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The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome Hardcover – 20 Aug 2009
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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.
A revelatory, absorbing and often chilling examination of an English icon and his controversial Soviet double life.See all Product description
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A brilliant book. I had loved Arthur Ransome's children's books as a child and then as an adult became fascinated by the author and his life especially as he was so like my... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Ocean Rower
Good biography is more than just a collection of facts- interpretation and analysis is required. This book reflects the author's history as a private investigator. Read morePublished 9 months ago by kiki
Not quite what I expected but a very interesting story. If you are a fan of Arthur Ransome this gives a new perspective to his life.Published 11 months ago by Liz R
An interesting read. Ransome led a very unusual life compared with the straightforward inhabitants of his books such as 'Swallows and Amazons' ,'We didn't mean to go to sea' etc.Published 12 months ago by MRS MARGARET TAYLOR
Fantastic. For anyone who loved Swallows and Amazons this is really interesting. AR was a complicated man.Published 19 months ago by David Oakley