Author(s): Matthew Dennison
During the week Kenneth Grahame sat behind a mahogany desk as Secretary of the Bank of England; at the weekend he retired to the house in the country he shared with his fanciful wife Elspeth and fragile son Alistair and took lengthy walks along the Thames in Berkshire, 'tempted [by] the treasures of hedge and ditch; the rapt surprise of the first lords-and-ladies, the rustle of a field-mouse, the splash of a frog'.
The result of these pastoral wanderings was The Wind in the Willows: an enduring classic of children's literature; a cautionary tale for adult readers; a warning of the fragility of the English countryside; and an expression of fear at threatened social changes that, in the aftermath of the World War I, became reality. Like its remarkable author, it balances maverick tendencies with conservatism. Graham was an Edwardian pantheist whose work has a timeless appeal, an escapist whose withdrawal from reality took the form of time travel into his own past.
My attention was piqued by the otherwise facile comment by J M Barrie, who said; ‘Nothing that happens after we are 12 matters very much’,- and fellow Edwardian, Kenneth Grahame suggested that the clock stops even earlier; ‘…after about seven I don’t remember anything particularly’. What is it with these guys? In his defence, Kenneth Grahame had been effectively orphaned around the age of five and was left to amuse himself by wandering about alone in the landscape. With no other company, he quickly learned to treasure the riverbank, the hedge, the rustle of a field mouse and the splash of a frog. In contrast, most of Grahame’s adult life was one of quiet desperation. He worked in a bank for 30 years and became successful - and dull. Resignation and routine meant a lack of spark. He finally married and had a young son to tell bedtime stories to. As a father, he then recounted his own childhood perfectly – a sort of prelapsrian time. A time before. When I was young my father read The Wind in the WIllows to me. I loved it, and when I read the story now, I hear my father’s voice. The Wild Wood has brought joy to children down the years, and Matthew Dennison has done a fine job explaining why in this biography. Mike