Kenneth Grahame - The Wind in the Willows (1908)
- Anna Millar
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
As satirical works go, novels exporting the animal instinct have enjoyed a certain longevity, from George Orwell's Animal Farm to Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes. While more upbeat in temperament, Kenneth Grahame's cleverly imagined exposé of late 19th/early 20th century society, The Wind in the Willows, is no different. Toad, Mole, Rat and Badger have long left their mark on the Scottish literary scene. At a time when industrialisation was taking a firm hold of Britain's economy, Grahame's The Wind in the Willows nicely merged the escapism of a children's book with a timely nod to the social climate of an era.
Grahame's alcoholic father ensured the writer, who was born in Edinburgh in 1859, was largely brought up by his extended family in the west Highlands. After the death of his mother, Grahame was sent to live with his grandmother in the small village of Cookham Dene. This would later become the setting for the novel. A banker by trade, Grahame began by writing non-fiction pieces, while dabbling occasionally in the world of fiction. Dream Days, published in the late 1890s, showcased Grahame's most famous short story, 'The Reluctant Dragon'.
Written in 1908, The Wind in the Willows originally took the form of letters to his young son, Alistair, and were based on talking animals who lived in, and around, a river. Grahame's characters formed the basis of what the novelist felt was missing from society: equality of class, proper distribution of wealth, compassion, generosity and humility. So far removed was the novel from Grahame's previous output that The Wind in the Willows was initially ill-received. Later, it would go on to become the author's best known and best loved work.
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