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The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome Hardcover – 20 Aug 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; 1st Edition edition (20 Aug. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571222617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571222612
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.3 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 462,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


In this fascinating and thoroughly researched book, Roland Chambers gives us the materials that we need to understand this elusive, adventurous, enigmatic man . . . . -- Stella Rimington, former director-general of MI5 "The Times(UK)"

Chambers's triumph is to chronicle the crucial period of physical, emotional and intellectual exile through which Arthur Ransome finally came home. -- The Guardian "The Guardian" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A revelatory, absorbing and often chilling examination of an English icon and his controversial Soviet double life.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. Bently VINE VOICE on 28 Sept. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Arthur Ransome is best known, of course, for his children's books but in this biography Roland Chambers chooses to throw light on his previous career as a political journalist. Indeed, during the time of the Russian Revolution, Ransome was one of the few, and at times the only, Western journalist to have access to the leaders of the fledgling Communist government and it's fascinating to gain first-hand accounts, through Ransome's eyes, of what it was like to meet figures such as Lenin and Trotsky.

Ransome emerges as both a beguiling and alarming figure. Whilst he was beloved by generations of English children for creating a kind of juvenile utopia of water-based adventure, he was estranged from his only daughter and made no attempt to get to know his grandchildren. One can only guess at the bewilderment they felt at being ignored, whilst their relative was heralded as something approaching a national treasure.

Chambers writes lucidly and orchestrates a mass of information about Russian politics to good effect. I found it utterly engrossing, despite only having an O-level standard history brain. Ransome's domestic and literary lives are discussed as skillfully as his political activities. Indeed, I wished this had been a full biography of Ransome rather than merely (!) a political one but perhaps Chambers felt the already existing lives were sufficient.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As achild, I remember my mother reading the Swallows and Amazons stories to me. It was about the time we moved out to the Norfolk Broads, so the stories stick vividly in my mind. Later, I learned that Ransome had been in Russia during the Revolution, as a journalist. We had his memoirs on the bookshelf, but I never read them. I'm sorry now. In this book, Chambers paints a vivid portrait of Ransome's early life, before Swallows and Amazons. The last years of his life, when Ransome assumed the status of a literary celebrity, are contained in the final thirty pages of a book which runs to more than three hundred and sixty pages.

It would be easy to dislike Ransome and write a hatchet-job, portraying him as egotistical and vain. Chambers does not do this, although the portrait is warts and all. Most of the work is occupied by the Russian episode, which is painted as far more complex than mere journalism. Ransome knew the leaders of the revolution personally, and was suspected of Communist leanings. Chambers takes the view that these were largely emotional, and Ransome was nothing more than a fellow traveller, if that. The Russian Revolution is presented as Ransome experienced it, a revolution of personalities as well as policies. It is an intensely human, as well as a fascinating story, in which Ransome, a young man searching for a literary identity, found himself, and also found romance. It is a reminder that the revolution affected people, and that people were affected in different ways. The family of Evgenia Shelepina, Trotsky's Private Secretary, and the woman with whom Ransome fell in love, for example, were split down the middle, one brother fighting against the Bolsheviks, while his sisters worked for them. And Ransome seems to have worked for just about everybody at some time or another, certainly answering Captian Flint's description of himself as a rolling stone.

I made time to read this book, and I strongly suggest that others do so.
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Format: Hardcover
Arthur Ransome is well-known (and mostly adored) by generations of children from the 50s and 60s (and after) for his delightful romances of the Walker family on holiday in the English Lake district (and elsewhere). John, Susan, Titty and Roger were based on real children - the family of his friends the Collingwoods. 'Swallows and Amazons' and its many sequels epitomise the gentle Edwardian world in the last days of the British Empire, and before the World Wars tore everything apart.

Arthur Ransome was also (apparently) a double-agent working for MI6 as well as the Bolsheviks in Revolutionary Russia during and after the First World War. He was an acquaintance of the main players in Russia (Lenin, Trotsky et al.) and even married Trotsky's secretary.

This book uses details from Ransome's own unfinished autobiography as well as recently released secret papers from the MI6 and Russian archives to show light on this most English of authors.

I get the feeling that he was a naive, innocent, "jolly good chap" who just happened (in a typically amateurish English way) to drift into situations, and - being himself fairly harmless - come to no harm. He was arrested by MI6 on one return from Russia, but ended up discussing fishing with another professional English Amateur (the head of MI6).

I have long loved the Swallows and Amazons, and although this is a very interesting book, it does not shed much light on Ransome as Author - it is almost as if Ransome was two separate people - the Russian 'Spy' and the typical English children's author.
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Format: Paperback
This book is not a full biography of the famous author of Swallows and Amazons, but focuses on his, on the face of it very unlikely, association with the Bolshevik leaders of the Russian Revolution, including Lenin and Trotsky, whose secretary Evgeniya Shelepina became Ransome's second wife. While it seems clear that Ransome was not politically a Bolshevik, nor indeed even really left wing in the substance of his politics, he was what a later generation would have called a fellow traveller. His ability to relate to both those early Soviet leaders and to the British establishment probably helped to ease relationships during those early years after the end of the Civil War and foreign intervention before Britain first recognised the Soviet government in 1924. Yet Ransome always denied his political influence and was clearly, from a personal point of view, much happier messing around in boats, fishing and living in peaceful and remote areas - thus his personal temperament clashed with his political associations. I got the impression the author didn't really understand Ransome and didn't really like him, either as an author or as a person - and indeed, some of Ransome's behaviour, especially towards his first wife Ivy and daughter Tabitha, seems very shabby. I didn't really understand Ransome from reading this biography either, so feel ambivalent towards this book.
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