Winter Holiday is the fourth novel of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series of children's books. It was published in 1933 and set in 12 January - 11 February 1931. In this story, the third set of major characters in the series, the Ds — Dick Callum and Dorothea Callum — are introduced. The series' usual emphasis on boats and sailing is largely absent, as the story is set in the winter. Instead, the children's activities focus on ice skating, signalling with semaphore and Morse code and sledging.
For his inspiration, Ransome draws on his schoolday memories of the Great Frost of 1895 when Windermere froze completely (Life, page 19). Mrs Dixon recalls when she was a young girl .... in '95 with coaches with four horses and horns blowing (which crossed) the lake from side to side (WH15), and that There was three or four of them (ice yachts) rushing about on the lake in ’95, and racing for a silver cup ..... and herself had skated from one end to the other (WH16).
In 1929, there was another severe winter with Windermere freezing over for several weeks, this was just before Ransome wrote Swallows and Amazons. Another major influence is Fridtjof Nansen's books about his Arctic expedition from 1893–1896 in the Fram and on sledges.
- the Ds: Dorothea, Dick Callum
- Swallows: John, Susan, Titty, Roger Walker
- Amazons: Nancy [Ruth], Peggy Blackett
- Captain Flint [Jim Turner]
- minor characters (those in parentheses are "offstage"):
- Mr & Mrs Dixon,
- the Dixons' farmhand, Silas and dog Roy,
- Mrs Molly Blackett,
- (the postman),
- the Beckfoot cook, M Braithwaite,
- Sammy Lewthwaite the policeman,
- the doctor,
- Mr & Mrs Jackson,
- (Fanny) the girl (domestic) who helps Mrs Jackson,
- Jacksons' dog Ringman,
- (Bill Bowness...went too far on ice & fell in),
- ten little girls in green coats and two young women skating
- the smith,
- the coffee-stall man who sells the Ds two hot pies,
- (the people who own North Pole),
- (Mrs Lewthwaite, Sammy's mother)
- (old Bob, porter at station at the foot of the lake
- (Mr Jenkyns; when he was staying at the Callums, Dick dropped his sulphuretted hydrogen apparatus into the spare bedroom; WH21)
Brother and sister Dick and Dorothea Callum meet the Swallows and Amazons during a winter holiday with their mother's former nanny who is a farmer's wife beside the Lake. Whilst observing the stars in a disused barn, Dick and Dorothea start signalling to a group of children they had previously seen rowing on the lake. The next day they meet the other children and shortly become firm friends when the Swallows and Amazons discover that the Ds are excellent skaters. They become part of the group and join in the North Polar Expedition. The holiday is extended when the Amazon's leader Nancy Blackett catches mumps and the group is quarantined and cannot return to their boarding schools. Initially, while waiting for snow to fall, they embark on a series of adventures ranging from rebuilding an igloo to building an ice sled.
There is a heavy snowfall followed by a prolonged period of freezing weather and, unusually, the lake freezes over, providing an excellent opportunity for an expedition to the North Pole across the ice. They train by pulling the sled across High Greenland and skating on the lake. They also use Captain Flint's houseboat which has been frozen into the ice. Eventually Nancy recovers enough for the expedition to begin. However, plans go awry when the Ds set out earlier than expected due to a misunderstanding over a signal flag. When a blizzard blows up and the Ds are missing, rescue parties are organized and the North Pole is well and truly discovered.
(Dates in 1931, names are chapter titles)
- 12 January: Strangers • Signalling to Mars
- 13 January: Strangers No More • The Igloo
- 14 January: Skating and the Alphabet
- 15 January: Snow
- 16 January: Arctic Voyage • Lost Leader • Quarantine
- 17 January: Doing Without Nancy
- 18 January: Doing Without Nancy
- 19 January: Doing Without Nancy
- 20 January: Doing Without Nancy
- 21 January: Cragfast Sheep • Ambulance Work
- 22 January: To Spitzbergen By Ice
- 23 January: To Spitzbergen By Ice
- 24 January:
- 25 January:
- 26 January: Nancy Takes a Hand
- 27 January: Days in the Fram
- 28 January: Days in the Fram
- 29 January: Sailing Sledge
- 30 January: Sailing Sledge
- 31 January: Sailing Sledge
- 1 February: Nancy Sends a Picture • The Fram at Night
- 2 February: The D.'s Take Charge • Captain Nancy Gets Two Bits of News • Captain Flint Comes Home
- 3 February: Next Morning • The Uses of an Uncle
- 4 February: The Uses of an Uncle
- 5 February: The Uses of an Uncle
- 6 February: The Uses of an Uncle
- 7 February: The Uses of an Uncle
- 8 February: The Uses of an Uncle
- 9 February: The Uses of an Uncle
- 10 February: Flag at Beckfoot • Council in the Fram • The North Pole • To the Rescue • Arctic Night
- 11 February: And Afterwards
- The others were telling the Ds about the Kanchenjunga expedition and the trouble over the Great-aunt .... , and Peggy said That's the wood where John came and made the owl noise (WH8, refers to Swallowdale).
- Susan remembered how Roger had sprained his ankle on the moor above Swallowdale (so thinks the sledge might be wanted for the wounded) (WH12, refers to Swallowdale).
- The Ds heard of the night when the houseboat had been burgled and how Captain Flint had given Titty a green parrot and Roger a monkey because they had found the box that had been stolen with the book he had written.(WH13; refers to Swallows and Amazons).
- Roger said We had a lantern and Titty hoisted it up the tree at night.... and the Amazons came down in the dark (WH13; refers to Swallows and Amazons).
- Roger said Our tents were this side the first year .... but the next year we had four tents (WH13; refers to Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale).
- Titty remembered being lost with Roger up on the fells in a summer fog. That had been bad enough. But to be lost in winter and in the snowstorm was much worse (WH27, refers to Swallowdale).
- Winter Holiday happens before Coot Club as there are several references to the wintry holiday eg Last holidays we were in a houseboat frozen in the ice (CC1). And before Pigeon Post as Mrs Newby says you were here again last last winter, when the lake was frozen over (PP1).
- Winter Holiday also happens before We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea as Daddy is stationed at Malta, so has not yet gone to Hong Kong (WH3).
- Mrs Dixon had been Mrs Callum's nurse when she was little. She was brought up in the Lake District as she knew Captain Flint as a boy. She recalled the Great Frost of '95 when she was a little girl and she skated the length of the lake (WH16,23).
- The Ds arrived at the Dixons' the night before the action in the book starts (that is, on 11 January). Mrs Dixon made the train journey to the Lake with them (WH1); she had travelled south to pick them up, and was given the papers for their return to school by Mrs Callum at the station (WH9).
- The message left in the bottle on Cache Island is dated 28 January, and the additions on the (premature) trip to the Pole are dated 10 February (WH15,24,27).
- The last day (when they all wake up after arriving at the North Pole) is described as a February dawn (WH29).
- The timeline in this book is a bit harder to pin down. A comment by Dot in Chapter 19 that "3 weeks ago" they watched the boat being rowed to the Island (which is Day 1) overcomes the "and for many days" line in Chapter 15 (the action actually continues right on); Nancy gets out "1 week" from Day 23, which if it is strictly accurate, puts the action of the trip to the North Pole on Day 30, which we also know is 10 February. By this reckoning, the children have 2 days after the finish of the book before their quarantine ends and they return to school: Titty says We've got another ten days before going back to school (WH23); Nancy says when she arrives at the Pole: Everything's fixed now, We're all coming tomorrow .... But what a pity you did it a day too soon (WH28).
- Originally the holidays were expected to end on Day 7, 8 or 9; i.e. 18, 19 or 20 January:
- The Ds came to the Dixons' for the last week of the winter holidays while their parents were in Egypt to dig up remains (WH3).
- The Walkers were at Holly Howe since Christmas, and Mrs Walker and Bridget left for Malta (on Day 1 of the story; 12 January) where Daddy's ship is stationed for a time.
- The Ds had spent every day of the holidays at an indoor skating rink near the University buildings at home.
- Titty and Roger were skating for the first time, John and Susan had some at school the winter before.
- The Walkers lived mostly in the south (WH5).
- Mrs Callum's birthday is March 7th, as noted in Dick's notebook (WH5).
- Nook Farm is up the valley from Beckfoot between the fells.
- The Swainsons live at Low End.
- Bob is the name of the porter and guard at the Rio railway station; he's been there for 30 years.
- Mr Dixon's sheep mark is a red patch on the left shoulder (WH12).
- Uncle Jim was abroad in foreign parts for the winter, but he saw in the papers about the lake freezing I thought I wouldn't miss it. It's a long time since we've had such a winter as this, and we may not have another for as long again (WH21).
- Gibber the monkey and Polly the parrot are both at the Zoo.
- Books found in the houseboat include: The Riddle of the Sands, Nansen's Farthest North, the First Crossing of Greenland, and Peary's North Pole.
- The Ds don't have any uncles.
- Dorothea has a tiny notebook to write Frost and Snow: A Romance, but so-far has only written Chapter I on the second page (WH10).
- Roger has matches in his pocket during the relief expedition, and is proud to be properly prepared. Perhaps the "family rule" is not to light candles in the bedroom, though when John is putting up the nails for the leading lights and Roger says he can't reach the lantern John says You won't have to and Susan adds Not until you are allowed to use matches ... and by then you'll be tall enough (SA12).
- Winter Holiday is dedicated to The Clan McEoch of Francis Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- The illustration Capsized and Dismasted in chapter 26 The North Pole occasioned discussion on Tarboard in August 2016. The 11th impression in January 1943 had the picture the other way up so Dick’s legs were not waving in the air, but this appears to be a publishing error not occurring in earlier or later editions. Arthur wrote to Wren Howard of Jonathan Cape in 1933 about the picture (as quoted by Roger Wardale in AR: Master storyteller):
- Hi! I counted on you to hurl forth the worst of those pictures. ... What about that niggly one of them being capsized in the snowstorm, with Dick's legs sticking up as he goes head first into the snow. My wife says that picture is a disgrace, and that I ought not even to have let you see it. I only let it go because I had nowt better, and because a small girl liked it.
|Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series|
Swallows and Amazons | 'Their Own Story' | Swallowdale | Peter Duck | Winter Holiday | Coot Club | Pigeon Post | We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea | The Big Six | Secret Water | Missee Lee | The Picts and the Martyrs | 'Coots in the North' | Great Northern?