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The Real Kenneth Grahame (Hardback)

The Tragedy Behind The Wind in the Willows

British History Social History Biographies White Owl

By Elisabeth Galvin
Imprint: White Owl
Pages: 216
ISBN: 9781526748805
Published: 17th December 2021


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He wrote one of the most quintessentially English books, yet Kenneth Grahame (1859 – 1932) was a Scot. He was four years old when his mother died and his father became an alcoholic, so Kenneth grew up with his grandmother who lived on the banks of the beloved River Thames. Forced to abandon his dreams of studying at Oxford, he was accepted as a clerk at the Bank of England where he became one of the youngest men to be made company secretary. He narrowly escaped death in 1903 when he was mistaken for the Bank’s governor and shot at several times. He wrote secretly in his spare time for magazines and became a contemporary of contributors including Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw and WB Yeats. Kenneth’s first book, Pagan Papers (1893) initiated his success, followed by The Golden Age (1895) and Dream Days (1898), which turned him into a celebrated author. Ironically, his most famous novel today was the least successful during his lifetime: The Wind in the Willows (1908) originated as letters to his disabled son, who was later found dead on a train line after a suspected suicide. Kenneth never recovered from the tragedy and died with a broken heart in earshot of the River Thames. His widow, Elspeth, dedicated the rest of her life to preserving her husband’s name and promoting his work.

As featured on Visit Cornwall - read the blog post here.

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Elizabeth Galvin has woven together the emotional lives of families, friends, and colleagues with the work of writing, publishing, maintaining a home and place in society in the period with the Grahame family at its centre. In this way, the history of the time is built up alongside the personal misalliances, hopes, fears, successes, and tragedies of Kenneth Grahame. The love of home and security which permeates The Wind in the Willows is shown to have its roots in Grahame’s personal life, but also resonates with a period of change. Kenneth Grahame’s writing, when read through the complexities of his life laid bare by Galvin’s study, becomes even more interesting. Reading The Real Kenneth Grahame, The Tragedy Behind The Wind in the Willows illuminates but does not dominate the way in which Grahame’s fiction can be read. At the same time as Galvin provides an excellent background to understanding Grahame and his writing, the stories retain their charm.

There is a comprehensive bibliography; note for each chapter; an excellent index; photos with explanatory captions; handwritten letters and poetry; and some of the illustrations from The Wind in the Willows.

NetGalley, Robin Joyce

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Elizabeth Galvin's account of the life of the man who created Ratty, Moley, Badger and Toad of Toad Hall brings Grahame's world vividly to life.

NetGalley, Chris Hallam

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I give The Real Kenneth Grahame: The Tragedy Behind the Wind and the Willows five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!

NetGalley, Michelle Kidwell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I found this book fascinating and couldn’t put it down. Heartbreaking at times and also inspirational.

NetGalley, Michelle Coates

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Literary success often seems to spell tragedy either for the author, the author's family, or sadly both. Writing can be a surprisingly dangerous business, but if you are good enough you can hope for immortality. Kenneth Grahame was good enough.
Elisabeth Galvin's new book is a compelling mix of the biographical, with a close look at Grahame"s literary style and output. She examines his often difficult relationship with his wife, and his only son, Mouse, with an objective honesty, and her passion for his writing permeates every page.
A splendid book that can enhance one's enjoyment of that great classic The Wind In The Willows, and also introduce one to the earlier books which should not be overlooked.

NetGalley, Robin Price

About Elisabeth Galvin

At every opportunity when she was a child, ELISABETH GALVIN would jump on her mother’s lap to ask for a story. One of these books was The Railway Children, which began her lifelong love of literature. After studying English and Classics at Durham University, she became a magazine journalist in London, Australia and Hong Kong.

A keen open-water swimmer, Elisabeth recited passages by Jane Austen and the Brontës to herself as she swam across the English Channel to France in 2002 (it took her 10 hours 51 minutes so that’s quite a lot of romantic literature).

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