Kenneth Grahame in 1910
8 March 1859|
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
|Died||6 July 1932
Pangbourne, Berkshire, England, UK
|Occupation||Writer of children's books, and banker|
|Notable work(s)||The Wind in the Willows|
Kenneth Grahame (8 March 1859 – 6 July 1932) was a Scottish writer, most famous for The Wind in the Willows (1908), one of the classics of children's literature. He also wrote The Reluctant Dragon; both books were later adapted into Disney films.
Kenneth Grahame was born on 8 March (1859) in Edinburgh, Scotland. When he was a little more than a year old, his father, an advocate, received an appointment as sheriff-substitute in Argyllshire at Inveraray on Loch Fyne. Kenneth loved the sea and was happy there, but when he was 5, his mother died from complications of childbirth, and his father, who had a drinking problem, gave over care of Kenneth, his brother Willie, his sister Helen and the new baby Roland to Granny Ingles, the children's grandmother, in Cookham Dean in the village of Cookham in Berkshire. There the children lived in a spacious, if dilapidated, home, "The Mount", on spacious grounds in idyllic surroundings, and were introduced to the riverside and boating by their uncle, David Ingles, curate at Cookham Dean church. This delightful ambiance, particularly Quarry Wood and the River Thames, is believed, by Peter Green, his biographer, to have inspired the setting for The Wind in the Willows. He was an outstanding pupil at St Edward's School in Oxford. During his early years at St. Edwards, a sports regimen had not been established and the boys had freedom to explore the old city with its quaint shops, historic buildings, and cobblestone streets, St Giles' Fair, the idyllic upper reaches of the River Thames, and the nearby countryside.
Grahame wanted to attend Oxford University, but was not allowed to do so by his guardian on grounds of cost. Instead he was sent to work at the Bank of England in 1879, and rose through the ranks until retiring as its Secretary in 1908 due to ill health, which may have been precipitated by a strange, possibly political, shooting incident at the bank in 1903. Grahame was shot at three times, all of them missed. An alternative explanation, given in a letter on display in the Bank museum, is that he had quarrelled with Walter Cunliffe, one of the bank's directors, who would later become Governor of the Bank of England, in the course of which he was heard to say that Cunliffe was "no gentleman", and that his retirement was enforced ostensibly on health grounds.
Grahame married Elspeth Thomson in 1899; they had only one child, a boy named Alastair (whose nickname was "Mouse") born blind in one eye and plagued by health problems throughout his short life. On Grahame's retirement, they returned to Cookham where he had lived as a child, and lived at "Mayfield", now Herries Preparatory School, where he turned the bedtime stories he told Alastair into his masterpiece. Alastair eventually committed suicide on a railway track while an undergraduate at Oxford University, two days before his 20th birthday on 7 May 1920. Out of respect for Kenneth Grahame, Alastair's demise was recorded as an accidental death.
Grahame died in Pangbourne, Berkshire, in 1932. He is buried in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford. Grahame's cousin Anthony Hope, also a successful author, wrote his epitaph, which reads: "To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the river on the 6th of July, 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time".
While still a young man in his 20s, Grahame began to publish light stories in London periodicals such as the St. James Gazette. Some of these stories were collected and published as Pagan Papers in 1893, and, two years later, The Golden Age. These were followed by Dream Days in 1898, which contains The Reluctant Dragon.
There is a ten-year gap between Grahame's penultimate book and the publication of his triumph, The Wind in the Willows. During this decade, Grahame became a father. The wayward headstrong nature he saw in his little son Alastair (also known as "Mouse") he transformed into the swaggering Mr. Toad, one of its four principal characters. Despite its success, he never attempted a sequel. The book was a hit and is still enjoyed by adults and children today, whether in book form or in the films, while Toad remains one of the most celebrated and beloved characters of the book. Wind in the Willows won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958. In the 1990s, William Horwood came up with a series of sequels.
- Pagan Papers (1893)
- The Golden Age (1895)
- Dream Days (1898)
- Including The Reluctant Dragon (1898)
- The Headswoman (1898)
- The Wind in the Willows (1908)
- Bertie's Escapade, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
- Green, Peter (1983). "Chapter 1: Dragons and Pterodactyles 1859-67". Beyond the Wild Wood: The World of Kenneth Grahame Author of The Wind in the Willows. New York: Facts on File. pp. 9–24. ISBN 0-87196-740-5.
- Green, Peter (1983). "Chapter 2: The Spell of Oxford". Beyond the Wild Wood: The World of Kenneth Grahame Author of The Wind in the Willows. New York: Facts on File. pp. 29–40. ISBN 0-87196-740-5.
- "From Quill Pen to Computer: The Bank of England's Staff from 1694". Bank of England Museum. Retrieved 2009-05-03.
- John Preston (2008-02-08). "Kenneth Grahame: Lost in the wild wood". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-05-03.
- Robin & Valerie Bootle (1990). The Story of Cookham. private, Cookham. p. 188. ISBN 0-9516276-0-0.
- "Biography". Kenneth Grahame Society. Retrieved 2009-05-03.
- Carpenter, Humphrey; Mari Prichard (1991). The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 216–219. ISBN 0-19-211582-0.
- "Newsweek's Top 100 Books: The Meta-List". Retrieved 2010-06-03.
- Peter Green, the historian of Hellenistic Greece, wrote a biography of Grahame, Kenneth Grahame 1859-1932. A Study of His Life, Work and Times in 1959, with black and white illustrations, and subsequently wrote the introduction to the Oxford World's Classics edition of The Wind in the Willows. Several abridged versions of the biography with added color illustrations were published in the United States and Britain 1982 to 1993 under the title Beyond the Wild Wood: The World of Kenneth Grahame Author of The Wind in the Willows ISBN 0-87196-740-5 and ISBN 1-85627-336-9
- Grahame, K, The Annotated Wind in the Willows, edited with preface and notes by Annie Gauger and Brian Jacques, Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-05774-4.
- Grahame, K, The Wind in the Willows: An Annotated Edition, edited by Seth Lerer. Belknap Press / Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-03447-1.
- Alison Prince: Kenneth Grahame: An Innocent in the Wild Wood (London : Allison & Busby, 1994) ISBN 0-85031-829-7
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- Works by Kenneth Grahame at Project Gutenberg (Including all of the above five books)
- An online literary society focusing on the life and works of Kenneth Grahame is at www.kennethgrahamesociety.net
- The Killing of Mr Toad A play by David Gooderson about the moving story of the Grahame family and its resonances with The Wind in the Willows.
- Plaque to Kenneth Grahame at Blewbury (Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board)