As a friend said to me in a letter today, she too is “all Penguined out”. I feel the same way today so instead of “penguining” I will acknowledge Kenneth Grahame’s birthday.
As a young child reader my dream was to live in one of the homes that the animal characters lived in. I thought living in a tree hollow with the cozy round mat in front of the fire, a table with a honey pot (yes I know that sounds quite Winnie the Pooish but his house was pretty great too) and all the friends would love each other, and family would care for one another.
I continue to keep a small collection of books on my shelves that represent home and hearth as a most tranquil place.
Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh and had several siblings. His mother died in childbirth when Kenneth was 5. As alcoholism claimed yet another parent, his father not capable of raising the children, his grandmother took them. She lived on a large, but dilapidated property near a river which Grahame later used for the setting of Wind in the Willows.
She sent him to school at St Edwards in Oxford, England. He excelled and longed to attend Oxford University but due to lack of funds was sent to work in a bank where he stayed through most of his adult life.
Grahame married Elspeth in 1899 but it was not a happy union. One son was born, a boy named Alastair, nicknamed “Mouse” who was a very ill child. Grahame’s marriage was not a happy one.
He eventually retired due to ill health possibly attributed to an incident at the bank resulting in him being shot at 3 times by a deranged customer. Thankfully the gunman missed him or there would be no Mr. Badger, Toad or Mole.
Kenneth retired to write his beautiful Wind in the Willows based on the property he grew up on, finally putting to paper the stories he told Alastair during his childhood..
The Telegraph stated, "while it would be an over-simplification to draw too close a connection between the events of the shooting and retiring to write, there's no doubt that the shooting incident affected Grahame deeply. It confirmed something that he had always suspected; namely, that the outside world was an unsafe and unstable place, full of brutish people doing horrid things to one another. The book was some place to escape from his fears"
His son Alastair attended Oxford University; but sadly he committed suicide just before his 20th birthday in 1920 on the Oxford railroad tracks.
Grahame died in Pangbourne, Berkshire in 1932. He is buried in Hollywell Cemetery, Oxford, England
His epitaph 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".
Most people couldn’t agree more. Do you have memories of first hearing about the characters in The Wind in the Willows?