Kenneth Grahame was a Scottish writer famous for his stories ‘The Wind in the Willows‘ (1908) and the ‘Reluctant Dragon’.
Grahame was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 8 March. As a young child, his mother died of Scarlet fever. His father was also an alcoholic so he was sent away to be looked after by elderly relatives.
He excelled as a student at St Edward’s School in Oxford. However, his uncle didn’t want to pay his fees for going to Oxford University. Therefore, Kenneth Grahame moved to the Bank of England where he gained employment as a clerk. He later rose to be secretary and spent all his working life in the Bank of England.
In his spare time, he began writing articles and light stories. They were published in London Periodicals, they were mostly low key. Though a later book, The Reluctant Dragon became more widely known.
In 1899, he married Elspeth Thomson, who was considerably older than Kenneth. The marriage was not particularly close. Kenneth was not gregarious and was content in his own company. They had one son, Alistair, who suffered from various psychological conditions. Alistair later committed suicide whilst studying at Oxford University, aged 20.
Kenneth began writing stories for his son. The primary purpose was to be educational. For example, one of the main characters in The Wind in the Willows is the rather head-strong and arrogant Toad of Toad Hole. His arrogance leads to his downfall:
“’Glorious, stirring sight!’ murmured Toad, never offering to move. ‘The poetry of motion! The REAL way to travel! The ONLY way to travel!”
Though we end up developing sympathy for the character as he learns from his misdeeds.
The book was first published in 1908 in England with illustrations by E.H.Shepard. The book gradually became a best-seller and captured the imagination of many children and adults. In 1929, A.A. Milne dramatised the book as Toad of Toad Hall and over the Twentieth Century became a key part of children’s literature.
The Wind in the Willows is partly an expression of the author’s desire to create a fantasy world free of some of the uncomfortable aspects of modern life. In discussing the work with Theodore Roosevelt, he mentioned the idyllic world he created was “Clean of the clash of sex.”
However, despite its success, Grahame was never inspired to try a sequel. This was despite his early retirement in 1908. His early retirement was partly due to poor health and also disagreements with some of his employees.