on 10 October 2012
This is a superbly readable account of the life and times of Arthur Ransome, a 'must' as a Christmas present for anyone (especially perhaps grandparents) who dreamed themselves into that now long lost world of Swallows and Amazons They were the last generation to enjoy a childhood blessedly free from health and safety pottiness and social services breathing down the necks of parents and teachers which characterised those now-unimaginable interwar years. It was the era which began with the Baden Powell's Brownsea Island camp and Wind in The Willows destroyed for ever by the blitzes and buzz-bombs of WWII.
Christina Hardyment's book is splendidly illustrated, delightfully designed and produced by Francis Lincoln Limited. It describes the extraordinary life of a journalist who saw ther Russian revolution but whose stories were to influence children's imagination more than anyone since James Barry's 'Peter Pan'. There are memorable photographs of the original children, of the Swallow, of Peel (Wildcat) Island, but also of 'The Nancy Blackett' - illustrations and sources of the non-Lake District stories like 'We Didn't Mean To Go to Sea' and his final story ('Great Northern' 1947)the origins of which 'were deliberately shrouded in mystery' and which makes it clear that 'the oldest children at least are all but grown up...no promise of adventures to come.'
Hardyment however takes us gently on to his death, aged 83, in 1967 with a picture of Rusisland church where he is buried. 'The World of Arthur Ransome' is also incidentally a treasury of un pompous sociological information and observation of a particular stratum of middle-class life which typifyied an England (not a Britain)which has vanished for ever. In this way apart from anything else it is I suppose an invaluable historical document but one which, unlike most history books, can be read for the sheer pleasure of it.
on 17 November 2012
I have been a reader of Arthur Ransome's fiction since I was a young child. Living in Acle in the heart of the Broads, I particularly enjoyed his two Broads books 'Coot Club' and 'The Big Six'. Acle is mentioned briefly in both books - I always considered myself Robin - the Acle member of the Coot Club, who famously suffered with stomach ache after eating half a penny's worth of chocolate in 'The Big Six'!! As an adult I have sought to find out more about the man behind the books, and have many of the books about Ransome and the settings for his books. There is not too much new information in Christina Hardyment's new book, but it is presented superbly, with short chapters that make it easily readable (especially when compared to the biography and autobiography). Many of the pictures haven't been seen before; there are some wonderful pictures from the Ransome family archive and these are interspersed with contemporary views of locations from his life, his books and his sailing exploits. A fantastic addition to the Ransome fan's library.
on 29 January 2013
Much has been written about Arthur Ransome - some concentrating on his Russian adventures, some repeating the same material about his sailing and camping in the Lake District and East Anglia - sometimes, indeed, like a self-indulgent cottage industry. But this beautifully produced and illustrated book, clearly and stylishly written by one of Ransome's literary executors, has the ring of truth, and delves into Ransome's own diaries, letters and notebooks to shed new light and offer new insights. Ransome's writings are properly contextualised and the books as well as the writer (rather than what Ransome has come to stand for) are the main focus. 'The World of Arthur Ransome' will appeal to the general reader, the Ransome enthusiast, and the scholar (though here it is a shame that there is an absence of detailed reference to facilitate further exploration).
If anyone thinks that ebooks can replace the printed word, this is a reminder of what a good book looks and feels like!
on 28 December 2013
It appears I'm not going to be the one to sabotage the unbroken track-record of five-star reviews for this excellent cornucopia of material about the great author, Arthur Ransome. The one surprise with this book was how little time it took to finish it - and I was trying so hard to ration myself. A very welcome Christmas present from my wife, I commenced reading "The World of Arthur Ransome" and finished it late evening on the 28th December. It looks like I just need to start over.
For anyone interested in the story behind the story, this is an excellent contribution. The author's narrative is straightforward, even conversational, and she includes a wealth of supporting material (book-covers, illustration sketches, notebooks and plenty of photographs), a great help for the reader wishing to place Ransome, and his writings, within their cultural context. Along the way, one realises just how much the characters and locations were borrowed from Ransome's own precious circle of friends and family - he may be writing fiction, but the very way in which he writes is a testimony of appreciation to the people and places he loves. Hardyment does not present Ransome in some kind of rationalised, ennobled way - his personal peccadilloes, misfortunes and mistakes are all recorded, but in a generous, warm-spirited way so that one's appreciation for the author is not lessened. And that approach reflects Ransome's own treatment of the identities and localities which are lovingly incorporated into his fiction.
The book is a pleasure to hold and peruse. The quality of print and binding is excellent, and the large-format pages are beautifully laid-out. A great deal of thought and effort has gone into the presentation of the material. Technology may have marched on, but one is reminded of the care that Ransome himself took with his pen-and-ink drawings and end-papers for inclusion in his children's books.
This book is an absolute bargain - anyone who loves the Swallows and Amazons will find it an inexhaustible source of enjoyment.
on 12 July 2013
I gulped down this volume in two days, even taking it to read on the train, before giving it away as a special present. Superbly written and beautifully illustrated it presents the life and works of Arthur Ransome, one of our greatest British authors, and yet is in itself a book to be treasured.