Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons cover

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome is the first book in the series which is set in the Lake District, I believe it was Coniston Water and Lake Windermere that inspired Ransome to write these books. I’m fairly sure that I read one donkey’s years ago but after we visited Coniston around this time last year I thought I would start at the beginning of the series again. This book was first printed in 1930 but my copy dates from 1942 and according to the inscription it was given to Frank for his birthday on 27th of August 1943.

The Walker children John, Susan, Roger and Titty (what possessed the author?) are in the Lake District for the summer holidays. Their mother is busy with the new baby and father is away, but has given the children permission to sail to one of the islands in the lake and camp out there. Mother gets out her sewing machine and makes a couple of tents and the children are well stocked up with food and equipment. They’re dab hands at sailing too and manage their borrowed dinghy Swallow professionally.

Sailing towards the island they sail past a houseboat, complete with a small cannon, a green parrot and a man that they name Captain Flint. He doesn’t seen at all friendly. The island seems perfect but there’s evidence of previous inhabitants with a pile of wood and the remains of a fire.

It isn’t long before another boat turns up, it’s called Amazon and is skippered by two girls who live locally. Nancy and Peggy fly a pirate flag and are up for adventures. John is impressed by their sailing knowledge and it isn’t too long before they’re all friends. It turns out that Captain Flint is really their Uncle and up until this year he had been good fun, but since he has started to write a book about his travels he has changed into a curmudgeon and sees the children as his enemy.

There’s a bit of a mystery going on but really the charm of this book is that you can’t help wishing that you too are by a lake with a wee boat to sail around in, visiting various islands and just getting away from it all.

It was different times though and I imagine that if parents allowed four of their children aged from 7 to 12 to sail off and fend for themselves social services would have something to say about it!

I believe that in the modern reprints of these books the character of Titty has her name changed to Kitty. I’m wondering what Titty was supposed to be short for – maybe Felicity of Verity but presumably in 1930 it wasn’t deemed to be faintly not nice for a wee girl.

Sometimes when I read books I have a particular piece of music going through my head, for this one it was of course Deacon Blue’s Dignity.

Coniston Water and Brantwood

After visiting Grasmere we drove on to Coniston Water on the way to our next overnight stop in Derbyshire. It was a lovely day and thankfully Coniston Water wasn’t nearly as busy as other places in the Lake District – such as Ambleside which always seems to be heaving.

We were making our way to Brantwood which is the lovely house that the writer, art critic, philosopher, philanthropist and environmentalist John Ruskin bought, it is situated high above Coniston Water and these photos were taken from the grounds at the front of the house.

Coniston Water

Coniston Water

Coniston Water

You can see in the photo below that there are lots of wee boats and yachts in the lake. This lake inspired Arthur Ransome to write his Swallows and Amazons series.
Coniston Water

And below is a photo of Brantwood, it has marvelous views of the lake. Ruskin bought this house unseen as he had often holidayed at Coniston and at a time when he was ill he thought that if only he could lie down in the water at Coniston he would get better. It must have worked as he lived here for many years.

Brantwood, Coniston

I suspect that the one thing that everyone knows about John Ruskin is that his wife had to go to court to get an annulment for non-consummation of the marriage. That harmed his reputation for a long time but that was just a small part of a long life which included many interests. He was interested in educating ordinary working people, at this time education in England was in a very poor state compared with in Scotland. He was involved with progressive schools for girls, and he also set up workshops that trained and employed people who would probably otherwise be unemployed and destitute.

I’ll show you some photos of the inside of the house soon.

Titty or Tatty? what’s in a name

It’s a good long time since I read Swallows and Amazons and I don’t even remember one of the characters being called Titty, it can’t have struck me as being weird at the time. However her name is being changed to Tatty in a new film version which is being made by the BBC, you can read about it here. The author of the article, Nicholas Tucker has apparently written a lot about children’s literature in the past, but in this article he writes about words which were used by writers in the past, innocently, but which couldn’t be used today, such as ejaculate, meaning to exclaim, which used to be used by lots of authors including Enid Blyton if I’m remembering correctly. The word ‘screw’ in Victorian literature of course means salary, language changes all the time.

He goes on to mention that Angela Thirkell used the words ‘giant cock’ in her book The Brandons, it was of course a fairground attraction in the shape of a cockerel. Tucker seems to think that it’s unthinkable that Thirkell could have put that into her story deliberately. It smacks of those daft people who think that their generation is the one which invented sex!

Of course Thirkell put it in deliberately, and all of her readers would have had a right good snigger at it, her books are full of things like that, that’s what makes them so funny and popular in their day and now. Tucker seems to think that because Thirkell was rather snobbish and was a granddaughter of the artist Edward Burne-Jones, it means that a ‘naughty’ word would never have passed her lips! Whereas of course, her hobnobbing with rather posh people and being one of them herself makes it a dead certainty that she was a ‘bit of a goer’- as they say.

Tucker also doesn’t seem to realise that children’s books are written on two levels, one for the child and one for the adult who may be reading it to them.

I suppose he’ll be saying next that – a marquis’s son is unused to wine!