentler pace. Mr. Jansz, Rosemary’s father seemed to know intuitivel­y that his daughter was destined for things far beyond the “boxed in” nature of formal school education. Rosemary, herself, was well aware of what she wanted to do very early in life.

Other than classics, she loved to read those “Wild West romances”. When she was about 14, she started writing her own romances. Her heroes and her bandits were all placed in America. I don’t remember her writing anything with a Sri Lankan background, nor did she publish anything here. She kept on writing because she loved to write, because her vivid imaginatio­n could picture events in a country she had never seen.

Entrance to the university depended on the H.S.C, as it was called then. Rosemary had written an excellent English paper at the examinatio­n and done fairly well in her second love, history, but failed the third subject. At that time there was a viva too for selections. Professor E.F.C. Ludowyke, that great teacher was the first to recognise that this young girl of 17, was destined for greater things. She was selected on the strength of that English paper alone. Those were the days in which there was flexibilit­y in assessing a student. How correct he happened to be.

Rosemary being Rosemary, could not be curtailed. Within a year she had left university to marry Summa Navaratnam, then known as the “Fastest Man in Southeast Asia” for his athletic prowess.

Rosemary called these days the most creative years of her life. She gave birth to two beautiful daughters and enjoyed her new role of wife and mother. But the restlessne­ss that powered all her activities took over. She migrated to the UK.

Her career as a profession­al writer began with this move. She had to make a living on her writing. Then she moved to the USA- her Utopia, from the time she was ten years old, perhaps. It was not the skyscraper­s nor the proverbial roads paved with gold that attracted her, but the wide open spaces, the pulsating life and the freedom of expression. This was “don’t fence me in” country and this was what Rosemary needed. She blossomed there. She wrote so many books – it’s not possible to name them all.

She lived the life she wanted and she died. Rosemary, my friend, rest in peace.

Usula P. Wijesuriya

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