Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487
Kenneth Grahame is the author of The Wind in the Willows, one of the most beloved books of the twentieth century. Orphaned at an early age, he was brought up by relatives in Berkshire and was educated at St. Edward’s School, Oxford, and Summertown. He became a clerk in the Bank of England in 1879, and after nineteen years’ service he was appointed secretary of the bank, in which capacity he retired, in 1908, after two serious illnesses. (The second of these was caused by a wound he suffered when a lunatic fired a revolver in the bank.) Withdrawing to his boyhood home at Blewbury, Grahame and his wife spent almost a quarter of a century in the tranquil Berkshire countryside; their life was marred in 1920 by the death of their only child, Alastair, an undergraduate at Oxford, who was killed by a train. After his retirement Grahame wrote only sporadically. His later writings include introductions to a few books, among them his anthologies, The Cambridge Book of Poetry for Children and The Cambridge Book of Poetry for Young People. For the most part he devoted his leisure to reading and to observations of nature.
Grahame’s literary career began in the 1880’s with occasional poetry and with prose essays, the latter encouraged by W. E. Henley, who published some of them in the National Observer. When Grahame published a collection of these in 1893 under the title Pagan Papers, the book met with immediate success. Over the next few years he contributed other prose sketches to The Yellow Book, and in 1895 he issued his second volume, The Golden Age, combining material from the first with pieces he had written in the interim since its publication. A sequel, Dream Days, appeared in 1898. The Golden Age and Dream Days, drawn from Grahame’s own childhood, give some of the most charming and nostalgic glimpses of child life in all of English belles lettres.
The Wind in the Willows was started informally as a series of stories told by Grahame to his six-year-old son, nicknamed “Mouse.” In 1907 the child was sent away for a seaside holiday, and during his absence the father wrote frequent letters expanding the chronicle of Mole, Ratty, Toad, and Badger, the heroes of his narrative. These letters, published as First Whisper of “The Wind in the Willows,” under the editorship of Grahame’s widow, Elspeth Grahame, show the impeccable sensitivity of his style even in his first drafts. The Wind in the Willows, though slow to establish itself in the public admiration, eventually surpassed his earlier books in popularity. Its jollity and coziness appear certain to remain attractive, despite a vein of sentimentality. The book has been illustrated by E. H. Shepard, Arthur Rackham, and others. Parts of it were dramatized in 1929 by A. A. Milne as Toad of Toad Hall. Several of Grahame’s stories, among them “The Reluctant Dragon,” have been adapted for motion pictures.