Thursday, September 4, 2008

More on the Willows

Mole in the Wildwood

As promised I wanted to share a little more on the Wind in the Willows. For me one of the most interesting things about the Wind in the Willows is that it is based on the letters of Kenneth Grahame to his son Alastair or his affectionate handle 'mouse'. A bedtime story nightly for mouse by Grahame was of a ritual importance in the family. So stories of ratty, mole & toad developed. When Alastair was nearly seven he refused point blank to go on a holiday with his nursery governess (Miss Stott) because he would miss the adventures of toad. His dad promised to provide further installments by letters and luckily Miss Stott had the for site to keep the letters which would form the basis of the Wind in the Willows. The letters themselves account for almost a third of the book along with earlier stories on the mole and water rat. The Pipers at the Gates of Dawn & Wayfarers All, were the last two stories added.
Originally Grahame did not intend to publish the stories; they were partly educational for his son, whose behavior had similarities with the reckless and selfish Toad. It was Elspeth's (Grahame's wife) idea to use the letters as the basis of the book. My Dearest Mouse, The Wind in the Willows Letters includes copies of the actual letters.
The book was not an immediate success, but would achieve wider popularity thanks to the 1930 stage version, "Toad of Toad Hall" by A. A. Milne (1882-1956), whose "Winnie-the-Pooh" (1926) was interestingly created for his own son Christopher Robin. Milne focused on the animals, cutting out most of Grahame's romantic fantasy. In addition to ill health, Grahame's retirement was precipitated in 1903 by a strange, possibly political, shooting incident at the Bank of England where Grahame was secretary... Grahame was shot at three times, all of them missed. Grahame retired from his work in 1908, officially because of health reasons, but perhaps also under pressure from his employees. It was in his retirement that he took up seriously the task of writing the book. Grahame's manuscript was rejected by an American publisher, but eventually the book appeared in 1908 in England. It was issued later that year in the US by Scribner's. First it was received with mild enthusiasm, but E.H. Shephard's illustrations in the 1932 edition and Grahame's animal characterizations started soon to gain fame.
Probably the most loved of all children's illustrators, Beatrix Potter, wrote picture letters to her former governesses children, and many of them. It was at the suggestion of Annie Moore (Her Former governess) that she decided to gather them back and from them the many tales of Beatrix Potter emerged. Beatrix Potter was a true Renaissance woman and I will be devoting numerous posts on her in the future.
Sources & Credits:Petri Liukkonen, Wikipedia, My Dearest Mouse, Image courtesy Charles van Sandwyk


Margaret said...

Such an interesting story! How fascinating that letters were the basis for the story--I wonder how many great works have been inspired by letter writing? I love the A.A. Milne connection as well. Fabulous post!

A World Away said...

Thanks Margaret, The AA Milne connection is something more for me to follow up on.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

You rang two bells for me. I adore both Wind in the Willows and Beatrix Potter. She is, frankly, a real heroine to me. Not only for her remarkable talent, but for what she accomplished for the National Trust in the Lake District of England.

Isn't it funny that the art we create from the love of doing it is often the art that lasts?

I enjoyed this post very much. Thank you!

acornmoon said...

What a lovely illustration, it captures so well the spirit of The Willows. It's hard to believe that the artist is still only in his forties, I call that young!

A World Away said...

Pamela, Terry & Edward,
Yes Beatrix Potter was an amazing person and I will be discussing the conservation angle too.
I do believe that art from the heart is everlasting.
Acorn Moon, I know its hard to believe that Charles van Sandwyk is only in his fourties and still getting known.
Thank you both for your comments

willow said...

Wonderful post! I am really into correspondence and letter writing right now. Just picked up a fascinating little book of love letters that I am thoroughly enjoying.

My daughter is Elspeth, BTW. :)