1913: Crowd gathered outside the court following the decision in the Lord Alfred Douglas libel case. Arthur, Ivy Ransome, left. This is the first in a new series on the life of English children's writer Arthur Ransome and his Australian connection.
2020 begins with another New England story, this one about a famous English children’s author, a nineteenth century Australian squatter and prolific painter and a Walcha property with a most unusual name.
Our story will take us from English literary life in the first half of the twentieth century back though the Russian Revolution to the aftermath of the Oscar Wilde Affair. We then travel further back to Sydney Town of the1830s before moving forward following the story of a large English-Australian squatting family.
Arthur Mitchell Ransome was born in Leeds on 18 January 1884, the eldest child of Cyril Ransome and his wife Edith nee Boulton.
This was an academic, intellectual family. Cyril was a history don at Yorkshire College, later Leeds University, while Edith was a talented amateur painter, a love she inherited from her father, Edward. Father and daughter seem to have written to each other regularly, sharing their interest in painting.
Arthur seems to have been a bookish, somewhat withdrawn, child who did not get on well with his schoolmates. I think that he compensated by creating a vivid internal world, one that would appear later in his books.
In 1897, Cyril Ransome died from a bone infection that even a leg amputation had failed to stop.
The relationship between Arthur and his father was complicated. Cyril seems to have been very much the Victorian father, both withdrawn and demanding, sometimes harsh Arthur would regret all his life that his father’s death stopped him getting to know Cyril, when they might have talked as adults and helped Arthur understand.
Upon leaving Rugby in 1901, Arthur Ransome enrolled in science at the Yorkshire College. I have no idea why, for he had already decided to be a full time writer.
Less than a year after enrolling, Arthur obtained a job with a London publisher and began writing for literary magazines. This allowed him to make the jump into full time writing.
Ransome published his first book in 1904, a collection of essays This was followed by a stream of publications, none especially successful apart from Bohemia in London (1907).
In 1908, Ransome fell in love with Ivy Constance Walker. They married in March 1909. It would prove a disastrous marriage for both because Arthur could not give Ivy the love and attention she needed.
In 1913, Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas sued Ransome for libel over a commissioned 1912 piece on Wilde that Ransome had written. Ransome won, bankrupting Douglas in the process.
Ivy stood by Ransome during the trial, indeed she seems to have enjoyed the attention, but Ransome was exhausted and wanted to escape. A few months after the trial, he left for Russia on an extended research and writing trip, starting a new stage in his life.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 15 January 2020. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017, here 2018, here 2019, here 2020