Biography of Kenneth Grahame

Scottish writer Kenneth Grahame enjoyed a moderate literary career, but remains best know for his children's novel The Wind in the Willows.

Grahame was born in Edinburgh on March 8, 1859. When he was five years old, his mother died giving birth to her fourth child, and his father fell into a deep depression, eventually succumbing to alcoholism. After the elder Mr. Grahame had a debilitating relapse, the Grahame children moved in with their English grandmother, and were never again in contact with their father.

Grahame’s grandmother’s home was dilapidated, and not suited for children. Yet Grahame loved exploring the Berkshire surroundings, which included the Thames River nearby, with his siblings. This idyllic scenery would provide him with the setting for The Wind in the Willows.

Though Grahame performed well in school, he was unable to continue his studies at Oxford because of financial difficulties. Instead, he accepted a position as a clerk at the Bank of England in London, a position which allowed him to participate in the city’s writing circles. In addition to a few articles, stories, and essays in literary magazines, Grahame wrote about a family of orphans called The Olympians. While he and his siblings were not technically orphans, Grahame’s feelings about his mother’s death and his father’s abandonment were strong enough to inspire the characters. Their stories were published in two of Grahame’s collections: The Golden Age and Dream Days.

Grahame enjoyed moderate literary success in London, but he knew it was not the right place for him. After an armed robbery occurred at his bank, Grahame took an early retirement and moved back to Berkshire with his wife and young child Alastair. The Wind in the Willows characters of Toad, Mole, Rat, and Badger had been born during nightly bedtime stories he had long told Alastair, but the story was heightened when he was re-inspired by the pastoral setting. Grahame finished the novel in 1908.

The stories were largely meant as moral lessons for Alastair, who had always been a difficult child. The boy had born blind in one eye, and many believe that he felt inadequate due to this disability. Alastair acted out for years, much to his parents’ chagrin, and in fact carried his anger into adulthood; he committed suicide in 1920.

Alastair’s death hurt Grahame deeply, causing him to fall into depression. He stopped writing stories after that, producing only the occasional essay or book introduction. From that point onwards, he maintained a low-key life, moving in a small, rural village near Oxford.

Grahame died in 1932, and was buried in the same grave as Alastair.

Study Guides on Works by Kenneth Grahame

Though published over 100 years ago, The Wind the Willows has survived as a classic children's novel, one which has been in print since initial publication and continues to delight children even today.

Kenneth Grahame created the characters of...