Yet another 20th century English author in bed with the communists? Literally, in this case - Arthur Ransome
might be best known for his 'Swallows & Amazons' books about children sailing in the idyllic Lake District
, but before all that, he left his first wife (and a libel case that got him mixed up with Oscar Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas) to study fairy tales in Russia... only there he fell in love with Leon Trotsky's private secretary, ended up working for the Bolsheviks and also MI6.
She - Evgenia Shelepina - later became his wife, but not before he'd witnessed the Bolshevik revolution
, and fled Russia with a Bolshevik diplomatic passport and a satchel stuffed full of millions of roubles. According to Roland Chambers, author of a new bio of Ransome
, when he pitched up at the British Embassy in Sweden, the British Intelligence community were extremely suspicious of him. Didn't stop them hiring him to work for MI6, even though they knew he retained is communist sympathies:
"Recruited to MI6 in 1918, he submitted reports to the British head of station in eastern Europe, while simultaneously advising the Bolshevik secret police on British foreign policy. Revealing a dizzying ability to adapt himself to the nearest power, he insisted, nevertheless, that he had retained absolute objectivity. When Sir Basil Thomson, head of Special Branch, asked him what his politics were, Ransome answered, ‘Fishing’."
You can hear Chambers talking about the book (and Ransome talking about fishing) on Radio 4's Open Book
(iPlayer link, outside UK YMMV): Chambers starts 18 minutes in. Was Ransome a double agent? Well that depends: short answer, Chambers says, is yes.
No surprise, given the chaos of his early life, that Ransome went on to write children's books set in a very orderly world - although one where small groups do fight each other for territory and power.