Old Peter’s Russian Tales
Old Peter’s Russian Tales
Published by T C & E C Jack in November, 1916.
In print. Jane Nissen Books (2003). ISBN 978-1903252161
By mid-1913 Ransome was ready for a fresh start. He was relieved by the outcome of the Oscar Wilde libel case, but whilst he was still interested in literary critisism, the stresses of the court action had turned him against writing further books on that subject. He hankered instead to write more stories. He had been intrigued by Ralston’s Russian Folk Tales in the London Library, which suggested that Russian folklore offered rich material, if only their stories could be told in an accessible way. For years Ransome had been re-telling the Anansi stories, first told to him by Pixie Coleman Smith during his Bohemian days in London. Ransome was convinced that these offered a story-telling method which he could apply to Russian folktales.
Moving to Russia also offered Ransome a temporary escape from his failing marriage. He arrived in St Petersburg on June 14, 1913 and stayed for three months, during which time he learnt enough Russian to begin making rough translations of stories, some of which were postumously published in The War of the Birds and the Beasts. In the spring of 1914 Ransome received a commission to write a guide to St Petersburg. Returning to Russia, he researched and wrote the guide in two months, only for the outbreak of the First World War to scupper any prospect of its publication.
Ransome’s eyesight and general health were too poor for military service, but he hoped to be able to do useful work as a war correspondant. Whilst waiting for a suitable opportunity during the first half of 1915, he continued to work on Old Peter’s Russian Tales alongside the manuscript for The Elixir of Life.
In June 1916, Ransome sent his final corrections, and Old Peter’s illustrations (by the esteemed artist Dmitri Isidorovich Mitrokhin), to his Edinburgh publishers in the British diplomatic bag. The proofs were corrected by Ransome and by W G and Barbara Collingwood.
Old Peter contains 22 stories. These are not direct translations from specific Russian versions, but rather re-tellings in Ransome’s own words. Ransome created three characters, a young boy and girl and an old man (Vanya, Maroosia and Old Peter). This let him tell the stories through Old Peter, using words and ideas that made sense to British audiences.
I made up my mind to learn enough Russian to be able to read Russian folklore in the original and to tell those stories in the simple language that they seemed to need