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Kenneth Grahame 1859-1932

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Kenneth Grahame 1859-1932
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Kenneth Grahame

Kenneth Grahame, the third child of affluent parents, was born in Edinburgh on 8th March 1859. Shortly afterwards, the family moved to Inveraray, where his father was Sheriff Substitute. Grahame's father was a heavy drinker, incapable of caring for his family when Grahame's mother died. Kenneth was barely five. The children were sent to be brought up by relatives in Berkshire. Grahame was educated at St Edward's, Oxford but circumstances prevented him from following a university education in Oxford and he took up a position at the Bank of England, where he eventually rose to become the Secretary.

His first piece of published writing, By a Northern Furrow, appeared in 1888. Grahame continued to write articles and stories which were published in the National observer, St James gazette and the Yellow book throughout the 1890's. Pagan papers (1893) was based on some of these, including The Olympians, his child's view of the Victorian adult world. Grahame's The Golden age (1895) received both critical and popular acclaim and centres on a fictional family Created during his own childhood. The sequel, Dream days (1898), featured the same five children, and was equally warmly received by the public. Many of the stories had already been published in journals.

In 1899 he married Elspeth Thomson and their only child, Alastair, was born in 1900. Grahame Created Toad to amuse hid young son, and many of Toad's early adventures are chronicled in correspondence. The Wind in the willows was published in 1908 and, whilst it did not receive instant acclamation, its reputation grew quickly and it soon became a children's classic. The success of The Wind in the willows rests on Grahame's wonderful characterisation of Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger and a combination of riverbank life, mouth-watering picnics and outrageous adventures. The book's appeal was greatly enhanced by E.H. Shepherd's delightful illustrations in the 1930 edition. A stage version, Toad of Toad Hall, was produced in 1930, dramatised by A.A. Milne. Obviously much of Grahame's original work was omitted but what was left was Toad's exciting adventures and it is widely accepted as a classic children's play. Other versions have appeared over the years, including Alan Bennett's stage version in 1991, and these have all helped to reinforce the public profile of the original work.

Grahame retired from the Bank of England in 1907, due to his ill-health. He continued to write and enjoy country life, particularly in Fowey, Cornwall. His son Alastair was tragically killed at the age of nineteen, following which Grahame and his wife spent long periods in Italy. Graham did not write any other significant pieces. He died peacefully in 1932 at his home in Pangbourne.

Kenneth is best-loved and remembered for The Wind in the willows, in which he used nature, the constant in his troubled childhood, to create a classic children's tale of characters familiar the world over.

Kenneth Grahame wrote his books not for literary accolade or money, but for ‘those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them: of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides.’

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