Sunday, 29 January 2012

Arthur Ransome

The epigram or quotation at the beginning of Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child, set in 1920, is from Arthur Ransome's version of the old Russian folk tale Snegurochka:
'Wife, let us go into the yard behind and make a little snow girl; and perhaps she will come alive and be a little daughter to us.'
'Husband' says the old woman, 'There's no knowing what may be. Let us go into the yard and make a little snow girl'.
Later in the book, Ivey has her protagonist Mabel write to her sister in Philadelphia asking her to send a book of Russian fairy tales that had belonged to their father, a professor of literature at the university of Pennsylvania. In the letter accompanying the book, Mabel's sister explains that the request had come in the nick of time because 'a student from the university, a Mr Arthur Ransome', had been picking through their father's book collection; he was studying Russian folk tales, had told her the story of Snegurochka.
I sort of stubbed my toe on this. I checked in Wikipedia and saw that Arthur Ransome, now mainly famous as the author of Swallows and Amazons, did not go to university for more than a year, and that was in England. (Incidentally, he had had the same room at Rugby school as Lewis Carroll aka Charles Dodgson, the subject of Friday Jan 27th's MBE blog) He knew Russian because he went to Russia in 1913 to study Russian folklore, and in 1914 published 21 Russian folk tales under the title Old Peter's Russian Tales, stayed on as a newspaper correspondent, witnessed the revolution, met the leaders Lenin and Trotsky, and later married Lenin's secretary after divorcing his English wife. There is no mention in the Wikipedia entry of his having visited America, in 1920 0r any other year, in pursuit of knowledge about 'fairy tales of the far north'. In The Snow Child, Mabel's sister describes how she practically had to prise the book from Ransome's ('the young man's) hands - by this time, Ransome was a man of 36 and had already published his version of Russian fairy tales in English seven years before.
I am still enjoying Ivey's novel, though - I am on Chapter 24 and there are still plenty of adventures ahead for Jack, Mabel, their neighbours George and Esther and the mysterious 'snow child' Faina.

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