- Arthur Ransome
author and journalist.
He is best known for writing the "Swallows and Amazons" series of children's books. These tell of school-holiday adventures of children, mostly in the
Lake Districtand the Norfolk Broads. Many of the books involve sailing; other common subjects include fishingand camping. The books remain so popular that they provide a basis of a tourist industry around Windermere and Coniston Water— the two lakes that Ransome used as the basis for his fictional North Country lake.
He also wrote about the literary life of London, and about life in Russia before during and after the
revolutions of 1917.
Ransome was born in
Leeds, where his father was Professor of History. His father's death in 1897 had a lasting effect on Ransome, who always tried to overcome his belief that his father had lacked confidence in his abilities.
Ransome received his formal education first in Windermere and then at
Rugby School(where he lived in Lewis Carroll's study room) but did not entirely enjoy the experience - due to his poor vision, lack of athletic skill, and limited academic achievement. He attended Yorkshire College, his father's college, for a year, studying chemistry. However, he abandoned the college and went to London to become a writer. He took low-paying jobs as an office assistant in a publishing company and as editor of a failing magazine, " Temple Bar Magazine", while writing and becoming a member of the literary scene of London.
Before "Swallows and Amazons"
In his first important book, "
Bohemia in London" (1907), Ransome introduced the history of London's bohemian literary and artistic communities and some of its current representatives. A curiosity about a visiting Japanese poet, Yone Noguchiin 1903 had led to an ongoing friendship with Japanese painter (and Chelsea neighbour) Yoshio Markino. Markino in turn introduced him to the bohemian circle of Pamela Colman Smith.
Ransome married Ivy Constance Walker in 1909 (they divorced in 1924) and they had one daughter, Tabitha. Among his other books, one on
Oscar Wildeembroiled him in a libel suit with Lord Alfred Douglas. The alleged libel dealt with Wilde and Douglas' homosexual affair and as a result became very scandalous. Ransome's wife's behaviour in attending the trial, and apparently enjoying the notoriety, added to the stress on their marriage. Ransome won the suit, but suppressed the contentious text from subsequent editions of the Wilde biography. In 1913, he left his wife and daughter and went to Russiato study folklore.
. He met the woman who would become his second wife, Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina, who at that time worked as Trotsky's personal secretary. [Brogan (1984), p 153]
Ransome provided some information to British officials and the British
Secret Intelligence Service(MI6) considered him loyal, if not an agent; he was given the code name S76 in their files. MI5, the British Security Service, kept watch on him because of his opposition to the Allied intervention against the Russian revolution. On one of his visits to the United Kingdom, the authorities searched and interviewed him and threatened him with arrest. In October 1919, returning to Moscow on behalf of "The Manchester Guardian", the Estonian foreign minister Ants Piipentrusted Ransome to deliver a secret armistice proposal to the bolsheviks—at that time the Estonians were fighting the Estonian War of Independencealongside the "white" counter-revolutionary forces. After crossing the battle lines on foot Ransome passed the message, which to preserve secrecy had not been written down and depended for its authority only on the high personal regard in which he was held in both countries, to diplomat Maxim Litvinovin Moscow. To deliver the reply, which accepted Piip's conditions for peace, Ransome had to return by the same risky means, but this time he had Evgenia with him. Estonia withdrew from the conflict and Ransome and Evgenia set up home together, and eventually married, in the capital Reval. [Brogan (1984), pp 242-248] The Russian period in Ransome's life is depicted in fictional form in Marcus Sedgwick's " Blood Red, Snow White".
After the Allied intervention Ransome remained in the Baltic states and built a cruising yacht "Racundra". He wrote a successful book about his experiences, "Racundra's First Cruise". He joined the staff of the "The Guardian" when he returned to Russia and the Baltic states. Following his divorce, he married Evgenia and brought her to live in England, where he continued as a journalist writing for the "Guardian", often on foreign affairs and (for the "
Country Diary" column) on fishing.
By 1937, MI5 appeared satisfied of Ransome's loyalty to Britain. However, evidence uncovered in the
KGBfiles following the break-up of the Soviet Unionseems to indicate that Evgenia Ransome, at least, was involved in smuggling diamonds from the Soviet Union to Paris to help fund the Comintern. [Citation
last = Chambers
first = Roland
title = Whose side was he on?
url = http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/mar/10/russia.books]
The "Swallows and Amazons" series
"Main article:" Swallows and Amazons "series"
Ransome settled in the
Lake District. He decided not to accept a position as a full-time foreign correspondent with the "Guardian" and instead wrote " Swallows and Amazons" in 1929 - the first of the series that made his reputation as one of the best English writers of children's books.
Ransome apparently based the Walker children (the "Swallows") in the book in part on the Altounyan family: he had a long-standing friendship with the mother and Collingwood grandparents of the Altounyans. Later he denied the connection, claiming he only gave the Altounyans' names to his own characters; it appears to have upset him that people did not regard the characters as original creations.
Ransome's writing is noted for his detailed descriptions of activities. Although he used many actual features from the Lake District landscape, he invented his own geography, mixing descriptions of different places to create his own juxtapositions. His move to
East Angliabrought forth a change of location for four of the books and Ransome started using the real landscape and geography of East Anglia so that it is possible to use the maps printed in the books as a guide to the real area. Ransome's own interest in sailing and need to provide an accurate description caused him to undertake a voyage across the North Sea to Flushing. His book "We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea" reflects this, and he based the fictional "Goblin" on his own boat " Nancy Blackett" (which in turn took its name from a character in the series).
Two (or possibly three) of the "Swallows and Amazons" books have less realistic plots. The original concept of "Peter Duck" was a story made up by the children themselves, but Ransome dropped the introductory passage explaining this from the book before it was published (though Peter Duck himself features in "Swallowdale" as a character whom the children created). "Peter Duck" is a relatively straightforward story, but with a much more fantastic plot than the more conventional "Swallows and Amazons" books.
A trip to China as a foreign correspondent provided Ransome with the imaginative springboard for "Missee Lee", a story in which readers find the Swallows and the Amazons sailing around the world in the
schooner"Wild Cat" from "Peter Duck". Together with Captain Flint (the Amazons' uncle Jim Turner), they become the captives of Chinese pirates.
More controversy attaches to the final book of the series, "Great Northern?", set in Scotland. The plot and action appear realistic, but the internal chronology does not fit the usual run of school holiday adventures. Myles North, an admirer of Ransome, provided much of the basic plot of the book.
The "Autobiography of Arthur Ransome", edited by
Rupert Hart-Daviswas published posthumously in 1976. It only covers his life up to the publication of "Peter Duck" in 1931.
"Swallows and Amazons" was so popular that it inspired a number of other authors to write in a similar vein: most notably two schoolchildren, Pamela Whitlock and Katharine Hull wrote
The Far-Distant Oxus, an adventure story set on Exmoor. Whitlock sent the manuscript to Ransome in March 1937; he convinced his publisher Jonathan Capeto produce it, characterising it as "the best children's book of 1937". [Brogan (1984), 353.]
Awards and appreciation
* Ransome became the first winner of the prestigious
Carnegie Medalfor children's literature for "Pigeon Post" in 1936
Durham Universityawarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters
Translations of his books have appeared in a number of languages. As a result, Ransome has become very popular in countries such as
Japanand Czechoslovakia(now the Czech Republic), where thriving Arthur Ransome appreciation societies exist.
Arthur Ransome Clubwas founded in Japan in 1987
The Arthur Ransome Societywas founded in the United Kingdom in 1990 and now has a worldwide membership
Recently a Czech astronomer named an
asteroidafter Ransome ( 6440 Ransome).
Ransome and his wife Evgenia lie buried in the churchyard of St Paul's church,
Rusland, in the southern Lakes District.
"Swallows and Amazons" bibliography
Swallows and Amazons" (published 1930)
Peter Duck" (1932)
* "Winter Holiday" (1933)
Coot Club" (1934)
Pigeon Post" (1936)
We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea" (1937)
Secret Water" (1939)
The Big Six" (1940)
Missee Lee" (1941)
* "" (1943)
Great Northern?" (1947)
Coots in the North" (unfinished at the time of Ransome's 1967 death, published in an unfinished form in 1988 with some other short works)
*"The Autobiography of Arthur Ransome", edited by Rupert Hart-Davis, Jonathan Cape, 1976
*"The Life of Arthur Ransome", by Hugh Brogan, Jonathan Cape, 1984
*"Signalling from Mars, The Letters of Arthur Ransome", edited by Hugh Brogan, Jonathan Cape, 1997
*"Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint's Trunk", by [http://www.christinahardyment.co.uk Christina Hardyment] , Jonathan Cape, 1984
* [http://www.allthingsransome.net/ AllThingsRansome] , articles and resources related to the life and works of Arthur Ransome
* [http://www.arthur-ransome.org/ The Arthur Ransome Society] , an organisation devoted to Arthur Ransome, including a [http://www.arthur-ransome.org/ar/index biography] and [http://www.arthur-ransome.org/ar/links/index links to other sites]
* [http://www.tenor1.demon.co.uk/ransome.htm The Children's Books of Arthur Ransome] , Robert Thompson's pictorial survey of all known editions
* [http://www.visitcumbria.com/ransome.htm Visit Cumbria biography]
* [http://the-stable.lancs.ac.uk/~esarie/tarboard/tarboard.html Tarboard - an Arthur Ransome discussion-site]
* [http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/russian/oldpetersrussian.html SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages: Old Peter's Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome]
* [http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1922/nov/05.htm Interview with Lenin] , on
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4306595.stm BBC News account of MI5 and Ransome]
* [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/default.asp The National Archives] , Download copies of the original UK Security Service files on Arthur Ransome
* [http://arthurransome.blogspot.com/ If Not Duffers... ] Arthur Ransome inspired essays
* [http://www.whiteswan.co.uk Arthur Ransome's Coot Club & the Norfolk Broads]
* [http://www.acces.cz/bidlo/ransome/ Krajem Arthura Ransoma] Arthur Ransome's country: tourist information in Czech
* [http://www.steamboat.co.uk Windermere Steamboat Museum] Site devoted to restoration of collection of Windermere boats, including "TSSY Esperance", 1869, Arthur Ransome's model for Captain Flint's houseboat in his "Swallows and Amazons" tales.
* [http://arthur-ransome.wikia.com/ Arthur Ransome Wiki]
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