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December 2018



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The World of Arthur Ransome, Christina Hardyment


I saw this book lying around in the library and snagged it immediately. Christina Hardyment is already well known for her book Arthur Ransome and Captain Flint’s Trunk. The World of Arthur Ransome is not a full biography; for that you need Hugh Brogan’s 1984 book The Life of Arthur Ransome. Instead, it’s an attempt to place the writing of his books in the context of his very full life. It’s a short book, quickly read, lavishly illustrated with photographs of locations and characters which inspired the Swallows & Amazons series and of some very rare dustwrappers. This post is not a review; it’s more in the nature of a query.

I’ve visited quite a few writers’ houses and have always been interested and sometimes moved. Ransome moved house so often that no one place is particularly associated with him; there’s no Dove Cottage or Batemans. If you want to follow the Ransome trail, you should be setting off for the Lakes or the Norfolk Broads, as many fans do. Although I enjoyed reading The World of Arthur Ransome, it hasn’t made me want to visit these important locations, but to read the books again. I admire Ransome so much. I find he’s an author one can enjoy even more as an adult than as an eager child reader. I except from this Peter Duck and Missee Lee, the two I seldom bother with on a re-read. Missee Lee is the book for people who ‘don’t like Ransome’.

So I wondered how other people feel about literary pilgrimages? Inspiring or merely mildly interesting? I’ve found that however interesting the place is, it has no effect at all on my reading of the author’s books. For me, the text is everything.


The most interesting literary visit I've made was to Mark Twain's house and Harriet Beecher Stowe's cottage. Although she was much older than he, for a while they were neighbours and friends. I found that absolutely fascinating, and the comparison between the two houses showed so much about what that relationship might have been like.
Ah, an example of actually learning something, rather than merely gawping.
I've not done many; Chawton House, Dove Cottage and Hill Top. All interesting in their way but for me it was more about location (all delightful) rather than the writing although I'm a fan of them all as authors. Monet's house and garden had the biggest impact on me of anyone's house, writer, artist or musician, for it's beauty and in how inspiring his environment obviously was. I suppose a writer needs peace and quiet rather than beauty, or maybe both or neither :)
Yes, a number of writers seem to have lived in idyllic places! Dr Johnson, OTOH, lived just off Fleet Street, although it is surprisingly quiet there.