Background to Missee Lee
Missee Lee is a sequel to Peter Duck, a story imagined by its own characters. It is set in China, making good use of Ransome’s first-hand knowledge of that country, gathered whilst reporting there for the Manchester Guardian in 1927. During his visit Ransome had met Madame Sun Yat-Sen, on whom he partly based Missee Lee’s character. He began Poor Miss Lee in early 1941, only to struggle with the plot. Within six weeks he was telling his friends Charles and Margaret Reynolds that the book was “… in extremis. And I have wasted six whole weeks on her.” Yet Ransome persevered despite his uncertainty, and with a lot of help from Margaret for Miss Lee’s Cambridge background. By August the book was at the printers, with the revised title Missee Lee. Ransome had changed the title grudgingly, at Jonathan Cape’s insistence.
Shipwrecked off China, the Swallows, Amazons and Captain Flint find themselves at the mercy of real pirates, whose first rule is to never take English prisoners alive. But their leader, the tiny, pistol-carrying Missee Lee, has a different and surprising fate for them in mind.
Published by Jonathan Cape in December, 1941.
“Yes,” said Miss Lee. “At Oxford the scholarship is poor, but the marmalade velly good.”