Sunday, 31 December 2006

Arthur Ransome e-Bio

MTS, with help from BBD and PH

When this was first posted in December 2006 there was no totally satisfactory Arthur Ransome biography on the Internet. Since then a really splendid illustrated biography has been published on-line by The Arthur Ransome Society (TARS).

Our version, which started as a school project and was then polished with the help of contributors to TarBoard, remains here as the first ever collaborative posting on IF NOT DUFFERS...

Arthur Ransome was born on January 18, 1884, in Leeds, where his father was a Professor of History. His father loved the hills and lakes of Furness, and carried Arthur up to the top of Coniston Old Man (later to become 'Kanchenjunga' in the Swallows and Amazon books) when he was only a few weeks old. Every summer, he took his family by train to Greenodd, complete with their belongings packed into a large tin bath, and then by cart along the valley to Lowick and, finally, to Nibthwaite, on the shores of Coniston Water.

The unnamed lake of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazon books is a mixture of lakes Coniston and Windermere. Frequently blending two or more real places into one he created a fictional landscape which is entirely realistic. Many of the things that happen in the stories are taken from his own childhood memories - the Knickerbockerbreaker, where his trousers were worn out and darned while he was wearing them by Annie Swainson, catching trout in his bare hands, collecting fox-moth caterpillars and meetings with the charcoal-burners.

It was to be a long time before he brought these memories to life in Swallows and Amazons and the rest of the books about the children who sailed and explored the lakes and mountains of Cumbria, the Norfolk Broads and the Walton backwaters. Ransome always wanted to be a writer. After brief employment with a London publisher, he himself had a succession of works published, culminating in Bohemia in London in 1907, and later became a newspaper reporter, working for the Daily News and the Manchester Guardian as a foreign correspondent.

As a young man, Ransome spent many happy holidays on the shores of Coniston with his friends the Collingwood family. Mr and Mrs Collingwood treated him as an adopted son and he thanks them in his autobiography by saying 'My whole life has been happier for knowing them'. He spent hours picnicking, with the Collingwood daughters Dora and Barbara, on Peel Island, which together with Blake Holme on Windermere, was to become famous all over the world as Wildcat Island.

Other friends shared Arthur's love of the Lakes and he talks of walks over to Ambleside, stopping at the Drunken Duck for bread and cheese and beer; of Cartmel, where he lodged at a farmhouse called Wall Nook; of more lodgings at Low Yewdale, where water was dipped from a beck running by the cottage and you might easily find a minnow swimming in the jug. He camped a little further up the valley and made friends with a group of gipsies, who taught him their language and customs.

After an unsuccessful marriage he went to Russia, where he was to report for the Daily News on the events of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath. It was while interviewing Leon Trotsky in St Petersburg that he met his future wife Evgenia Shelepina, who was Trotsky's secretary. His most successful book for adults, Racundra’s First Cruise, dates from this time, with Evgenia, in keeping with the of the conventions of the 1920’s, disguised as “The Cook”. In 1924, he gained a divorce, and was able to marry Evgenia and come back to The Lake District, living first in the Winster Valley. Apart from two periods when he went South, he lived in Cumbria for the rest of his life, finding inspiration and settings for Swallows and Amazons. His last house was "Hill Top" at Haverthwaite.

In 1925 the Ransomes bought "Low Ludderburn", an old farmhouse at the head of the Cartmel Fell valley with views as far as Ingleborough, in Yorkshire, and Helvellyn in the Lakes. Before long he was off to China to report on the volatile events there. Much later, he recorded his memories in Missee Lee, where the dragon processions are those he watched parade through the streets of Hankow.

An enormous amount of Arthur Ransome's life has gone into his children's books. The triangular, square and diamond-shaped signals of Winter Holiday were invented at "Low Ludderburn", where he and his fishing friend Colonel Kelsall, who lived across the valley, used them to invite each other to go fishing. A new home at Pin Mill, Suffolk, taken in the hope that the sea air would improve his health, provided a base for exploring the waters which became the stting for We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea and Secret Water. From here, he visited the Norfolk Broads and - of course - sailed there and evolved the stories of Coot Club and The Big Six, with Dick and Dorothea forming the link with the Swallows and Amazons of the north.

Arthur Ransome died on 3rd June 1967, and his grave is in St Paul's Church, Rusland. His wife Evgenia (1894-1975) is also buried there.

No comments: