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Lodging for the night

Published 28 March 2013

Illustration of a house-shrine by Arthur Ransome from his book Missee Lee, 1941

Original illustrations from the papers of Arthur Ransome in Special Collections

The picture above is part of a lovely illustration drawn by Arthur Ransome for his own book Missee Lee.  It shows the little Chinese house-shrine where the shipwrecked Walkers stayed overnight, and where they found books from Missee Lee's Library.  The original illustration, in the Arthur Ransome Collection, has the top of the steep cliffs silhouetted against the sky. Its draft title was altered for the book.

In one important passage in the book Missee Lee recalls how her father had encouraged her to go to England to study at University, but unfortunately filial duty had recalled her to China. Her books had come back with her, but, later in the story, she realises she has to give up her books in order to be seen to honour her late father and secure her future. This event is given extra resonance by entries in Arthur Ransome's diaries (also in the Collection) made at the time the story was written.

In March 1941, about the time Arthur Ransome was starting the book, he learnt that his library and some papers (abandoned with his family more than twenty years before) were being put up for sale against his wishes. His diary records that he managed to buy back a few of his own notebooks.  This contrasts with Missee Lee giving up her library as part of a resolve to honour her late father.

The parallels are striking: one fictional daughter giving up her library as part of a resolve to honour her late father, the real one putting up her father's once-abandoned library for sale; both out of necessity, in different ways.   There are happier comparisons too - Arthur Ransome started one chapter called 'Holiday Treat' on Easter Sunday.

Ransome had visited China in 1927, and later he wrote of characters and incidents he'd seen that were used when he was writing the book. These examples show how having related papers and documents together in a collection increases their usefulness and interest many times over.

Illustration reproduced by permission of the Arthur Ransome Literary Estate.