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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Arthur Ransome

Cover of Ransome's autobiography
Born Arthur Mitchell Ransome
18 January 1884(1884-01-18)
Leeds, England
Died 3 June 1967 (aged 83)
Occupation Author, Journalist
Nationality British
Genres Children's literature
Notable work(s) Swallows and Amazons series of books

Arthur Mitchell Ransome (18 January 1884 – 3 June 1967) was an English author and journalist, 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 District and the Norfolk Broads. Many of the books involve sailing; other common subjects include fishing and 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 Russia before, during, and after the revolutions of 1917.


Early life

Ransome was born in Leeds;[1] the house, in the Hyde Park area, has a blue plaque over the door commemorating the event. Ransome's father was professor of history at Yorkshire College, Leeds. His father's death in 1897 had a lasting effect on Ransome.

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, studying chemistry. After a year, 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.

Early writing, including life in Russia

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 in 1903 about a visiting Japanese poet, Yone Noguchi, led to an ongoing friendship with Japanese painter (and Chelsea neighbour) Yoshio Markino, who in turn introduced him to the bohemian circle of Pamela Colman Smith.

Ransome married Ivy Constance Walker in 1909 and they had one daughter, Tabitha. It was not a happy marriage and they divorced in 1924. Among his other books, one on Oscar Wilde embroiled 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 Russia to study its folklore.

A. Ransome. Old Peter's Russian Tales. Cover and illustrations by D. Mitrohin [2]. London. 1916

In 1916, Ransome published Old Peter's Russian Tales, a collection of 21 folktales from Russia. After the start of World War I in 1914, he became a foreign correspondent and covered the war on the Eastern Front for a radical newspaper, the Daily News. He also covered the Russian revolutions of 1917, developed some sympathy for the Bolshevik cause and became personally close to a number of its leaders, including Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. He met the woman who would become his second wife, Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina, who at that time worked as Trotsky's personal secretary.[3]

Ransome provided some information to British officials and the British Secret Intelligence Service (then known as MI1c), which gave him the code name S76 in their files.[4] In October 1919 Ransome met Rex Leeper of the Foreign Office's Political Intelligence Department, who threatened to reveal this unless Ransome privately submitted his articles and public speaking engagements for approval. Ransome's response was "indignant".[5] MI5, the British Security Service, kept watch on him because of his opposition to the Allied intervention against the Russian Revolution.[4] On one of his visits to the United Kingdom, the authorities searched and interviewed him and threatened him with arrest.

In October 1919, as Ransome was returning to Moscow on behalf of The Manchester Guardian, the Estonian foreign minister Ants Piip entrusted him to deliver a secret armistice proposal to the Bolsheviks. At that time the Estonians were fighting their War of Independence alongside the White movement of 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 Litvinov in 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 in the capital Reval (Tallinn).[6] 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 writing for The Guardian, often on foreign affairs, and also writing the "Country Diary" column on fishing.

By 1937, MI5 appeared satisfied of Ransome's loyalty to Britain. However, evidence uncovered in the KGB files following the break-up of the Soviet Union seems to indicate that Evgenia Ransome, at least, was involved in smuggling diamonds from the Soviet Union to Paris to help fund the Comintern.[7] The topic is discussed in a 2009 book by Roland Chambers, The Last Englishman: the Double Life of Arthur Ransome.[8]

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 Anglia brought 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-Davis was 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 persuaded his publisher Jonathan Cape to produce it, characterising it as "the best children's book of 1937".[9]

Awards and appreciation

Ransome has been honoured in many countries. In 1953 he was appointed CBE.[10] Durham University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters. He was the first winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal for children's literature, for Pigeon Post in 1936. Translations of his books have appeared in a number of languages. As a result, Ransome became popular in countries such as Japan and the former Czechoslovakia. Thriving Ransome appreciation societies exist in Japan and the Czech Republic. The Arthur Ransome Club was founded in Japan in 1987, and three years later The Arthur Ransome Society, which now has a worldwide membership, was founded in the United Kingdom in 1990. Czech astronomer Antonín Mrkos named an asteroid after the author (6440 Ransome).

Ransome and his wife Evgenia lie buried in the churchyard of St Paul's Church, Rusland, in the southern Lake District.


  • Pond and Stream (1906)
  • The Book of Friendship (1909)
  • Edgar Allen Poe (1910)
  • The Book of Love (1911)
  • Oscar Wilde (1912)
  • Six Weeks in Russia (1919)
  • The Crisis in Russia (1921)
  • Racundra's First Cruise (1923)
  • Rod and Line (1929)
  • Mainly about Fishing (1959)

"Swallows and Amazons"

Books about Ransome

  • 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 Christina Hardyment, Jonathan Cape, 1984
  • Chambers, Roland (2009). The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-22261-2. 


  1. ^ The Last Englishman: the Double Life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers: review
  2. ^ Staff (2004). Annual Bibliography of the History of the Printed Book. 30. Den Haag: National Library of the Netherlands. p. 130. 
  3. ^ Brogan (1984), p 153
  4. ^ a b Pallister, David (1 March 2005). "Still an enigma, our Petrograd correspondent". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 January 2010. 
  5. ^ Kettle, Michael (1992). Churchill and the Archangel Fiasco: November 1918-July 1919. London: Routledge. pp. 225–228. ISBN 0415082862. 
  6. ^ Brogan (1984), pp 242-248
  7. ^ Chambers, Roland (10 March 2005). "Whose side was he on?". The Guardian. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Brogan (1984), 353.
  10. ^ Avery, Gillian (2004). "Ransome, Arthur Michell (1884–1967)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 

Further reading

  • Nancy Blackett: Under Sail with Arthur Ransome, by Roger Wardale, Jonathan Cape, 1991, ISBN 0-224-02773-5.
  • The Last Englishman: the Double Life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers, Faber & Faber 2009 ISBN 0-571-22261-7.

External links


Biographical material

Information sites


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Arthur Ransome (January 18, 1884 – June 3, 1967) was a British children's author. Ransome is most famous for his Swallows and Amazons series of novels named after the first book in the series.


  • Houses, are but badly built boats so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable not the animal world, rooted and stationary, incapable of gay transition. I admit, doubtfully, as exceptions, snail-shells and caravans. The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting-place.
  • Racundra's First Cruise (Chapter 1), 1923
  • Swallows and Amazons (Chapter 1), 1930
  • They found, like many explorers before them, that somehow, in their absence, they had got into trouble at home.
  • Swallowdale (Chapter 4), 1931
  • When a thing's done, it's done, and if it's not done right, do it differently next time.
  • Swallowdale (Chapter 8), 1931
  • "Only, the beastly Arctic won't freeze,"
  • Winter Holiday (Chapter 3), 1933
  • Softly, at first, as if it hardly meant it, the snow began to fall.
  • Winter Holiday (Chapter 5), 1933
  • A pigeon a day keeps the natives away
  • Pigeon Post Title page and Chapter 4), 1936
  • Grab a chance and you won't be sorry for a might-have-been.
  • We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea (Title page), 1937
  • A lot of things were lucky," said Daddy, and suddenly, while they were walking along, brought his hand down on John's shoulder and gave it a bit of a squeeze. "You'll be a seaman yet, my son." And John, for one dreadful moment, felt that something was going wrong with his eyes. A sort of wetness, and hotness... Partly salt... Pleased though he was, he found himself biting his lower lip pretty hard, and looking the other way.
  • We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea (Chapter 23), 1937
  • She's got a rum job, but she knows how to do it, and to have a job and know how to do it is one of the best things in this life. And if only she stops hankering after Cambridge...
  • Missee Lee (Chapter 26), 1941
  • Dorothea blew out her candle and settled down in the middle of the big spare room bed. An owl called in the woods. 'Not a barn owl, but a tawny,' thought Dick, listening to the sharp 'Gewick! Gewick!' as he fell asleep. A smell of new-mown hay drifted from the meadows on the further side of the river. 'There isn't a lovelier place in all the world,' thought Dorothea. London last night, and now Beckfoot. The summer holidays had begun.
  • The Picts and the Martyrs (Chapter 2), 1943
  • What's hit's history: what's missed's mystery.
  • Great Northern? (Chapter 9), 1947

Simple English

Arthur Mitchell Ransome (born 18 January 1884 in Leeds - died 3 June 1967) was an English writer and journalist. He is best known for writing the Swallows and Amazons series of children's books.

Ransome was born in Leeds. His father was Professor of History there. His father's death in 1897 affected Ransome for a long time. He always tried to get past his belief that his father had did not think his abilities were very good.

Ransome got his formal education first in Windermere. He then studied at the Rugby School (where he lived in Lewis Carroll's study room). He did not fully like his time there because of his poor vision, lack of skills at sports, and limited achievement. He attended Yorkshire College, his father's college studying chemistry. After a year there, he stopped going to the college. He went to London to become a writer. He took low-paying jobs as an office assistant in a publishing company. He also worked as editor of a magazine, Temple Bar Magazine, that was not making much money. During this time, he was writing and became a member of the literary scene of London.

Swallows and Amazons

Ransom's most well known book series, Swallows and Amazons, tells the stories of school-holiday adventures of children. The stories are mostly set in the Lake District and the Norfolk Broads. Many of the books involve sailing. Other common things are fishing and camping. The books are so popular that they give 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.


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