The Picts and the Martyrs
Background to The Picts and the Martyrs
In late 1940 the disturbance caused by bombing around Ipswich persuaded Arthur and Evgenia Ransome to move back to the Lake District. Ransome bought The Heald, a house on the east side of Coniston Water. They were to live there for most of the war. At first Ransome was busy completing Missee Lee. It went to the printers in August, 1931. With Missee Lee out of the way, Ransome immediately began thinking about a new Lake District tale.
Unfortunately thinking was one thing, producing was quite another. Ransome’s energy was undoubtedly waning by the early 1940’s. Evgenia Ransome’s criticism was also taking its toll. Her comments were undoubtedly well-meant, but they played on Ransome’s own growing self-doubt. Both her criticisms and his doubts were also usually misguided, for the finished books themselves maintained, and in many respects improved on, the quality of his earlier novels. But each proved an ever-greater struggle behind the scenes. The Picts and the Martyrs is a case in point. It took Ransome a year to produce a draft fit for Evgenia to see. Her reaction was devastating, culminating in her forbidding its publication. Fortunately Jonathan Cape, his wife, G Wren Howard (Ransome’s editor at Cape’s) and Ransome’s mother all liked it. Fortunately Ransome eventually listened to them and The Picts and the Martyrs was published to widespread critical acclaim.
The Picts and the Martyrs is the shortest and most humourous novel in the Swallows and Amazons series. Much of it takes place in thick, fellside woods, just like those that surrounded the Heald. Meanwhile, the Great-Aunt’s uninvited invasion of Nancy and Peggy’s home arguably owes something to the ongoing war.
Captain Flint takes Mrs Blackett away to convalesce from illness. They decide that Nancy and Peggy ought to enjoy a quiet house party at Beckfoot, with Dick and Dorothea as their guests. But trouble soon looms when Nancy and Peggy’s fearsome Great-Aunt Maria hear of the arrangement, disapproves, and decides she must take control.
Published by Jonathan Cape in June, 1943.