The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome, by Roland Chambers
Sunday 30 May 2010
The Arthur Ransome of popular imagination is as buoyant as one of his lake-lashed dinghies. He created, in the Swallows and Amazons series, a 1920s halcyon dream-world anchored to a permanently playful summer holiday. The Lakes of Ransome lore remain a landscape where nature is a cipher for innocence, toil and decency. It is, as biographer Roland Chambers states, an idyll of "cotton tents and grog and tea at four, and children who say 'jolly' and play by the rules; well-behaved children who rise early and know how to do things, tie knots and sail a boat." That legacy still fills the coffers of the thriving tourist industry of Windermere and Coniston Water.
However, Chambers highlights Ransome's shifty, hypocritical character. He was, in turn, an author who idealised childhood yet used his own daughter as a go-between; a champion of the healthy outdoors life who was riddled with physical woes; and a fervent supporter of the Bolsheviks during the Russian revolution who secretly reported back to the British government. It is the last revelation that has made this volume so important, as it undermines much of the image that Ransome painted of his own psychology: that of a man who lived by a code of conduct. Initially dismissive of MI6's advances, it took him just two weeks to relent and begin a double life, spying on the very people he lauded.
Just as he passed off his first wife as a flighty liability and abandoned his family for Russia – where he fell in love with Trotsky's personal secretary – he then betrayed his new cause when public opinion started to turn against "Red Ransome". Chambers is an enthusiastic guide to the U-turns of such an unlikeable chancer. This fascinating book shows Ransome as a man without principles who more than anything wished to be seen to possess them.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If I were Prime Minister: I'd give tax cuts to the rich, keep Trident, and get my football team wrong
- 2 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 University student in court for allegedly covering housemates' food in window cleaner and spit
- 5 Ryan Gosling posts tribute to 'Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal' creator Ryan McHenry
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
Eurovision 2015: What date is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Game of Thrones, season 5 episode 4, review: Sansa in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Jar Jar Binks is going to die unceremoniously in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
JK Rowling is 'really sorry' for killing off one of your favourite Harry Potter characters
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally