Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Christina Hardyment - Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint's Trunk

One of the hardest things about loving the novels by Arthur Ransome as a child, was not being able to sail, or even having access to a boat, apart from the occasional rowing trip on the pond in the local park. Novels like Swallows and Amazons, Peter Duck and We Didn't mean to Go to Sea were books to stimulate the imagination and let a young reader dream about sailing across the oceans.

There is no doubt that Ransome would have wanted that - it's clear from the biographical details in this book that he loved children as well as boats and fishing. His novels, we discover are populated with friends and family either as exact duplicates or amalgamations. The fascination of discovering that there really was someone who inspired the Swallows and the Amazons is only tempered by the excitement at the knowledge that Wild Cat island and similar places are real places.

Ransome of course would have enjoyed the fact that the boats and ships that inspired, Swallow, Amazon and Captain Flint's houseboat still exist and in the case of the later, still ply Lake Coniston.

Christina Hardyment has written a book that is nothing less than her Odyssey to find the places that inspired Arthur Ransome. He comes across as a larger than life character, a journalist prepared to suffer for his craft, but one to whom the good things in life are very important. While in Russia during the revolution, he found time to fall in love (and eventually marry) Trotsky's secretary and play chess with Lenin. He got a boat built and sailed it back to England, with adventures along the way. While expressing sympathies with the Russian Revolution, his friends and family clearly came from the well-off members of those that England sent abroad to manage her Empire, and the letters sent to him are full of fascinating details written by those who missed mucking about on boats in the Lake District.

For those who loved the novels Ransome wrote, there is much here to supplement them. Including, for instance, the missing chapter of Peter Duck that explains why the adventure doesn't really fit with the "reality" of the children's lives. The pictures illuminate Ransome's creative process - photos of people mimicking the poses needed to illustrate the books, and I liked the detail that Ransome went to, to ensure that the stories were accurate.

Finally back in print after many years, this is well worth grabbing, particularly if you hope to visit Swallows and Amazon country.

Related Reviews

Chambers - The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur RansomeRansome - We Didn't Mean to go to Sea
Ransome - Missee Lee
Ransome - Peter Duck

1 comment:

Dominic Rivron said...

As a fan of Ransome I loved reading this book. It (among other things) got me been thinking about his politics and their influence on his writing for children. I've posted recently on my own blog about this ("To the Summit of Kanchenjunga").
I tend to subscribe to the idea that he ceased to speak out explicitly on political matters not because his own radical views changed particularly, but out of concern for the fate of Evgenia's family who were still in the Stalinist USSR.