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The Real Kenneth Grahame (Kindle)

The Tragedy Behind The Wind in the Willows

British History Social History Biographies White Owl Literary Figures

By Elisabeth Galvin
Imprint: White Owl
File Size: 30.6 MB (.mobi)
ISBN: 9781526748829
eBook Released: 30th 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.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book tells the story of the man behind one of my childhood favourites Wind in the Willows. This book tells his life story in a gentle and sympathetic way, dealing with the tragedies of his life sensitively. It’s is well researched and well written. Highly recommend.

NetGalley, Rebecca B

This biography was a joy to read and reminded me of how wonderful this genre can be. I felt I had come to know not only the writer but the man.

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Instagram, @salboreads

This sensational biography paints him as a multi-faceted man. With a light touch and beautiful writing from Galvin comes an entertaining but earnest portrait of Grahame. After finishing The Real Kenneth Grahame, I didn’t feel that I loved him or loathed him, but I did feel I that I knew him. To me, that’s the sign of a great biography.


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Instagram, @alice.huntsman

Galvin uses the sources to highlight topics such as grief, mental health and illness in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Grahame’s sexuality and his love for male companionship . She paints a sympathetic portrayal of his wife, Elspeth, and a marriage which was long but not necessarily successful.
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The author takes care with the more painful and unhappy aspects of his life, but also shows his childish joys and love of the water, which would forever influence his writing. Rivers and seas were a comfort to Grahame and allowed him to create something beautiful which continues to live on today.

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Instagram, @mytreasureinbooks

This is a comprehensive, thorough biography that touches on every aspect of Kenneth’s personal life and professional career - both positive and negative. If there’s anything Elisabeth doesn’t know about him, then it’s just not worth knowing. It’s clear she has a great love for her subject matter and has put her heart and soul into her research.

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Instagram, @books_by_your_bedside

Non fiction books are normally ones I dip in and out of, but this I read in one sitting, I love The Wind In The Willows, so was eager to read more about the author.

I really felt for Kenneth, he experienced loss and rejection at such a young age. But through this hardship and his own families experiences , he wrote a well loved children’s classic that shows hope and friendship.

This is such an interesting book and a must read for any fans of the authors work. I now need to read his other books aswell.

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Instagram, @mrsbookburnee

Although the book focuses a great deal on the negative aspects of Kenneth’s life, Galvin does an excellent job of highlighting things that brought him joy. He found a lot of comfort being in nature, particularly near water. As someone who recently moved to live near the sea, I can completely understand this. There’s something so calming about water and nature that makes your problems and worries seem less daunting and I’m sure Kenneth felt the same way.

I really enjoyed reading this excellent biography by Elisabeth Galvin which gives us a new and detailed insight into the life behind the author of such a classic children’s book.

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Instagram, @lookingbackhist

I’m always saddened when I learn that an author had such a sad life (especially writers of children’s books!) I like to image that they were as happy as their work, but it so often seems that tragedy sparks their brilliance.
Kenneth Grahame is such an author and I honestly had no idea of the ordeals that darkened his life.
This book is a fascinating and emotional look into his time, his unfortunate childhood, family life and a love of the river.

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Instagram, @booksandmoomins

Its quite an emotional read but I found it really entertaining. He had a incredible mind and could remember and write about his experiences from his razor-sharp memory. I had never thought about other books he had written so it was interesting to learn about more about these and the background behind all his books.

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Instagram, @fiction_book_reviews

Although this book focuses a lot on the negatives of his life, Galvin breaks this up by sharing some of Grahame’s joys: water, toys, poetry, the circus, art, Italy, and the countryside (to name a few). It was nice to develop a deeper understanding of his loves, interests, and literary pursuits beyond ‘The Wind in the Willows’. People often fixate on this novel, so I applaud Galvin for looking beyond that and giving focus to his other literary ventures.

Give this a read! It’s well researched and very illuminating.

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Instagram, @tattooedliteraryresearcher

The picture delineated by Galvin of Kenneth Grahame is one of a man who lived a respectable and successful life as a professional banker, and a novelist, but also maintained – and valued above all else - a childlike sense of the wonders of the natural world. It is a picture of a man who knew well the depths of both sadness and happiness. A picture of a quietly remarkable man who wrote a quietly remarkable book...

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Instagram, @manishaisreading

Elizabeth Calvin’s biography gives a new insight to the man, his work and life. Well researched and sympathetically written when sensitive topics are covered. I really loved this book, it was wonderful learning about the author of a much loved book.

I highly recommend reading/rereading ‘The wind in the willows’, before or after reading this. It gave a new perspective knowing his love of the countryside and the tragedy of his life, when rereading his work with that knowledge.

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Instagram, @historic_rabbithole

I absolutely adored finding out the origin of The Wind in the Willows story and how it holds such a special connection with Kenneth’s son, Mouse.

I have to be honest because Kenneth was such an elusive, quiet and introverted individual I didn’t know very much about him so you can imagine how shocking it was to discover that Kenneth had quite a tragic life as a whole. From a devastating childhood, to a rather broken marriage that probably in all honesty shouldn’t have happened, to a world shattering loss of his dearly loved only child, Mouse.

This book was utterly fascinating, well-written and well-researched. Elisabeth did such a fantastic job!

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Instagram, @bookishpebbles

This is a biography for the modern world. With historical figures we can often shy away from topics such as psychology and sexuality, but I truly feel that the author handled this with grace but was also not afraid to ask the difficult questions.

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Instagram, @historic_chronicles

Grahame was such a fascinating, if frustrating, man to learn about. His obsession and love for the water was clear, often choosing nature over his own family. He longed to lead a simple life and return to his youth, hence his way of understanding what children want. Some people may know The Wind in the Willows began as stories for his son. It was then thanks to the women in his life that we have the story as they pushed him to see its potential and get it out there in the world.
If you have any interest in the man, or even like me just loved the stories, I can't recommend this enough. It was a pleasure to read, even during the sadness that often filled the pages.

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It is well-written and interesting. All but orphaned at a young age, sorrow follows Grahame around until the tragic death of his only son leads him and his wife to escape to Italy.

While The Wind in the Willows is a story of hope, friendship and belonging, it seems that the only place Grahame felt he belonged was by the water. Its continuous presence feels comforting to us as it did to Grahame, but even a river cannot carry one’s problems away.

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Instagram, @paradise_library

Never knew how tragic the life of a man who brought so much joy to kids through his writings. It brings deep insight into his life and his tragic childhood.

NetGalley, Haley Crenshaw

It is amazing how a man so beset with personal tragedy and an unsettled upbringing could create such a giant contribution to our literary heritage. Elisabeth uncovers a wealth of information about this amazing man's troubled life...

Books Monthly

As featured in: Bookshelf

Evergreen

As Featured in

Round and About Magazine, 31st January 2022

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

Visit Cornwall

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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