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Thursday, 16 April 2015

Great Fictional Characters: Nancy Blackett

Continuing with the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2015

N is for Nancy Blackett, the star (as far as I'm concerned) of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons.

Independent, self-reliant and unafraid of anything or anyone (except, possibly, her Great Aunt), Nancy is a great heroine, especially when you consider the roles to which young girls were supposed to aspire in the 1930s. Where Susan lovingly mothers the other children and gets them out of trouble in a very sensible way, Nancy is all about instigating the action that gets them into trouble in the first place.

"It's much more fun being sea-dogs and timber shiverers."

As a child, reading the books, I envied Nancy's confidence and independence. The Swallows, as much fun as they were, were just a little too sensible for me. I craved the wild adventures Nancy promised (and delivered) and desperately wanted to wear a red cap and frighten boys with my daring. Some have called her a "tomboy"; others, a "subversive character for girl readers" (yes, really!) but I call her a legend.

Every day is an adventure with Nancy and, if it's not, she does her best to make sure it will be. She revels in the fantasy world she has created, where tourists are pirates, neighbours are natives and a local mountain is far-off Kanchenjunga.

"Let's broach a puncheon of Jamaican rum... It's really good stuff. Sometimes our cook is quite friendly, for a native. She calls it lemonade."

Her "flexible honesty" (what an amazing phrase) keeps grown-ups off her back without her ever resorting to outright or unkind lies and, despite pretending to be ruthless, she actually cares very much for her family and friends. A free spirit, she "lives in the now" and doesn't think too seriously about the future, unless it involves living on Wild Cat Island forever.

"Well, we shan't be at school forever," said Nancy. "We'll be grown up, and then we'll live here all the year round."

Unlike most of the other characters in Swallows and Amazons, Nancy appears to not have been inspired by a real person, with Ransome only saying that he once saw two young girls wearing red caps playing one day. However, he was so taken with the character that he named his 28ft cutter "Nancy Blackett" and sailed her for three years. Even better, I found out that she was built in 1931 by Hillyard of Littlehampton- my home town!

Swallows and Amazons is a classic for many reasons, not least for its innocence and charm, as well as the vivid descriptions of the landscape in which the adventures are set. But, for me, it will forever be a firm favourite because of Nancy.


  1. I loved these books when I was a kid. We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea was always my favorite….

    1. Last year, I bought the entire set and worked my way through them again. They were just as good as I remembered and brought back so many happy memories!


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