Arthur Ransome is a beloved if minor figure in 20th-century letters. Generations of British readers have grown up with his “Swallows and Amazons” series of young adult novels, the first of which was published in 1930. In these 12 books, children on holiday in the Lake District of England and elsewhere occupy themselves sailing, camping, fishing and playing at pirates. Contemporary readers raised on blood sport in Panem may find the series tame, but the novels are charming and well told. In the few weeks that I’ve contemplated the story of Ransome’s life, every mention of his name to a British acquaintance has elicited a fond smile; from every American it has drawn a blank.
在20世纪的作家中，亚瑟·兰瑟姆(Arthur Ransome)是个可爱却又无足轻重的角色。一代又一代英国读者是读着他的《燕子与鹦鹉》(Swallows and Amazons)系列青少年小说成长起来的，这个系列第一本出版于1930年。在这12本书中，孩子们在英国的湖区或别的什么地方度假，尽情享受航行、露营、钓鱼与扮演海盗嬉戏的欢乐。当代读者是看着《饥饿游戏》，体验着在虚构的帕姆国发生的嗜血游戏长大，他们也许会感觉这个系列太平淡，但小说本身其实非常迷人，叙事精彩。这几个星期，我在酝酿着该如何讲述兰瑟姆的人生，每当我向英国朋友提起他的名字，总会引来会心一笑；而向美国人提起时，却只能换回一脸茫然。
Ransome began “Swallows and Amazons” at the age of 45 after concluding a career as a foreign correspondent. Writing for several British papers, he spent 11 years in and out of Russia during World War I, the revolution and the civil war that followed. Among the ranks of journalists who covered these events, including overt partisans like John Reed, he again cut a minor figure, one who found revolutionary ferment less exhilarating than taxing. “Russia is all very well,” he told his mother, “but too much Russia makes men mad, besides wearing them out.” Even when chasing the big story, he longed for the lush green English landscape and a place to cast his line.
The enduring affection for “Swallows and Amazons” has ensured a readership for several biographies of Ransome, his own memoir and a 2003 study, “Ransome in Russia,” by Ted Alexander and Tatiana Verizhnikova, that covers very much the same ground as “The Last Englishman.” In this new volume, Roland Chambers, a British author of children’s books, wonders whether Ransome served as a double agent, working on behalf of the Bolsheviks as well as for British intelligence. Although Chambers doesn’t find new evidence of treachery, the old evidence of a confused and compromised journalist is damning enough.
读者对《燕子与鹦鹉》经久不息的喜爱，使得数本关于兰瑟姆的图书都拥有一定的读者群，这当中包括几本他的传记、他本人的回忆录，以及2003年出版、由泰德·亚历山大(Ted Alexander )与塔蒂亚娜·维日兹尼科娃(Tatiana Verizhnikova)合写的研究专著《兰瑟姆在俄罗斯》(Ransome in Russia)，后者与《最后的英国人》所涉及的领域基本一致。这本新作的作者罗兰德·钱伯斯(Roland Chamber)是英国童书作家，他在书中怀疑兰瑟姆充任双重间谍角色，在为布尔什维克效力的同时，也在为英国情报机关工作。尽管钱伯斯并没有找到兰瑟姆叛国的新证据，但已有的证据足以证明，兰瑟姆确实是个令人起疑、受到收买的记者。
Ransome’s work habits must have driven his editors nuts. Although he was present at the Finland Station in April 1917 when Lenin arrived to begin the campaign for Bolshevik power, Ransome neglected to file a report to his paper, London’s left-leaning Daily News. Later that year, with Petrograd in a whirl of plots and counterplots, he took a much-desired holiday in Britain and was not on hand for the October Revolution. “As Lenin opened perhaps the most significant chapter in the history of 20th-century politics,” Chambers writes, “the Russian correspondent for The Daily News was at Fonthill, fishing for perch.”
The angler soon returned to develop close relations with the Bolshevik leaders, especially Karl Radek, the shrewd, ebullient chief of Western propaganda, who, it may be inferred, played him like a balalaika. Motivated mostly by a desire for Anglo-Russian friendship, Ransome filed stories that were emphatically pro-Bolshevik and slighted the other leftist parties still claiming a role in the revolution. The reports were also quite wrong. Ransome denied that the Bolsheviks would ever betray the Allies by making a separate peace with Germany, which they shortly did. Later, he consistently played down Soviet political repression.
Ransome’s most complicated involvement with the Bolsheviks was his affair with a young secretary, Evgenia Shelepina, whom he met while doing an interview with her boss, Leon Trotsky. The liaison eased his way into the halls of power, conflating his personal and professional responsibilities. It also required that he seek extraordinary assistance from the British Foreign Office so Shelepina could obtain a visa to travel with him. She would become his second wife, after his divorce from the first, who had remained with his daughter in England.
兰瑟姆与俄共（布）之间最复杂的关联，是他与一位年轻秘书伊夫吉尼娅·谢利皮娜(Evgenia Shelepina)之间发生的婚外情。他是在采访她的上司列昂·托洛茨基(Leon Trotsky)时遇见了她。他们之间的关系使得他得以登堂入室，走进权力高层，他的私人关系也因此跟工作职责混为一谈。同时，为了让谢利皮娜获得签证，与他一起出行，他还需要寻求英国外交部的特殊照顾。后来他与第一任妻子离婚（她带着他的女儿留在英国），与谢利皮娜结婚。
At the same time as his dispatches adhered to the Bolshevik line, Ransome was given a code name, S76, and money from His Majesty’s Secret Service. Today collusion by a journalist with an intelligence agency would be considered repugnantly unprofessional. Even then the arrangement was irregular, but his editors at The Daily News were apparently aware of it. Many of his articles also appeared in The New York Times, though Chambers doesn’t suggest that the American paper knew of the collaboration. Eight months after it began running his articles on the front page, The Times ended the relationship. (It would later send to Moscow its own problematic journalist. Walter Duranty, who covered Russia for the paper from 1921 to 1940, underplayed Soviet brutalities and denied the Ukrainian famine.)
Chambers finds that Ransome did nothing more for the intelligence service than provide insight into the personalities at the head of the new Soviet government. He gave the Soviets the same kind of information about British officials, much of it reflecting what he believed was best for the countries’ common interests. He also served as the occasional go-between. The two governments were wary and combative, especially after the Bolsheviks foiled a 1918 British-sponsored coup, possibly because Ransome tipped them off — or so Chambers speculates, on slim circumstantial evidence. Much like its subject, “The Last Englishman” relies too much on uncertain argument and indifferent scholarship.
After leaving Russia, Ransome and Shelepina found a cottage on the east bank of Lake Windermere, not far from where he would set “Swallows and Amazons.” The Bolsheviks were very far away. Until his death in 1967, Ransome did what he loved best: sailing, fishing and writing. He looked back at the years when he had been given entree to the Kremlin with some wry amusement, as a time when he was no more than “a shuttlecock bandied to and fro by lunatics.”