Friday, March 30, 2012

The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome

Godine is very proud to have just published The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers, a biography. Ransome is best known for the twelve immortal "Swallows and Amazons" books he wrote on his return from Russia in 1928. Godine is the US publisher for this series. From his prose he appears a genial and gentle Englishman, who, like his protagonists, pursued benign maritime adventures. Nothing could be further from the truth. By the time he wrote his masterpieces, the most interesting episodes of his life were well behind him. For Ransome led a double, and often tortured, life. Before his fame as an author, he was notorious for very different reasons: between 1917 and 1924, he was the Russian correspondent for the Daily News and the Manchester Guardian, and his sympathy for the Bolshevik regime gave him unparalleled access to its leaders, policies, politics, and plots. He was also the lover, and later the husband, of Evgenia Shelepina, Trotsky's private secretary, as well as friends with Karl Radek, the Bolshevik's Chief of Propaganda, and Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the secret police.

The Last Englishman has already received reviews from the Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly. From Publishers Weekly:

Chambers says that his interest in writing a biography of Ransome was sparked by the British National Archives’s 2003 release of documents revealing the journalist’s involvement with MI6 during the Russian Revolution. “This was surprising and controversial,” he explains. “If Ransome was known at all for his work for the Revolution, it was as an apologist for the Bolsheviks. But these documents proved that he was betraying them all along to the British secret service. That was enough to get me looking into the history of it all. I discovered that his story was much more complicated than I expected because of his involvement with Evgenia Shelepina, Trotsky’s private secretary. He was genuinely in love with her and genuinely sympathetic to the Bolsheviks, but on the other hand considered himself a British patriot doing his best to broker a kind of understanding between the British and the revolutionists at a time when their interests were radically different.”

. . .

Though Ransome’s personas as children’s book author and double-sided political operative may seem at odds, Chambers views the author’s two lives as less inconsistent. “The Swallows and Amazons books are really all about doubleness,” he says. “The young characters are constantly fighting, drafting secret treaties, and making peace. It’s all there, though in a benign world – Ransome had drawn the poison from it all. I think that’s why his books were so successful in England. If you look at Britain as an empire, it has a history of doubleness. There’s the Englishman at home sipping tea in front of the fire, and there’s the high-seas adventuring Englishman in the colonies creating an empire. The two are contradictory in a way, but they do live side by side as part of the culture – and as part of Ransome himself.”

No comments:

Post a Comment