The Wind in the Willows
The Wind in the WillowsINTRODUCTION
Scottish novelist, essayist, editor, and author of fairy tales, juvenile short stories, and juvenile novels.
The following entry presents commentary on Kenneth Grahame's juvenile novel The Wind in the Willows (1908) through 2006. For further information on his life and career, see CLR, Volume 5.
Published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows is regarded as a classic juvenile novel and one of the best known works of children's literature. Originating from a series of bedtime stories Grahame told his son, Alastair, the book chronicles the adventures of a group of plucky anthropomorphic animals, led by the impulsive and childish Mr. Toad. Both a social critique of the English class system and a utopian vision of an ideal bachelor society, The Wind in the Willows remains one of the most popular books for children in England and the United States and has been translated into several different languages. In addition, it has been adapted for film, television, and the stage many times and inspired several unofficial sequels written by different authors.
Grahame was born on March 8, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and spent the first five years of his life with his family in the Western Highlands near Loch Fyne. Following the death of his mother, Bessie, from scarlet fever in 1864, Grahame's father sent him and his siblings to live with their maternal grandmother in The Mount in Cookham Dene, near both the River Thames and Windsor Forest, and it was here that Grahame first reveled in a new-found world of English meadow and riverbank. In 1866, however, Grahame was removed from this pastoral setting when his grandmother was forced to move far from the Thames. The same year, an attempt to reunite the Grahame children with their father—now suffering from the advanced stages of alcoholism—proved futile. Grahame subsequently attended St. Edward's School, Oxford, from 1868 through 1876, and, although he hoped to enter the University, his uncle, upon whom he was financially dependent, forced him into a clerkship with the Bank of England. Grahame remained with the bank while pursuing writing as a vocation, with examples of his work appearing in such prestigious Victorian periodicals, as the St. James' Gazette, The Yellow Book, and the National Observer. A collection of essays he published attracted some notice, but it was his short stories, later collected in The Golden Age (1895) and Dream Days (1898), that established Grahame as a celebrated literary figure. Grahame married Elspeth Thomson in 1899, and the couple had one child, Alastair. The bedtime stories Grahame invented for his son eventually evolved into his masterpiece, The Wind in the Willows, a novel which recreated the idyllic world the author himself had glimpsed as a child. Following the publication of The Wind in the Willows, Grahame travelled widely but wrote very little. He died in Pangbourne, England, on July 6, 1932.
PLOT AND MAJOR CHARACTERS
The Wind in the Willows focuses on the adventures of a group of four anthropomorphic animal friends: Mole, Badger, Rat, and Toad. Commentators have noted that the book consists of three complimentary narratives: the adventures of Toad, the tale of the friendship of Rat and Mole, and two lyrical chapters on nature entitled "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and "Wayfarers All." The story begins when Mole abandons the spring cleaning of his underground home to take a walk along the riverbank, emerging from the dark world of his mole-hole for the first time (born from what Grahame describes as a "spirit of divine discontent"). He meets Rat, and the two become friends. Mole also becomes friends with Toad, the rich owner of Toad Hall. Toad convinces Rat and Mole to take a trip on his gypsy caravan, but during the ride they are forced off the road by a speeding automobile. Entranced, Toad abandons the caravan to follow the car. Rat and Mole return home. Later, Mole gets lost exploring the area across the river known as the Wild Wood. Rat rescues him, and the two find refuge in the safe and warm home of the Badger. This leads into the bridge of the novel, and a surrealistic visit to Pan's Island in the chapter "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn." Ostensibly about the hunt for a missing otter child, the chapter shows Mole and Rat searching the course of the river for the youngling before stumbling upon the otherworldly visage of Pan, described here as the incarnation of the Artist. Standing above the saved otter child, he is an arcane vision who quickly disappears, erasing from the pair any concrete memories of having seen him. This extraordinary event is followed shortly after by "Wayfarers All," where Rat is offered a philosophical temptation by the Sea-Rat, who presents Rat with an artistic choice: join him for a life on the high seas to experience a more exciting life or stay in his current idyllic, but quiet existence. Rat ultimately rejects the Sea-Rat's invitation, and the second half of the novel, primarily focused on the rebellious Toad's heroic fall, begins. In Rat and Mole's absence, Toad has become obsessed with automobiles and crashes several cars. Concerned about his young friend, Badger asks Rat and Mole to help him convince Toad to be more responsible. Their appeal to him fails, and Toad is caught stealing a car and is sentenced to twenty years in jail. Toad escapes jail and has many adventures on his trip home. When he finally arrives back at Toad Hall, he finds it overrun with weasels, stoats, and ferrets from the Wild Wood. With the help of his friends, they are able to run the squatters out of the house and enjoy a celebratory banquet. The story ends with Toad resolving to reform his ways.
Influenced by the works of Beatrix Potter and Richard Jeffries, The Wind of Willows has been viewed by many critics as a veneration of a foregone pre-industrial era, epitomized by Mole and Rat's quietly indulgent life spent on the river and its nearby environs, an homage to the simple pleasures of listening to "the wind in the willows." Deborah Stevenson has suggested that the story "is ultimately the champion not of Nature, but of the Rural, the cultivated countryside of distant but friendly neighbors and dusty roads." Called at various times a juvenile ode to both the pastoral and the Romantic ideal, the novel is a study of contrasts, with Rat and Mole seeking the artistic Romantic ideal whereas Toad moves down a more reckless path of Dionysian revelry and indulgence, symbolized through his adoration of technology. Grahame's alleged antagonism toward industrialism has primarily been detected in Toad's dangerous obsession with automobiles, and the character's pretentiousness and foolishness in pursuit of this obsession becomes a ripe subject for Grahame's humor; therefore, the story is also viewed as a commentary on England's rigid class system. Additionally, the theme of the journey is another major recurring motif in The Wind of Willows, as various characters feel the pull of wanderlust and the need to explore space outside of their home region. Yet most of these journeys result in danger and homesickness.
The initial critical response to The Wind in the Willows was mixed, however, the critical reputation of the text has grown as a result of its surprising and enduring popularity with children. Perhaps the most famous example of this trend is the oft-quoted story of how U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt—a long-time admirer of Grahame's—was disappointed by the novel at first, but after his children urged a second reading, he became one of The Wind in the Willows' most outspoken proponents. Children's literature scholar Elizabeth Nesbit has termed the work "a book which offers such wealth of beauty and fun, of sense and nonsense, of joy and seriousness expressed in words whose music is a joy in itself … Into it Kenneth Grahame put the whole of himself and his love of life and of living things." In his 1959 study of children's fiction Three Ways of Writing for Children, C. S. Lewis praised the novel as "an admirable hieroglyphic which conveys psychology … more briefly than novelistic presentation and to readers whom novelistic presentation could not yet reach … The child who has met Mr Badger has ever afterwards, in its bones, a knowledge of humanity and of English social history which it could not get in any other way." Many critics have lauded the stylistic variation, slang-filled dialogue, and the repeated comic devices in the text, maintaining that the charismatic appeal of Mr. Toad, whose adventures are broken into short sequences, is particularly effective for young readers. Reviewers have also discussed the elements of satire in the novel, particularly the mock-heroic epic section "The Return of Ulysses," which satirizes the Greek epic poem The Odyssey. However, despite the work's nostalgic appeal, many commentators—such as Lois Kuznets and Bonnie Gaarden—have accused The Wind in the Willows of displaying misogynistic tendencies due to its recurring dismissals of female characters and occasional lapses into negative lan- guage when speaking about the opposite sex. Claire Walsh has asserted that, "Grahame was frankly ignorant of the misogynistic overtones pervading his book" and that "it can also be viewed as undermining its own apparent misogyny with a playful, theatrical approach to gender construction." Neil Philip has further argued that, as the novel approaches its centennial, The Wind in the Willows has been able to retain its wide appeal because it "possesses in abundance that quality by which Ezra Pound defined the true classic: ‘a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness.’"
The Wind in the Willows (juvenile novel) 1908; new edition illustrated by Paul Bransom, 1913
The Cambridge Book of Poetry for Children. 2 vols. [editor; illustrations by Maude Fuller] (juvenile poetry) 1916; revised edition, illustrated by Gwen Ravverat, 1932
‡The Kenneth Grahame Book (juvenile novels and short stories) 1932
The Reluctant Dragon [illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard] (fairy tale) 1938
Bertie's Escapade [illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard] (fairy tale) 1949
Works for Adults
Pagan Papers (essays) 1893
The Headswoman (novella) 1898; new edition, illustrated by Marcia Lane Foster, 1921
My Dearest Mouse: "The Wind in the Willows" (correspondence) 1988
*Includes the short stories "A Holiday," "Alarums and Excursions," and "The Whitewashed Uncle."
†Includes the short stories "The Reluctant Dragon," "The Magic Ring," and "Saga of the Seas."
‡Collects The Golden Age, Dream Days, and The Wind in the Willows.
Humphrey Carpenter (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: Carpenter, Humphrey. "The Wind in the Willows." In Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children's Literature, pp. 151-69. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
[In the following essay, Carpenter describes The Wind in the Willows as more of a bachelor vision of Arcadia than an intentional social allegory.]
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Cynthia Marshall (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: Marshall, Cynthia. "Bodies and Pleasures in The Wind in the Willows." Children's Literature 22 (1994): 58-67.
[In the following essay, Marshall examines the subliminal roles that sex and gender play in the seemingly innocent and male-dominated universe of The Wind in the Willows.]
Although Kenneth Grahame originally objected to The Wind in the Willows being illustrated (Green 285), the text has since proved a site of much visual activity. From the coy early sketches of Ernest H. Shepard to Arthur Rackham's fantastic watercolors, illustrators have gloried in the imaginative possibilities of Grahame's text. Yet as Elaine Showalter notes of the numerous illustrations of Ophelia from Shakespeare's Hamlet, a visual tradition growing alongside a literary text can signal an absence in the text itself. Ophelia, lacking agency and development within the play, inspires attempts to complete her character, to fill in Shakespeare's bare sketch (Showalter 78). So, too, with The Wind in the Willows. I think illustrators are inspired not simply by the local charm of small animals in the English countryside but by a particular lacuna—an absence of consistent, direct reference to their physical characteristics.
For those who are not visual artists, other forms of accommodation may be necessary. Grahame's purpose was to trace a world of innocent delights and thereby to encourage children's identification with animals whose small bodies and large egos match their own. Yet today we have to wonder how innocent this prepubescent vision of the physical self is, particularly given Grahame's note to his publisher that the work was "clear of the clash of sex" (Ellmann xvii; Kuznets 175).1 How effective can such a clearing be, and what are its costs? Here I will explore the relation between Grahame's evasion of mimetic fixity and the ideological marking in the text with regard to gender. I am concerned with both the poetics and the morality of representation—the access that it affords to readerly pleasure and the violence that it does to the represented object. After considering some purposes and effects of the absence of bodies from The Wind in the Willows, I will turn to the way in which the repressed—the clash of sex—returns, specifically in Grahame's portrayal of Toad in the guise of the washerwoman. Finally I will suggest how, by treating gender as a role rather than a stable reality, The Wind in the Willows unsettles some of its own misogynistic violence.
Although this essay focuses closely on Grahame's text, the argument that I pursue has implications for the study of children's fantasy literature in general. I will suggest limitations in the model of feminist interpretation—empiricist, liberal feminism—that has recently dominated in the field. Such a model, while useful in identifying overt forms of sexism, assumes a rigorous gender opposition that does not regularly appear in imaginative literature for children. In the final section of this essay I will suggest how a poststructural form of feminism, one that resists the notion of (two) fixed genders, is more appropriate and helpful in analyzing works like The Wind in the Willows. A delight of classic children's fantasy is the creation of a realm where possibilities are multiple rather than exclusive. Kenneth Grahame strives for such freedom in his images of gendered behavior, hence his work imagines a world of multigendered possibility, even though it remains historically connected to a misogynistic society.
Pleasures without Bodies
The world represented in The Wind in the Willows is one of multitudinous pleasures. From the early moments of Mole's glad animal pleasure in spring sunlight and a first glimpse of the river, Kenneth Grahame's text continually evokes the delights of the flesh—the simple, creaturely satisfactions of good food, welcome rest, comfortable shelter. Bodily as these experiences are, however, they are curiously detached from any sustained representation of the physical bodies of the central characters. Originally written for the author's young son, who was nearly blind from birth, The Wind in the Willows offers an unusual and compelling example of a children's text that does not privilege the visual senses.2 Grahame relies on other sensory media, more fluid and less prone to iconolatry, to establish the experiences of his characters. The occasional reference to a forepaw or to Rat's swimming abilities or to Mole's propensity for underground lodgings scarcely interrupts an abiding understanding that these characters are not animals in any firm mimetic sense, for readers can share their experiential world—a world of buttered toast and comfortable house-slippers. Grahame's failure, or refusal, to represent their animal bodies thus seems to be in the service of establishing greater involvement on the part of Alastair Grahame, the original audience; such involvement breaks down the sense of character as other produced by more exotic portrayals.
Indeed, so successfully does Grahame effect the bond between readers and characters on the basis of shared pleasures that on those rare occasions when the beastly status of a character does receive explicit mention, we feel our own senses expanding to encompass the experience. When the Mole, passing through unfamiliar countryside, suddenly senses that he is near his former home, Grahame writes: "We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have not even proper terms to express an animal's inter-communications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word ‘smell,’ for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning, inciting, repelling" (88). Reminding us of the greater perceptual powers of certain lower animals, Grahame establishes our differences through what we have lost in the evolutionary climb. Yet because most of us can, like Mole, recognize the sensation of home, even though we lack the vocabulary to speak of such awarenesses, the effect here is simultaneously to evoke and to elide a reader's difference from those others with their delicate thrills.
A larger sense of doubleness or undecidability marks the size and animal status of the characters. Toad is large enough to drive a human-sized automobile; Mole captures the old gray horse from the paddock and strolls along the high road "by the horse's head, talking to him" (49). At once beast and human, small and large, the characters move easily between radically discontinuous positions, partaking of the delights available to all and the troubles germane to none. The animal characters are undifferentiated, unrestrained—and so is the pleasure they enjoy and share with readers—a kind of jouissance. To fix their bodies through direct description would effect a limit, would ground experience to the world of logical causation and spatial possibility. An author who employs representation, writes Roland Barthes, "imposes on the reader the final state of matter, what cannot be transcended, withdrawn" (45). Grahame instead titillates with the textual evocation of pleasures without bodies.
Rat, Mole, and Badger move through a seasonal cycle of delight free from dissipation, in a comraderie free from contingency. The few responsibilities that shape their adventures are those of fellow feeling. The search by Rat and Mole for Little Portly, the missing young otter, offers a telling example both of their emotional bonds and of the way the text treats physicality. Nothing of crisis or even fear marks this search; instead, a mild shared anxiety—"Little Portly is missing again; and you know what a lot his father thinks of him, though he never says much about it" (117)—inspires Rat and Mole to spend the summer evening on the river. Doing so evinces their communal ties with Otter and suggests an easy sense of shared responsibility for the youngsters of the animal kingdom, although no sacrifice is involved in following these values; as Rat remarks, "It's not the sort of night for bed anyhow; and daybreak is not so very far off" (119). Their search upstream to the weir oc- casions a transcendent experience for Mole and Rat. They enter a "holy place" where they glimpse the "august Presence" of the "Friend and Helper" (123, 124), apparently Pan himself, the protector of small animals, including Little Portly. Yet no sooner have they reclaimed Portly than the vision fades into oblivion: "For this is the last best gift that the kindly demi-god is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness. Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and light-hearted as before" (125). Knowledge of the demigod, once encrypted in consciousness, might spoil a perfect, and perfectly heedless, pleasure. So all trace of transcendence fades and with it all awareness, save for a vague melancholy sense that nature shows "less of richness and blaze of colour than they seemed to remember seeing quite recently somewhere—they wondered where" (126).
In portraying these animals mindlessly present before their god, Grahame's myth of preconscious access to divinity recalls Wordsworth's address to the child "untouched by solemn thought," who "liest in Abraham's bosom all the year; / And worshipp'st at the Temple's inner shrine, / God being with thee when we know it not" (ll. 10, 12-14). What is posited in each case is an ultimate freedom—knowledge of divinity without the guiltiness of knowledge, without a sense of one's own godlessness. Innocence, figured as an inability to make distinctions, is preserved by wiping away the traces of difference between nature and the supernatural.
The episode with Little Portly contains another aspect of Grahame's strategy of effacing difference: although Rat refers to the Otter family as "they," specific concern for the missing child is repeatedly ascribed to the father alone. At this juncture a reader may notice the absence of female figures from The Wind in the Willows. The major characters and their god are all male; it is a boyhood fantasy of eternal school holiday with chums. Except for the brief mention of a mother hedgehog who has foolishly sent her children (sons, of course) to school in a snowstorm, the animal community of The Wind in the Willows contains no mention of the "other" sex. And only when Toad lands in prison and escapes in the guise of a washerwoman do human females enter the story. The exclusion of females from the preferred community is not explicitly mentioned, and we might suppose that Grahame aims nostalgically at producing the worldview of a child to whom sex is inconsequential. Yet the assumption that childhood is totally innocent of sex speaks strongly of denial, for children in modern societies are confronted with gender difference in toddlerhood. Even in societies in which young children are not themselves "breeched" according to sex (as in early modern Europe, when infants of both sexes were clothed in dresses until the age of five or six), gender-based variations in adult social roles are visible. There is no developmental period clear of the clash of sex, and so we can only conclude that Grahame writes from the view of (and arguably for the readership of) a male who finds women inconsequential. The Wind in the Willows exhibits one version of the homosocial economy that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has described as so central to the European literary canon (17). Emotional bonds in Grahame's fantasy are strictly "between men," and their exclusivity carries misogynistic overtones. While ostensibly dismissing sex, Grahame embraces sexism.
Thus an interpretive crux rests in Grahame's remark about rendering the book clear of the clash of sex: Does sex necessitate conflict? Can the clash be eliminated only by erasing gendered difference? And does the erasure of difference inevitably mean the erasure of women? Proponents of traditional liberal feminism, based on oppositional constructions of gender, fix on the lack of any woman's part in the story. Lois Kuznets has examined the role given those women—human females—who do appear, and concluded that "women remain, forever, the Other in The Wind in the Willows " (179). Kuznets's feminism takes us the helpful first step toward understanding the function of gender in The Wind in the Willows, but the textual effects of representation go unexamined in her account.
Representation is necessarily a result of difference. Its metaphysical action turns on the crucial dialectic of absence and presence, for the object that is represented must exist at some remove from the representation. By framing and re-presenting, representation appropriates its object, assuming toward it the stance of author, shaper, god. If Grahame for the most part avoids these effects by leveling differences between his animal subjects and human readers, the episode in which Toad plays the washerwoman reactivates the violence of representation, though with some peculiar twists in the ideological machinery. The image of Toad in the washerwoman's clothes offers what has otherwise been absent from the text: a visually realized and highly gendered body. But what exactly does Toad-as-washerwoman represent?
"The Very Image of Her"
A reader might imaginatively assent to Toad's unlikely escapades in inns and automobiles and to his ensuing experiences with magistrates and judges, but the washerwoman episode foregrounds the issue of a small amphibian passing as a human, making this the crisis point for any consideration of bodily representation in the text. Whatever adjustments of size or scale have guided our visions of Toad previously are disrupted by the far more explicit necessity of fitting his toad-sized body into a washerwoman's clothes. Not only the giggling admiration of the jailer's daughter for the completed disguise—"You're the very image of her" (136)—but the ease with which Toad passes the series of prison warders challenge a reader to visualize Toad, to embody him specifically as a washerwoman. The humor becomes more charged if we consider that the washerwoman is also being implicitly described as a toad.
Although the text otherwise has largely avoided the issue of embodiment, physicality is bestowed on the washerwoman with a sudden, spotlighted effect. In the simplest sense, plot considerations guide this choice: the jailer's daughter—"a pleasant wench and good-hearted" (131)—plans Toad's escape, and the washerwoman provides the means to accomplish it. Yet the association between femininity and material limits demands attention. When the problems of physical existence emerge, when Toad's freedom is limited and his creaturely happiness is distressed, Grahame, as male authors typically do in Western culture, anchors these difficulties to a female body. The problematic material body has traditionally been feminine; "female figures … have incarnated men's ambivalence not only toward female sexuality but toward their own (male) physicality" (Gilbert and Gubar 12). By including three women in the tale of Toad's escape—the jailer's daughter, the washerwoman, and the bargewoman—Grahame evokes in a child who identifies with Toad a claustrophobic sense of the enormity of female figures.3 Toad would have no occasion for converse with these women had he not been imprisoned, and keeping them comfortably at bay is a palpable delight of his return to bachelor existence. All our sympathy and involvement, even our readerly condescension and ridicule, are tied up with Toad. The washerwoman is not a character worthy of defending; she figures merely as an image to be exploited, a disguise to take advantage of; she exists in the text as a physical body without agency and without many pleasures, either.
Considerations of class compound the evident misogyny of Grahame's portrayals of the three women in the tale.4 Toad shouts to the bargewoman who has penetrated his disguise: "You common, low fat bargewoman!… don't you dare to talk to your betters like that!" (170). When the jailer's daughter first mentions her aunt, Toad comforts her: "There, there,… never mind; think no more about it. I have several aunts who ought to be washerwomen" (134). "Washerwoman" functions pejoratively for Toad, as the social expression of personal lowliness. If the washerwoman's response to "the sight of certain gold sovereigns" is not enough to teach him more of the economic grounds of her existence, his own experience at the train station certainly does. Reaching into his pocket for money, he finds only folds of the cotton gown, "the strange uncanny thing that seemed to hold his hands," and realizes that he has left his waistcoat with money, keys, watch, pocketbook, "all that makes life worth living" (138), back in the jail cell. The apparatus of wealthy, self-directed existence coincides here with the apparatus of masculinity, so that two sets of terms are contrasted: on the one hand, Toad's easy assumption of being male, wealthy, and powerful; on the other, his realization of the washerwoman's struggle as female, poor, and powerless. The uncanny thing that confronts Toad, and by implication the reader, is gender difference, with its social and economic implications.
Read with an eye for gendered oppositions, The Wind in the Willows appears extremely misogynistic. Grahame effaces the feminine from his picture of pleasurable existence, imagining a life of bachelor charm seen from the standpoint of a nine-year-old boy of some means. Grahame vents spleen at the female sex through the realized vision of the toady washerwoman and through offhand remarks like Rat's chiding of Toad for making an ass of himself by being "ignominiously flung into the water—by a woman, too!" (185). To be a woman in this text is to lack not only means and power but even identity, for Toad can readily assume the washerwoman's role. Yet the issue of identity versus role playing may suggest that The Wind in the Willows qualifies its own misogyny with a fairly fluid, even theatrical, notion of gender construction. A poststructural notion of identity can suggest why Grahame thought it possible to eliminate the clash of sex without denying differences utterly.
The washerwoman episode shows how far Grahame is from a belief in fixed and immutable identity. Toad quickly learns that playing the part of the washer- woman is not simply a matter of donning her clothes. He must use speech and mannerisms to convince the various warders he passes that he is the washerwoman. And "he was soon agreeably surprised to find how easy everything was made for him…. Even when he hesitated, uncertain as to the right turning to take, he found himself helped out of his difficulty by the warder at the next gate, anxious to be off to his tea, summoning him to come along sharp and not keep him waiting there all night" (136-37). Toad experiences the social structuring of identity, the extent to which the washerwoman's behaviors are conditioned by those around her. Ordinarily the most irascible of creatures, Toad yet manages, as the washerwoman, to endure the insulting humor of the guards and to hold his temper. He begs and wheedles a place on the train, agreeing to wash shirts in return for the favor. He launches into a lengthy narrative of family troubles to win the bargewoman's sympathies. Confronted by the harsh requirements of life as a washerwoman, Toad responds by adopting what would doubtless be some of her own developed characteristics.
The sense here is that the washerwoman plays a role no less than Toad does, and part of the freeing humor of the episode is its subversion of the idea of fixed human identity. If the washerwoman's role is susceptible to Toad's adoption, something of the obverse is also true: Toad's character remains perpetually bound up with that of "the lady he was forced to represent" (137). As in the case of Falstaff forced into disguise as the old woman of Brainford (The Merry Wives of Windsor, 4.2) or with cross-gender impersonation more generally, readers are challenged to see some ground or basis for the crossover—some evidence that the character's gendering is ambiguous or unstable and hence liable to (temporary) alteration. Toad's emotional excesses make him a candidate for female impersonation. Not only does his bipolar disposition (alternating extremes of mania and depression) suggest the lability of his personality, but such displays of extreme emotion as Toad is given to are themselves culturally marked as feminine. Trying to imagine the stolid Badger in the washerwoman's clothes instead of Toad, for instance, suggests that some point of access, some shared boundary, is necessary to render transvestism believable and therefore socially disruptive and potentially comic. But Toad is not the only animal to wear the washerwoman's dress.
Whereas Toad's hysteria codes a feminine element to his personality, Mole's domesticity and his nurturant capacities (and perhaps his lack of confidence) grant him access to the washerwoman's role. Mole's late donning of the dress for an espionage mission against the stoats and weasels has important implications for issues of gender and representation. Mole's use of the costume is distinctly and intentionally appropriative; he presents his actions as playful ("I've been having such fun!" ), yet his disruption of the enemies' plans accomplishes a heroic purpose. Whereas Toad's disguise seemed a matter of exigency, Mole's reiteration of the role renders it less stable, more playful, and thus breaks down the strict gender barriers that structured the original act of transvestism. Mole's experience in the dress is parodic. The dress enters circulation as an object of exchange, rather than continuing to betoken gendered opposition.
This unsettling of prescribed gender roles requires consideration, even though it would be a mistake to overlook the extent to which The Wind in the Willows functions as a homosocial and intermittently misogynistic text. Kuznets is correct in noting that the "attractive androgyny of nurturing males [in the story] is one that can postulate no similar androgyny for females" (179), but she underestimates the subversive effects of any challenge to the established codes of gender behavior. Judith Butler's notion of gender as performance is particularly apposite to the washerwoman incidents in The Wind in the Willows, for Butler emphasizes the way parody loosens a claim to essential truth: "The parodic repetition of gender exposes … the illusion of gender identity…. As the effects of a subtle and politically enforced performativity, gender is an ‘act,’ as it were, that is open to splittings, self-parody, self-criticism, and those hyperbolic exhibitions of ‘the natural’ that, in their very exaggeration, reveal its fundamentally phantasmatic status" (146-47). Grahame's multiple uses of the washerwoman's role de-naturalize gender, transforming it from identity to social ruse. That only this particular role is so thoroughly open to parody may nevertheless suggest that Grahame has naturalized masculinity and allowed only fragmentary masks of feminine gender. I would argue, however, that Grahame's refusal to represent or describe the bodies of his animal characters renders them more than, and occasionally other than, their physical selves. Instead of seeing identity as determined in an essential sense by either the body or by cultural expectations, Grahame's text highlights the theatrical quality of the gendered self. Such a performative emphasis disrupts the gap between subject and object that ordinarily provides the field for representation, and offers instead an ongoing series of playful possibilities.
With regard to gender we find, then, a specific instance of Green's observation that "there is no stability in Grahame's dream-world and no incongruity" (286). A polarized construction of gender can scarcely be maintained without stability, and so Grahame partially deconstructs his own misogynistic system in the text. Where an essentialist feminism would reinscribe oppositions traced by gender, a poststructuralist model encompasses the freedom that Grahame gestures toward, although the fictional tale remains constrained by its historical moorings.
1. Peter Green renders this "clean of the clash of sex" (197, emphasis mine).
2. Green discusses the fact that "the animals are not conceived in visual terms" and Grahame's response to "this problem": "When asked specifically (apropos the escape on the railway train) whether Toad was life-size or train-size, he answered that he was both and neither: the Toad was train-size, the train was Toad-size, and therefore there could be no illustrations." Green expresses disdain for visual representation, which "pins down Grahame's imagination to a single static concept" (285).
3. Another example is Mole's threatening attempt to keep Toad securely at home by reminding him of those "weeks in hospital, being ordered about by female nurses" (107).
4. Peter Hunt has examined traces of class conflict in The Wind in the Willows. Hunt's interesting essay focuses, like my own, on an absence in the text: Hunt notes Grahame's avoidance of class dialogue where it might be expected to appear. Although he notes the class snobbery in Toad's exchanges with the washerwoman and the bargewoman, he does not consider the interplay of class and gender.
Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: FSG-Noonday, 1975.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.
Ellmann, Mary. Introduction to The Wind in the Willows. Grahame ix-xix.
Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. New York: New American Library-Signet, 1969.
Green, Peter. Kenneth Grahame: A Biography. New York: World, 1959.
Hunt, Peter. "Dialogue and Dialectic: Language and Class in The Wind in the Willows." Children's Literature 16 (1988): 159-68.
Kuznets, Lois R. "Kenneth Grahame and Father Nature, or Whither Blows The Wind in the Willows?" Children's Literature 16 (1988): 175-81.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.
Showalter, Elaine. "Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism." In Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman. New York: Methuen, 1985.
Deborah Stevenson (essay date fall 1996)
SOURCE: Stevenson, Deborah. "The River Bank Redux?: Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and William Horwood's The Willows in Winter." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 21, no. 3 (fall 1996): 126-32.
[In the following essay, Stevenson explores the nature of sequels in children's literature through a study of The Wind in the Willows and its sequel The Willows in Winter by William Horwood.]
Children's literature has for some time been interested in the sociohistorical forces of literature, the text as reflection and catalyst of culture. Though "new historicism" is a broad term, covering a variety of critical approaches, the method is indispensable for examining the relationship between culture and literature, and the kind of history literature makes as well as the kind of literature history makes: the forces, in short, that make children's literature the intriguingly peculiar genre it is. New historicism has made for fruitful analysis in the hands of critics such as Tony Watkins, who has used it to illuminate the questions of the cultural effect books have on their readers and how books make their mark on history; children's-literature scholars such as Jacqueline Rose, working nominally in another theoretical discipline, have also considered significant questions of cultural valuation and meaning. In analyzing the nature of a classic, which status in children's literature depends not only on the intrinsic characteristics of a text but also on the nostalgia evoked in retrospective adults, one cannot divorce the text or the responses to it from the culture that created them and the culture they create.
"What is a classic?" T. S. Eliot asked, and several generations of critics have wrestled with the answer. Gerald Graff notes that literature and discourse about literature respond to social pressures and demands; so too is literature shaped to fill a social need (1). Children's literature, with its peculiarly complex audience of children, spirits of childhood memory, and adults seeking nostalgic recreation of a literary past, asks particular things of its favorite texts before it grants them access to its pantheon; its classics gratify different impulses from and gratify impulses differently than classics of adult literature. Many critics, most notably Jane Tompkins in Sensational Designs (1985), have argued that a text's classic status depends on external forces as well as on its internal characteristics; therefore, in addition to asking "What is a classic?" it is useful to inquire, "What isn't a classic, and what is the difference?" There is no way to control for all variables in literature, and where the double-blind method of science controls for the sway of individual readings, it is in part those very individual interpretations that we seek to quantify. If, in Tompkins's words, it is "the context—which eventually includes the work itself—that creates the value its readers discover there" (33), it is enlightening to compare texts that resemble each other in a multitude of ways but whose most significant difference is their history; such a comparison makes clear that elision of personal time may be possible, but elision of cultural time—history—is not.
Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908) preceded William Horwood's sequel, The Willows in Winter (1994), by more than eighty years, yet the latter displays an astounding fidelity to the tone, characters, and theme of its original. Horwood has followed Grahame's book, which is intent on recapturing a mythical golden age, with his own attempt to recapture the recapturing of that same golden age. To shed light on the meaning of such a continuation, it is useful to examine the challenges such a sequel faces, the patterns of similarity and dissimilarity between Grahame's text and Horwood's, and, finally, the nature of the fictional history that a children's-literature classic creates for its audience and its dependence on time.
Sequels are common things these days, many of them written by authors who had no hand in the making of their originals. In children's literature, Jane Leslie Conly followed her father's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971) with her own Racso and the Rats of NIMH (1986) and, later, R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH (1990). The Wind in the Willows was itself previously continued in Dixon Scott's A Fresh Wind in the Willows in 1983 as well as receiving the Wide Sargasso Sea—or Wide Sargasso Riverbank?—treatment in Jan Needle's 1981 Wild Wood (released only in Britain and marketed as an adult book), which related the story from the point of view of the working-class weasels and their cohorts.
This recent flux of continuations seems to reflect some specific contemporary inclinations. Marketing, of course, is one force behind the creation of such books, since it is generally easier to feed an established literary appetite than to develop a new one. The change of authorship presents less of a problem than it might have previously: continuations in other media, such as film and television, have accustomed contemporary audiences to the idea that consistency inheres in characters rather than in authorship.1 As a result, ours is a particularly fructive time for this kind of continuation, and a multitude of writers are demonstrating that, as Richard Boston says in Punch's review of Scott's earlier sequel to The Wind in the Willows, "There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about with books" (73).
The task of following one's own fiction with a sequel is difficult enough: authors change opinions, stances, and tastes, they lose interest or originality, they suffer from anxieties of self-influence. Even when written by the author of the first book, a sequel often disappoints devoted fans of the original. Hazel Rochman, in her article discussing the simultaneous appearance of sequels to three classics of 1972, Robert Newton Peck's A Day No Pigs Would Die, Jean Craighead George's Julie of the Wolves, and Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, notes that though "we want more. Or at least we think we do," sequels can make us "wonder whether we were wrong about the first book" (27). An immediate or planned-for sequel may be less disconcerting, but when a story has lived self-contained for thirty years, the mental rebalancing act required to reclassify it as merely a first chapter seems to slight both the text and its readers, demanding either a revisioning of the first work or a dismissal of the second.2 As in science-fiction plots where the protagonist awakens from cryogenic sleep to find himself lost in a world whose making he did not share, these stories cannot survive their own anachronism; history has marched on without them. George's sequel Julie (1994) picks up at the exact moment the previous book ended, despite the intervening decades; the result is to demolish retroactively the closure of Julie of the Wolves in favor of reestablishing it one book later in a slightly different form. The finiteness of a single text permits it to be definitive; readers can pleasurably imagine continuations (should they choose to do so) without having to accept them as authentic, whereas "even the best of sequels has to limit us to only one resolution" because "the writer … seems to have the authority to say what really happens next" (Rochman 27). A cherished text is holy writ, and while there are degrees of literalness in interpretation, there remains a general suspicion about the addition of a new book. Though the desire to spend more time in a beloved fictional world excites reader interest in sequels, the wish to preserve the integrity and "authenticity" of the original experience plays against that desire.
An author continuing another's text is under a particular burden, one that might not exist for authors continuing their own work. Such a sequel must please an audience not considered to belong to that author by right and custom, it must generally bridge a substantial gap of years since the original, and it must echo the personal style of an entirely different creative mind while avoiding gross mimicry. Reviews of these narratives tend to judge them according to the invisibility of their change of authorship, using the "if you hadn't known, would you have known" test to gauge success. This critical methodology might seem to depend unfairly on extrinsic factors rather than intrinsic merit, but in some ways such a yardstick is eminently appropriate, since invisibility is generally the goal of these sequel authors. As Heidi Ganner-Rauth, in her work on nineteenth-century continuations, remarks, "Imitation … remains the basic quality of these works and subjects them to a double standard of criticism. As works in their own right … they are severely limited by the imitative nature that at the same time makes the reader and critic measure them against models of inimitable greatness" (140). Truly new horizons are impossible and undesirable here. While authors of such books may attempt, for artistic reasons, to make these texts self-contained, complete independence would defeat their purpose; to read Emma Tennant's Pemberley (1993) without being aware of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is pointless. Like parodies, these books must successfully relate to another text in order to succeed. Invisibility of the change of authorship is quite a different goal from total effacement of the text; authors are paradoxically hoping that they will be mistaken for the original authors even as they are hoping that their sequels will be regarded as individually significant.
While its sequels are all fairly recent, The Wind in the Willows was a much-illustrated and re-visioned classic even before it finally entered legally the public domain where it had been culturally held for so long. The version illustrated by Ernest Shepard is, perhaps, the best known to American readers, but The Wind in the Willows, as a text, transcends mere editions, operating as a textual concept as much as a physical book. In attempting to reconfine the River Bank into a small world of text rather than the Wide World of websites, filmstrips, and melamine dinnerware, the sequel seeks to conflate what Chase terms public time, broader cultural history, with private time (4-5). Horwood is trying to substitute his personal River Bank history and the chronology of a reader experiencing both books together for the public passing of time since the publication of The Wind in the Willows.
We may judge such continuations severely, but they are hardly the only extensions of the text. There have been other phenomena based on The Wind in the Willows, most of which carry little of the important nostalgia that surrounds the book itself. Disneyland's Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, itself based on a Disney animated feature, has probably introduced more children to Toad's not-so-august presence in the last twenty years than has The Wind in the Willows, a fact that probably causes reading parents much distress. There have been Wind in the Willows movies as well as a Saturday morning cartoon entitled The Reluctant Dragon and Mr. Toad (1970-72) that at least nominally featured two Grahame characters. Grahame, especially Grahame's Toad, has been repeatedly considered worth drawing upon, or at the very least considered marketable (Michael Mendelson notes, for instance, the Toadophilia of several recent stage productions). These other versions, however, have never eclipsed the iconic status of the original text but have instead simply bolstered it by making it part of a larger phenomenon.
Yet, in our current view of such popular culture, a cartoon spin-off and an amusement park ride are so obviously vulgarizations that we do not hold them to the same standards; Ellen Seiter, among others, discusses in detail the standards to which we do hold them and notes that Disney (holder of licenses for The Wind in the Willows ) is among the most successful at strategic and profitable use of such merchandizing (198). We know that Mr. Toad's Wild Ride will not be like the printed world of River Bank and Wild Wood, and we can therefore dismiss it even as we perhaps guiltily enjoy it. Extending the book without attempting to be it, such a ride is obviously capitalizing on the great name of Toad without necessarily trying to recapture the literary spirit of The Wind in the Willows ; it differs little from commodities such as lunchboxes and baseball caps. Theatrical productions have a greater aura of respectability, but their evanescence and their different relationship with their audience again remove them from overt competition with the original. All these phenomena, however, reinforce the public aspect of the sequel's cultural history. Though Horwood would like to divest The Wind in the Willows of much of its current cultural context, he cannot do so; the story no longer happens only inside the book. He cannot simply write a private exploration of a world when he has to deal with a public reexperiencing.
Nor can a parodic literary companion to Grahame's book, such as The Willows in Winter, be written off by devotees who shrug off cartoons and bumper cars. They are both books; an obvious similarity, perhaps, but one that overrides many differences, especially to a child listening to both books read aloud and who may not be interested in issues of temporal distance. In his introduction to the St. Martin's Press edition of Grahame's Wind in the Willows, illustrated by Patrick Benson (1985), Horwood deals with this dilemma by evading direct acknowledgments of authorship, referring to "Grahame's great work and the power and the magic of his characters" as the forces behind The Willows in Winter while speaking proudly of the positive responses of its readers (14). Horwood's introduction to this new edition, which was issued as a companion piece to his own sequel, seeks to set concrete limitations on fluidity, implying that Benson's illustrated version will soon be the definitive text. In order to secure his sequel's position, it benefits Horwood to pin The Wind in the Willows down to the new edition, because it is that edition that particularly leads to his The Willows in Winter, if that version is definitive, then his sequel is more likely to gain acceptance. The point is continuation but not replication, a blend of creativity and imitation. These continuations are similar to romans à clef; the interest in these books' characters is pre-generated, so the author need not convince the audience that these people (or moles and rats) are worth knowing. We know in advance who they are, and we wait to see whether they measure up to our foreknowledge. In the case of The Wind in the Willows, however, a sequel that stands alone, not depending on readers' knowledge of the first book, would not only violate the principle of continuation but would also violate the very retrospective yearning that is the essence of the first book; to separate from the original here is to fail to understand it.
St. Martin's Press has employed every peritextual device possible to link the two titles. The American jacket of Horwood's book prominently labels it "The Sequel" (not a sequel) to The Wind in the Willows, nowhere mentioning Scott's earlier sequel or the change in author between the first volume and the second. The illustrations by Patrick Benson are consciously à la Shepard, with their homely hatchings and cross-hatchings and respectful fidelity to familiar faces. Even the mapping on the endpapers echoes Shepard's; it is the same layout, the same style, the same angle of view—a deliberate attempt to put this story in the same literal landscape as the first.
The publisher closes the gap between the two texts further by remaking the first book in the second one's image. A new edition of The Wind in the Willows now appears in bookstores next to Horwood's sequel; Horwood has contributed the introduction and Benson the illustrations, and the cover, titling, and spine are designed in the same style. The effect is chiasmic, anchoring book one in book two as firmly as two is anchored in one. (The flap copy on this edition of Grahame's book terms it, ironically, "the perfect companion to The Willows in Winter.") In a further connection, Horwood dedicates his book not, as many authors do, to his own child, but to Grahame's child, Alastair, that uneasy ghost whose literary inspiration provided a comfort to the world apparently denied him by his own life. A more logical dedication would have been to Grahame, or, even more accurately, to The Wind in the Willows itself, but this conflation (which indulges in a certain amount of poetic license, since Horwood never knew Alastair Grahame, merely the book he inspired) again works to close the gap between the two books, suggesting that both books belong in the same universe, inspired as they were by the same person.
The packaging and peritextual connections do not entirely mislead: The Willows in Winter is in some ways quite successful as a sequel, generally meeting basic audience expectations. It is doubtful that many young readers would notice much stylistic difference be- tween the books, as Horwood's ear for Grahame's language is excellent: the dialogue is reassuringly replete with familiar ejaculations and dash-interrupted fragments, the narrative affectionate and still leisurely by today's standards. His River Bank is an immediately recognizable place:
The mallards were back on the river, and in the water meadows on the far side many of the wintering geese had already departed, and the others were testing their wings. While all along the bank was a sight that never failed to stir the Rat's spirit, and warm his heart: the willows, in bud so long, were showing signs of leaf at last. Not much, it is true, but there were enough touches of green to hint at the gentle, swaying glory that would soon be theirs.
Fidelity to Grahame's (or perhaps Shepard's) landscape is maintained, references to events in the earlier book are carefully incorporated, and the boyish public-school camaraderie is unforced.
Grahame's most notorious character is credibly revived; his reformation unsurprisingly short-lived, the recidivist Toad has moved (as he did in Scott's earlier sequel) from driving to flying, which seems a logical next step for Toad as well as providing an opportunity for technological scrapes of appropriate notoriety. Toad's triumphant glee is familiar ("Then they were up and away, tearing once more into the sky, with Toad so exultant that he half rose in his seat to wave one hand and turn to the horrified Rat and laugh in his face. ‘I've done it! I can fly! I can fly!’" ), as is his literal downfall:
A little later Toad re-opened his eyes—for he had closed them some time before—saw that the clouds were shooting vertically upwards and he and the machine therefore shooting downwards, and he huddled down into his seat and covered his head with his hands in the hope that his problem might go away.
While Scott's book often bogged down in excessive detail and disjointed episodes, Horwood's possesses a smooth momentum with the continuing stories of Mole's disappearance and Toad's aeronautic exploits and their consequences.
Yet Horwood's achievement in emulating these aspects of Grahame's writing makes his departures from Grahame's sensibility the more apparent. There are several important differences between Horwood's created world and Grahame's, differences that prevent The Willows in Winter from offering the same sense of cozy insularity, protection from harsh reality, and seductive nostalgia as its predecessor. Despite its darker moments, The Wind in the Willows conveys ultimately the "pleasure of enclosed space, of entering a charmed circle, of living in a timeless snugness" (Sale 168); The Willows in Winter contains these pleasures too, but its own darker moments pose a serious threat to the ultimate imaginative victory of such joys. While Toad remains the same, other characters change significantly—most importantly Mole. Horwood's Mole has matured and gained status beyond that of Mole at the end of The Wind in the Willows. Such a character alteration may perhaps be a necessity in a sequel, since to have kept Mole the same would have been to place this book in the multiple-volume series tradition, where there is no growth and no change and Nancy Drew is forever eighteen. While not inevitable, the tradition of a young novitiate protagonist in a new world is wide-spread and enduring; many sequels face the problem of what to do with this role once the protagonist has matured through the first novel. Nonetheless, even though a reader proceeding to the second volume from the first may no longer wish to be the neophyte and may relish having "graduated," along with Mole, to the rank of knowledgeable riverbanker, that growth results in a different kind of reading experience, one that no longer parallels a reading of Grahame's book. The competing desires to have more of the same and to stay faithful to the truth of the original, in which Mole matured, create a conflict; Horwood chooses the first impulse with regard to Toad and the second with regard to Mole. To lose a neophyte Mole is to take the original reader-proxy out of the book, since Mole's Nephew, a new young figure in Horwood's story, is too insignificant and too amorphous as a character to take that role. A child reader exploring Horwood's River Bank is the only inexperienced one there.
Orthodoxy and cold reality have invaded the previously untouched River Bank. In Grahame's book, as Lois Kuznets notes, the Wide World is rejected as dangerous, but in Horwood's, the Wide World is no longer an unthinkable place: Mole's Nephew hails from there, and Badger is known to its courts of law (96). The endpaper maps acknowledge this widened scope. Just as Grahame shied away from the Wide World while Horwood moves freely in it, Shepard's map only pointed to town life beyond its borders, whereas Benson's map shrinks the River Bank and wood so as to include the town (and a human's man- sion) within its compass. Human beings roam freely through Horwood's story, and they interact with animals without any of the delicate tension between species that Grahame deftly maintains. The reality that The Wind in the Willows was created to exclude has been admitted to The Willows in Winter, thereby undermining that book's intention to offer similar sanctuary to regretful Olympians. On a spiritual level, Horwood has replaced Grahame's gentlemanly Edwardian paganism with suggestions of Christianity and a recurrent death-and-resurrection motif.3 These modifications alter the sphere of the River Bank considerably, calling into question the nature of the text's audience as well as that of the work. While this shift does not necessarily turn Horwood's book into a work for adults, it does result in a different kind of children's book from Grahame's. No matter how hard it tries not to be, The Willows in Winter is a product of its time, a time that includes children's books such as Brian Jacques's Redwall series (1986-), whose world of animal characters, in its violence and political overtones, is closer to Animal Farm than The Wind in the Willows. Horwood cannot evade the children's literature that is in order to produce more of the children's literature that was.
More important than those concrete changes, the luxuriation in yearning is missing from the later book. In the first book the characters yearned, and yearned extravagantly. They yearned for home, they yearned for travel, they yearned for the fellowship of their good companions. These Edwardian sentiments apparently have no place in the contemporary world, and the characters in the sequel worry and fret instead. Just as hints of Christian Orthodoxy encroach upon Grahame's verdant paganism, a certain diligence encroaches upon the pagan enjoyment, coloring the characters' actions and motivations. The objects of Grahame's yearning were as vivid as the yearning itself, but Horwood shies away from Grahame's rhapsodic enjoyment of and longing for this Arcadian existence of food, river, and fresh fields; the details of homes and dens seem cursory, and food here is not lovingly described and practically orthographically tasted but merely, if often, mentioned. Despite his affection for it, Horwood, apparently, can resist the world Grahame created in a way Grahame could not. Grahame struggled, through literature, to capture an existence for which he longed; Horwood struggles to recapture Grahame's book but never succeeds in recapturing that book's employment of description as incantation in hopes of bringing to reality a longed-for existence. The description, the narrative, suffices for Horwood, and this sufficiency is alien to Grahame's conception—and to ours.
The classic status and nostalgic nature of The Wind in the Willows mean that any literary successor would encounter difficulty regardless of its interior fidelity to Grahame's vision or its authorship. As Eliot notably describes in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," each work of literature alters the canon to which it belongs, so that a reproduction of The Wind in the Willows, entering a world where The Wind in the Willows already exists, cannot have the impact of the original. Such a sequel's success is dependent on its relationship to the literary world, a world that has been altered by that sequel's precursor. Historically speaking, literary ontogeny depends on, if it does not actually recapitulate, phylogeny. A sequel cannot replicate the impact of its predecessor merely by replicating its predecessor. Even were a long-lost sequel penned by Grahame himself in 1909 to turn up today, it would struggle with many of the same problems that Horwood's book faces. The nexus of a book and its time, a book's production and reception, a book and its tradition, is unique. Our The Wind in the Willows is the book over which Fred Inglis rhapsodizes in The Promise of Happiness, saying, "It would be hard to imagine a parent who loved it not wanting his child to love it" (117). It is not the book that confused the critics of 1908. Horwood must sequelize the former, not the latter, because his audience knows what The Wind in the Willows 's original audience did not—that this story is a Treasure of Childhood, that Grahame's book is, as Peter Hunt states, important because it is important (12). Generations of affection and cultural regard have given it a patina, as if it were a fine antique; it has acquired Michel Foucault's "slow accumulation of the past, a silent sedimentation of things said" (141). Horwood can recreate the structure, design, and material, but only time and the reverence of generations can recreate the patina. As a result, that very accrued cultural affection for The Wind in the Willows, the decades-old longing for its vision, which presumably is what prompted Horwood to pen his sequel in the first place, diminishes that sequel's effect.
"Longing is what makes art possible," says Lawrence Lerner in a discussion of Marcel Proust (52); sometimes, too, longing is what makes it rewarding—and saleable. The pastoral utopia Horwood creates must perforce be distant in order to be successful, but he must also place it not only out of time, as Grahame did, but in a time not his own. Brook Thomas argues that the problem with American culture is amnesia (85); Malcolm Chase and Christopher Shaw, arguing from the British point of view, maintain that nostalgia involves a recreation of the past as a substitute for memory, an emotional hyperamnesia that "told us about the present through its falsification of the past" (1). Grahame's remembering wistfulness and his audience's capitulation are excellent examples of the effectiveness of such a recreation—his temporal dislocation succeeds in transforming his pastoral utopia into a cultural history. Horwood's specific external referent of the first book prevents his nostalgia from becoming the past as he would wish it; its imitation of Grahame's transformation cannot transform itself. Peter Bishop, in his insightful analysis of a similarly objectified and fetishized nostalgia in the fine arts, claims the pastoral as the aesthetics of nostalgia, and he engages in provocative interrogation of the role of nostalgia in the creation of a re-imagined Constablian world—tranquil, retrospective, shifting, and commodified. Grahame's work is acted upon similarly, and if The Wind in the Willows is the commodification of nostalgia, The Willows in Winter is the commodification of the commodification of nostalgia.
Elizabeth Cripps suggests that Grahame has "an extraordinarily vivid recollection of what it is like to be a child," but I would argue that Grahame has an extraordinarily vivid sense of what it is like to have been a child, and that it is the crucial difference between that present and past tense that makes Grahame strike a chord in adults (17). Barbara Wall points out that Grahame "could, under the cloak of writing … for ‘youth,’ indulge in a nostalgia and a sentimentality which might otherwise have alienated adult readers" (142). Once safely under this cloak, however, nostalgia and sentimentality are not only acceptable but desirable, and this distance between the child that was (who was unlikely to be as moved by nostalgia and sentimentality in this guise) and the adult that is (whose easiest source of gratification for this literary desire lies in children's literature) is the space in which classic status for children's texts is born.
Inglis seems to view The Wind in the Willows as a protection against the ferocities of the contemporary world, suggesting of Grahame's happy and safe world that "all of us would wish our children to feel the strength of such an image" (119-20). But is it that image, as Inglis says, or that image realized that we wish for, and is it for our children or for ourselves? If this image is, as some have argued, a portrait of childhood, children presumably experience the actuality and have little need of the image. The safety, innocence, and coziness of The Wind in the Willows are what many people desire for children and childhood today; yet, as Kuznets points out, contemporary children do not have the interest in the book that many adults evince (x).
Horwood's temporal backtracking, however, is more problematic than that of his adult readers. Grahame depicted a fantasy world, one seemingly set in his own time but in reality possessed of pastoral timelessness; Horwood must cope with the additional task of making his fantasy a historical novel, placing it in a specific time just after Grahame's book. The sequel seeks both historicity and ahistoricity, hoping for its predecessor's timelessness but also hoping to elide decades and to take root retroactively in its predecessor's time. The Wind in the Willows calls adults not only back in their own personal time but back in chronological and cultural time, to a prewar era when books such as these, we imagine, could be accepted uncynically. As with childhood itself, this world's very lostness is what makes it desirable and makes its idealization possible.
The longing for this lost landscape has taken some remarkably literal forms. Joan Bodger, in her attempt to hunt down the River Bank, describes an elusive literal geography as place after place in England proves not to be its model, yet the quest itself replicates the relationship with the book as she begins to reinvent her surroundings in The Wind in the Willows 's image. This process is widespread: not only can one transmit The Wind in the Willows through time, one can even transmit time through The Wind in the Willows, as the English Tourist Board attempted to do in their 1983 campaign depicting Mole, Rat, and Toad touring small rural towns and ancient castles, getting back to the organic community of "real Britain," which is, of course, their natural habitat. The Wind in the Willows represents—and prompts—the performance of acts of nostalgia. Like Bodger, tourists search for its fictional world as a reality; unlike Grahame, the Tourist Board promises that they will find it. This affection for the book's venerableness has an ubi sunt quality to it; the idyllic pastoral world that Grahame depicts, that the Tourist Board attempts to sell, and for which his readers yearn, is too rosy a picture for contemporary credibility. Distance allows us to find Grahame's vision of an unbelievable time convincing, since both he and his time are far away. Horwood is in our time, and he must consciously situate his world in a known past as distant from him as from us.
Grahame's world, of course, was authentic only insofar as it was fictional. Watkins specifically addresses the extent to which Grahame's fantasy was responding to and enabled by his historical circumstances (188-89), making clear that the River Bank was not only a utopia but a "utopia of a specific social group" (191). The very unattainability of Grahame's world, however, keeps it desirably ineffable. As Ralph Harper notes, "nostalgia is neither illusion nor repetition; it is a return to something we have never had" (26). Our generations of use of The Wind in the Willows have elided Grahame's book with the dream depicted within it, making it a cultural metonym for its own reverie, a cultural icon even to people who have never read it. Probably many of the adults who give the book to a child as a gift, secure in the knowledge that they are passing on something wonderful, could not tell Rat from Mole. But adults have no past with Horwood's new book; it offers no doorway to a golden prewar world.
Nevertheless, both these books may well have much to offer contemporary children. They are both filled with richly drawn and involving characters, they depict an attractive and enticing world, and they offer pleasing adventures in congenial fictional company. While child readers are not yet at the stage where they fondly recall The Wind in the Willows as a part of their distant youth, they are not entirely insensible to retrospective adult pleasure in a text; the sharing of a parent's literary taste can often bring great satisfaction. Even without such external benefits, an acquaintanceship with Mole and Toad may well prove rewarding for those contemporary children who find the book. The Wind in the Willows 's cultural achievement, however, lies in the remembering wistfulness in it and around it, which adults, and not children, create. This remembering wistfulness is the key to the story's place in the tradition of children's literature, and the absence of this quality in Horwood's sequel renders the latter book, ultimately and inevitably, a failure. Horwood has created a gutted continuation—a talented one, but one that fails to accomplish the primary achievement of Grahame's book; he substitutes his own recapturing of the first work for Grahame's capturing of an unattainable idyllic dream of childhood. The first book yearned for a golden childhood, for which words were made to substitute. The second yearns only for a book—The Wind in the Willows. Where readers used The Wind in the Willows to join with Grahame in longing, they can only use the sequel to join with Horwood in appreciation of the first book. The absence of this nostalgia from Horwood's volume means that readers are no longer complicit in the author's relationship with his world.
Literal landscapes these books may share, but canonical landscapes they will not. The possibility of embrace by a current generation of readers is slim. If the timing is perfect, if youngsters read The Wind in the Willows as a cherished book of their parents, find it rewarding, and go on to Horwood's volume and continue to find the characters congenial, then perhaps both volumes might be passed together onto their offspring, or their students, or their library patrons. I predict, however, that Horwood's The Willows in Winter, like Scott's sequel, will, despite its merits, be an historical footnote but not a beloved companion to the first book. Its internal flaws, which uncannily echo its external obstacles, combine to prevent it from becoming the metonym for childhoods and innocent worlds past that Grahame's book is—prevent it, in short, from becoming a classic.
1. Horwood remarks in his author's note at the end of the book on the "universality of the four great characters Grahame first created"; he observes, "It is for readers to work out their own meanings for these characters" (294).
2. Media fans, in fact, clearly distinguish between those episodes or incarnations they accept as "real" within a specific fictional universe and those they do not; the former are labeled "canon."
3. Horword says in his afterword that "I know that many readers share with me—and with Grahame—a sense of mystery about nature and life forces to which we prefer not to give religious or sectarian names" (293-94). Various characters, however, allude to prayer; Toad passes a cathedral and thinks of "sinfulness and retribution"; and Badger acts as a clergyman at the small wake the friends hold for Mole when his absence leads them to declare him dead. In The Wind in the Willows there was no real death, just the allusion to "animals suddenly disappearing," but one cannot avoid the subject in The Willows in Winter. Mole is presumed dead, Toad presumes Rat dead, the others presume Toad dead. Toad is in the dock not for "cheeking a policeman," a deliberately silly crime, but for murder. Rat, peculiarly enough, is even presumed a suicide at one point. Each of these three characters reappears in a dramatic resurrection, and the motif is underscored when Toad Hall goes up in flames at the end of the book and Toad instantly makes his plans for rebuilding.
Bishop, Peter. An Archetypal Constable: National Identity and the Geography of Nostalgia. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1995.
Bodger, Joan. How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children's Books. New York: Viking, 1965.
Boston, Richard. "Tales from the Riverbank." Punch 13 April 1983: 73.
Chase, Malcolm, and Christopher Shaw. "The Dimensions of Nostalgia." The Imagined Past: History and Nostalgia. Ed. Christopher Shaw and Malcolm Chase. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1989. 1-17.
Cripps, Elizabeth. "Kenneth Grahame: Children's Author?" Children's Literature in Education 12.1 (Spring 1981): 15-23.
Foucault, Michel. The Archacology of Knowledge and the Discourse of Language. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon, 1972.
Ganner-Rauth, Heidi. "To Be Continued?: Sequels and Continuations of Nineteenth-Century Novels and Novel Fragments." English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature 64.2 (1983): 129-43.
Graff, Gerald. Literature against Itself: Literary Ideas in Modern Society. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1979.
Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. 1908. Intro. William Horwood. New York: St. Martin's, 1995.
Harper, Ralph. Nostalgia: An Existential Exploration of Longing and Fulfilment in the Modern Age. Cleveland: P of Western Reserve U, 1966.
Horwood, William. The Willows in Winter. New York: St. Martin's, 1994.
Hunt, Peter. The Wind in the Willows: A Fragmented Arcadia. New York: Twayne, 1995.
Inglis, Fred. The Promise of Happiness: Value and Meaning in Children's Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981.
Kuznets, Lois R. Kenneth Grahame. Boston: Twayne, 1987.
Lerner, Lawrence. The Uses of Nostalgia: Studies in Pastoral Poetry. New York: Schocken, 1972.
Mendelson, Michael. "The Wind in the Willows and the Plotting of Contrast." Children's Literature 16: 127-44.
Rochman, Hazel. "After Happily Ever After." New York Times 13 November 1994: Book Review 28.
Sale, Roger. Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E. B. White. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978.
Seiter, Ellen. Sold Separately: Children and Parents in Consumer Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1993.
Thomas, Brook. "The Historical Necessity for—and Difficulties with—New Historical Analysis in Introductory Literature Courses." Practicing Theory in Introductory College Literature Courses. Ed. James M. Cahalan and David B. Downing. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1991. 85-100.
Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction 1790-1860. New York: Oxford UP, 1985.
Wall, Barbara. The Narrator's Voice: The Dilemma of Children's Fiction. New York: St. Martin's, 1991.
Watkins, Tony. "Cultural Studies, New Historicism and Children's Literature." Literature for Children: Contemporary Criticism. Ed. Peter Hunt. London: Routledge, 1992. 173-95.
David Sandner (essay date 1996)
SOURCE: Sandner, David. "The Fantastic Sublime in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows." In The Fantastic Sublime: Romanticism and Transcendence in Nineteenth-Century Children's Fantasy Literature, pp. 67-81. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Sandner argues that The Wind in the Willows strives to examine the Romantic ideal, ultimately finding a balance between the pursuit of the ideal and the warm comfort of home.]
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Vigen Guroian (essay date 3 June 1998)
SOURCE: Guroian, Vigen. "Friends and Mentors: The Message of Children's Stories." Christian Century 115, no. 17 (3 June 1998): 574-78.
[In the following essay, Guroian highlights the value of three classic works of children's fiction—The Wind in the Willows, Charlotte's Web, and Bambi—in demonstrating the importance of morality, particularly with regards to friendship, responsibility, and faith in God.]
Aristotle said it a long time ago: "Without friends no one would choose to live." Friendships bring a goodness and grace into our lives whose value transcends material measure. What worth are wealth or possessions, Aristotle challenges us to consider, without companions with whom to share them? And friendships also can make us better persons by prompting us to think of others besides ourselves. "It is more characteristic of a friend to do well by another than to be well done by," Aristotle declares.
Virtue and the moral imagination require the rich soil of friendship to grow upon, Certainly, childhood would not be childhood without friends. Three of the most beloved stories in the entire corpus of children's literature center on friendship—The Wind in the Willows, Charlotte's Web and Bambi. Each of these stories explores different qualities of friendship. Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows is about friendship in perhaps its purest form: no one friend is superior to the other, and each stands to benefit from the unique gifts of the other. Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White, and Bambi, by Felix Salten, both move us to consider that special kind of "friend" who is a mentor.
The four main characters of The Wind in the Willows, Mole, Water Rat, Badger and Toad, are very different in make-up and disposition, yet this is what lends such richness to their common undertakings and texture to their life together. Complementarity and not uniformity is the spice that adds flavor to good friendships, with special needs and unique gifts mixed and matched to create strong bonds of companionship.
These friends inhabit a world of leisure and play. To prosper, friendships need space and time, the story suggests. Friendships thrive in the open air and wind and sun. Their value is missed or misunderstood in a world in which money is mistaken as the measure of nearly everything and utility becomes the sole test of value. Friendships exist for their own sakes. Yet a healthy social world and culture itself are the felicitous outcome of robust friendships.
The world of leisure and play that Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger inhabit used to be familiar to children. Now, however, we have grown suspicious of this kind of leisure and play, even for children. The opinion spreads that even children's play ought to be organized and properly supervised. It does not occur to us that this might not be true play. Mole is called out of his womblike home to become a friend to others, and he grows into a mole of character precisely because he plays and forms friendships in the doing. Indeed, he seems to be a character destined for friendship. That is what makes him so attractive. He gives us the hope that our lives might prosper and be filled in the same way.
In the first chapter Grahame describes how Mole discovers the river and happens upon Rat. Mole thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before…. As he gazed, something bright and small seemed to be twinkling in the heart of it…. Then, as he looked, it winked at him, and so declared itself to be an eye; and a small face began gradually to grow up around it, like a frame round a picture.
The river is where leisure is taken and enjoyed, and Mole himself is cast in the very image of the river as he "meanders aimlessly" and arrives at its banks. Rat takes Mole boating and teaches him the ways of the river, the leisurely life that provides the opportunities for and the fruits of friendship and real happiness. Friendships—unlike, for example, coworker relationships—are not supervised by another party or assigned to a specific task or pursued for profit. Mole and Rat meet accidentally or by destiny, but not according to a plan.
Rat is Mole's guide to the world of imaginative play hosted by the river. Mole, for his part, assimilates these experiences to steer his way successfully in the wider world, so that he takes the initiative that sets in motion the triumphant assault upon Toad Hall that drives out the renegade band of unsavory stouts and weasels that has taken possession of it. Toad Hall is not just the elegant home of Mr. Toad; it is the symbol of the friends' social world that Toad foolishly and selfishly puts at risk.
Play is not "killing time" or an "escape" from work; it is an activity that gives life to the moral imagination. If we are deprived of play, the moral imagination is stunted. But play can also be misused, wasted or become an obsession that subverts the social world. This is the problem with Toad's behavior as he pursues fancies that feed uncontrolled appetites. Toad's kind of play is entirely set loose from responsibility, and this is why the friends ultimately act severely in order, as the tough-minded but lovingly wise Badger puts it, to "convert" and "reform" Toad. What else are friends for? With like meaning, Aristotle says of friendship: "It helps the young to keep from error; it aids activities that are failing from weakness; those in the prime of life it stimulates to noble actions—‘two going together’—for with friends men are more able to think and to act."
As Aristotle also observed, friendships help to satisfy the neediness we have in common as finite creatures and social animals. If we were gods and entirely self-sufficient, we might be able to do without friends. But we are not gods and so we need friends in order to flourish and be happy. Ironically, this neediness, which is sometimes mistakenly thought of as weakness, is the soil in which the mutuality and reciprocity of friendship grows.
As I have already suggested, Mole is especially attractive to children precisely because he is so childlike himself and so helpless at the start. When Mole first tunnels his way into the light, he is an inexperienced and timid animal. He journeys through woods and meadows and is frightened by unfriendly creatures; yet his natural curiosity and the "call" to friendship spur him on. Life underground has been comfortable. But above ground Mole experiences an exhilarating freedom that he has not known before. He is "emancipated," as Grahame puts it. When Mole strikes up a friendship with Water Rat and the others, his life takes a new turn and he becomes stronger and more integrated.
In the closing pages of Charlotte's Web, Charlotte the spider endeavors to explain to Wilbur the pig why she responded to his need for a friend and dedicated herself to saving his life through the ingenious ploy of spinning words in her web.
You have been my friend…. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, any- way? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and catching flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.
Even Charlotte, whom Wilbur regards as so wise and so ingenious, is not without real needs. In her own fashion she needs a friend.
Nevertheless, Charlotte and Wilbur never become equals. Charlotte is wiser and knows more about the ways of the world than Wilbur, and she cares for him with something that resembles maternal love. Fern, the young daughter of the farmer John Arable, opposes her father's intention to put the runt pig mercifully to death; and so she is the first to save Wilbur's life and care for him like a mother. But Wilbur is moved to Uncle Homer Zuckerman's farm and there, separated from Fern for most of each day, Wilbur needs closer and more constant care and company. Charlotte supplies this, and she becomes the object of Wilbur's greatest love.
As a surrogate mother, Charlotte tells Wilbur bedtime stories and sings him lullabies, teaches him manners, tells him to chew his food "thoroughly and eat every bit of it," encourages him when he is down, and builds up his confidence for the day when he must stand on his own four feet without the benefit of her care. But Charlotte, unlike a natural mother, is able to keep a decided distance from Wilbur. This is symbolized by the fact that her web is beyond Wilbur's reach. Thus, something more is suggested about their relationship that needs naming.
Whereas parents do not choose their children nor children their parents, Charlotte chooses Wilbur as a friend and Wilbur willingly accepts that friendship. That is, Charlotte is a mentor to Wilbur and theirs is a mentoral friendship. This takes into account the fundamental inequality in their friendship, while it keeps in view the mutual affection that belongs to all true friendships.
Again, Aristotle is our best guide. In his Nicomachean Ethics he discusses relationships of inequality like Charlotte and Wilbur's and defines these as friendships of a special sort, friendships that involve "an inequality between the parties, for example, that of father to son and in general of elder to younger." In such friendships "when the love is in proportion to the merit of the parties, then in a sense arises equality, which is certainly held to be characteristic of friendship."
Without wanting to understate Charlotte's true affection for Wilbur, we still are bound to say that Wilburs love is of greater intensity and is the more all-consuming, just as his need for a friend is the greater. Yet, according to Aristotle, this is as it should be: a proportionality in love appropriate to kind establishes ground for true friendship.
Charlotte is wiser than Wilbur and is able to give him far more than he can offer her in return, except for his love. By her constant counsel and by spinning such words as "some pig," "terrific" and "radiant" into her web, she builds tip his self-
Ever since the spider had befriended him, he had done his best to live up to his reputation. When Charlotte's web said SOME PIG, Wilbur had tried to look like some pig. When Charlotte's web said TERRIFIC, Wilbur had tried to look terrific. And now that the web said RADIANT, he did everything possible to make himself glow.
Charlotte chooses her role quite intentionally and with a singleness of purpose that would ordinarily contradict the free spirit of friendship. She must find a way to save Wilbur's life while also guiding him through the performance of tasks that will contribute to that end. Nor does her stake in Wilbur's survival include the futurity of parenthood. By the measure of his life expectancy as a pig, her summer's role in his life is but a short span. In this case the special needs of the "lesser" partly call out from the mentor Just what the "lesser" party needs at the moment Charlotte says to Wilbur, "By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle." And this is no doubt true in some sense. But it does not explain why Charlotte responded in the first place to Wilbur's anguished plea for a friend and someone to save him from death. Charlotte wanted to help Wilbur live and be happy, and she felt that she had the ability to do so. Nothing he might have added would have made a difference in her determination.
So Charlotte gives constant thought to how she will fulfill her promise to save Wilbur's life. "Day after day the spider waited, head-down, for an idea to come to her … Charlotte was naturally patient." And like a wise teacher Charlotte gives her pupil only as much as he can absorb. She guides him to the point where he must take possession of himself and make independent decisions.
That process of mentoring comes to a close at the state fair when Charlotte's own life is spent and she is near death. Until this time there has been little that Wilbur could do to reciprocate for what Charlotte has done for him. When he realizes that Charlotte will not return to the farm and that there is nothing he can do about that, Wilbur takes an initiative which bridges the gap between mentor and pupil and meets the requirements of true friendship. Wilbur sees to it that Charlotte's egg sac is taken back to the Zuckerman farm where it will be safe.
Yet even this act of loving reciprocity is conditioned and limited by the enduring qualities of the mentoral relationship itself. It cannot change the degree of Wilbur's relationship to Charlotte from "lesser" to "greater." Wilbur cannot teach the teacher; nor is he able to share in Charlotte's experience of being his guide. The mentor stands at both ends of the "mentor-mentee" relationship, the "mentee" only at one end. Wilbur waits through the long winter until the spring to enter into a role toward Charlotte's children that is similar to what she was toward him. Yet Charlotte's special role of mentor and friend to Wilbur is irreplaceable and unrepeatable. At the end we are told, "Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although be loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart."
If we are able to look back on our lives and say that there was a Charlotte in it, we are most fortunate; but an even greater good fortune is to become a mentor and friend to someone else.
Walt Disney radically altered Bambi: A Life in the Woods, and it is Disney's animation that is more widely known. Yet Salten's book is one of the most beautifully written of children's stories. It is a tale spun with great poetic force and majesty. Through Bambi's relationship with the mysterious old stag, Bambi grows into full maturity and assumes a special role in the woods. It is this relationship that is central in Salten's tale, not Bambi's love for Faline, the young doe (as is the case in Disney's portrayal).
Charlotte's Web focuses on a mentoral friendship; Bambi explores the meaning of pure mentorship. Whereas friendships necessarily entail equality of one sort or another, mentorship presupposes a fundamental inequality between mentor and pupil. The mentor's selection of the pupil is the defining act in such a relationship, since the mentor has a vital stake in choosing the right pupil. He wants to ensure that the special knowledge and skills he possesses are transmitted to another.
Contemporary institutionalized forms of education bend to an egalitarian impulse that inhibits the teacher from discriminating among students. Even the renewed interest in mentorship as an aspect of education is strongly affected by this egalitarian prejudice—it is almost assumed that the pupil initiates the relationship with a mentor of his choice. While this might be a legitimate and worthwhile practice in modem education, I do not think it is pure mentorship: the mentor must be free to decide whether or not to take on a pupil or protégé.
Salten has depicted the real thing. The pure mentoral relationship is hierarchical and selective, and is always asymmetrical. The mentor selects or accepts a pupil according to a judgment as to whether the knowledge and special skills he or she owns can be safely or effectively reposed in that pupil. In the mentoral relationship we are nearer to the role of master to apprentice than teacher to student in the modern egalitarian sense.
In contrast to the spirit of modern education, in the mentor-mentee relationship there is no distinction between method and content. By means of physical gesture, tone of voice and behavior, and mentor communicates his special knowledge and skill and also a piece of his own character. In this relationship, there is no such thing as being informative without also being formative.
What kind of friendship is this, if it is friendship at all? I believe that the mentoral relationships in both White's and Salten's stories ultimately indicate friendship. In both stories a relationship of unequals grows in affection, trust and mutuality—all essential earmarks of friendship. But in Bambi, unlike Charlotte's Web, the private lives of the central characters are not the primary concern, and so in Bambi the qualities of friendship that develop within the mentoral relationship are subordinate to and serve the purposes of mentorship. A mentor gives himself over to producing in another qualities of character that are not merely private or personal but ultimately crucial to the continuance of a special art or a way of life. Salten illumines a relationship whose conspicuous lack in our society might help to account for the crisis of morality and culture we are facing.
Early in Bambi the reader learns that the old stag is the spiritual head and protector of the deer herd, even though he is usually absent. Salten echoes the biblical theme of a calling to "separateness." The old stag also incorporates characteristics of both the Stoic sage and the Christian monastic office of the holy elder. The stag is referred to as the old Prince by the other deer. He is a solitary guardian who appears sud- denly, usually when the deer and other smaller creatures need to be warned of danger, especially of the hunter. He is the embodiment of the virtues and practical skills necessary for deer to prosper. The stag is vigilant, and he has studied and memorized the physical topography of the woods so as to be able to avoid or escape immediate danger. "He uses trails none of the others ever use. He knows the very depths of the forest. And he does not know such a thing as danger." He also knows the spiritual geography of life and death in the woods. He practices the virtues of attentiveness and watchfulness that extend and deepen life for all of the deer.
The stag commands profound respect and even awe from the other deer. "There isn't anybody that compares to him. Nobody knows how old be is. Nobody can find out where he lives. Very few have seen him, even once. At times he was thought to be dead because he hadn't been seen for so long. Then someone would see him again for a second and so they knew he was still alive. Nobody had ever dared ask him where he had been." The other deer do not mistake him for a god, as they do Man; but he is admired as the model of what is highest and noblest in the deer.
The secret of the stag's wisdom and longevity resides in his ability to be "alone," to spend time by himself achieving self-mastery and perfecting his powers of discernment and insight into the rhythm of the life of the woods. He has perfected a sixth sense which can anticipate when that rhythm will be interrupted by the hunters and the death that they rain upon its inhabitants. Why the stag chooses Bambi as his protégé and successor is not explained. That choice is wrapped up in the mysterious character of the stag himself. What does unfold in the story is a special relationship whose process and completion not only defines mentor and protégé but also serves all the deer, since it prepares a new guardian and protector.
Salten introduces the theme of knowing how to be alone early in the story, and throughout he explores its importance for survival in the woods. In one sense, being alone is what any young buck or doe must learn in the maturing process. It is associated with personal autonomy and gaining the courage and confidence to live apart from the mother.
Early in the story the stag suddenly confronts Bambi, who has been lost and wandering through the woods and thickets. He is frightened and calling for his mother. "What are you crying about?," the stag asks. "Your mother has no time for you now … Can't you stay by yourself? Shame on you!" This timely reproach sows a seed of desire in the youngster. He wants to be like the old stag and to prove himself in his eyes. For a long time the stag is absent. Bambi struggles on his own to be mature and act independently without fear. He learns some hard lessons about life in the woods, especially about the reality of death. He witnesses the hard and bloody deaths of some of his animal companions who are killed by natural predators. But he also discovers another presence—human beings, who kill with an unpredictability and wantonness that terrifies all the woodland creatures.
On one occasion a young buck is shot. Salten carefully describes Bambi's reaction:
He felt himself threatened by something dark. He did not understand how the others could be so carefree and happy while life was so difficult and dangerous. The desire seized him to go deeper into the woods. They lured him into their depths. He wanted to find some hiding place where, shielded on all sides by impenetrable thickets, he could never be seen.
Salten's story shades into allegory. Man, the hunter, symbolizes the irrationality of evil that always threatens to rob life of meaning. Bambi must understand the nature of the destructive force. In the face of danger and even death he must learn vigilance and self-possession. Bambi's desire to go deep into the woods is not a mere impulse to escape. He is driven to be truly free, not captive to the blinding and incapacitating fear that he has observed in the other deer and inhabitants of the woods.
By the end of the story Bambi has learned how to be alone, and we understand that the old stag's role and responsibility for the lives of the deer and other animals in the woods now devolves upon him as the stag himself goes off to die. "When he [Bambi] was still a child the old stag had taught him that you must live alone. Then and afterwards the old stag had revealed much wisdom and many secrets to him. But of all his teachings this had been the most important: you must live alone. If you wanted to preserve yourself, if you understood existence, if you wanted to attain wisdom, you had to live alone."
Such a practiced "aloneness" paradoxically is not the homelessness or the desolation that the other creatures experience in the face of danger or evil. Of all the animals and deer, the old stag is the most at home in the woods and the least afflicted by desolation. This is because he understands the order of existence and trusts in its Source. The aloneness to which Bambi is called is a way of learning important survival skills. In this manner Bambi is made ready to become the guardian of the herd. He does not rule by might; rather, he leads like the biblical prophets, through discernment and familiarity with the way of Being itself. The old stag brings up Bambi in this singleness of life for the good of all. And the last and most important lesson he teaches Bambi is about the true order of Being.
At the close of the story, the old stag leads Bambi to the still and bloodied body of a poacher:
"Do you see, Bambi," the old stag went on, "do you see how He's lying there dead, like one of us? Listen, Bambi. He isn't all powerful as they say. Everything that lives and grows doesn't come from Him. He isn't above us. He's just the same as we are. He has the same fears, the same needs, and suffers in the same way. He can be killed like us, and then he lies helpless on the ground like all the rest of us, as you see him now."
There was silence.
"Do you understand me, Bambi?" asked the old stag.
"I think so," Bambi said in a whisper.
"Then speak," the old stag commanded.
Bambi was inspired, and said trembling, "There is Another who is over us all, over us and over Him."
"Now I can go," said the old stag.
Knowing this truth Bambi takes the stags place as the new guardian of the herd. His new status has been built upon the sure foundation of his obedient relationship to the old stag.
Salten depicts a special form of love and relationship that the English word "friendship" does not quite cover; and yet mentorship and friendship are related. Before the old stag leaves Bambi to go off and die, he says to him: "Good-bye, my son, I loved you dearly." Never before has the old stag stated his love; yet in all of his actions toward Bambi he has manifested this love. The mentor is a special "friend." What makes the friendship special is that the stag reserves it in his heart until his role as mentor is completed.
There is a poignant moment in the novel that never ceases to draw the attention of students. About midway through the story, Bambi happens upon the old stag grazing in a clearing. He decides to go up to the stag and tell him who he is. As he approaches, Bambi feels the stag's strength. The stag returns Bambi a haughty look. Bambi is discouraged by what be takes to be the stag's indifference toward him. But the stag is thinking to himself, "‘What should I say to him? I'm not used to talking. I'd say something stupid and make myself ridiculous.’" So he decides to walk off, leaving Bambi "filled with bitterness." On the one hand, we could interpret this interlude as a missed opportunity to initiate an intimate friendship. No doubt Bambi is greatly disappointed; the stag might have handled things differently. On the other hand, perhaps the stag did the right thing by not striking up the conversation.
I think the latter possibility is worth considering. This episode is a reminder that the old stag is only a deer and not a god. We recognize that even he needs companionship. And yet had he indulged this need, his role as mentor might have been compromised. Even the old stag is still learning and maturing in the role of mentor; and he is giving something up in order to succeed in that role. In this way, Salten emphasizes how special and difficult this calling to be a mentor is. This is especially true in an age in which emotions are given free rein and friendships come and end easily. So many modem people experience abandonment and desolation, and will do anything not to be alone. Perhaps this is one reason why true mentoral relationships are missing.
Have we become too soft, weak and afraid to be true mentors, and are we losing the capacity to make and keep lasting friendships? The mentor has to be tough and withhold the full expression of "friendship" in order that wisdom and patrimony be passed on. Effective parenthood, as well, may require elements of the mentoral relationship. Children need parents who are good mentors; but they also need mentors who are not parents, who like Charlotte and the old stag are able to keep a studied distance from their young charges. These special "friendships" are essential both for the maturation of the individual and for the health and growth of community and culture.
Kathryn V. Graham (essay date winter 1998-1999)
SOURCE: Graham, Kathryn V. "Of School and the River: The Wind in the Willows and Its Immediate Audience." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 23, no. 4 (winter 1998-1999): 181-86.
[In the following essay, Graham argues that Grahame specifically intended The Wind in the Willows to function asa guidebook for his son Alastair to his future education—and potential difficulties—in the English boarding school system.]
The Wind in the Willows is most innocently appreciated as nostalgic animal fantasy: a pastoral celebration of animal life along the riverbank, where the four primary "animal gentlemen" Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad enjoy a series of picaresque adventures that often involve "messing about in boats" but always end with a return to their snug and comfortable homes. The novel's episodes promote friendship, courtesy, competence, courage, and generosity in an idyllic world where sex, work, violence, and death are beyond the horizon. Experienced readers contextualize the story in various ways. For Humphrey Carpenter the riverbank constitutes an Arcadia, one of the secret gardens characterizing the Golden Age of children's literature. Kenneth Grahame's biographer Peter Green sees the novel as a psychological escape for its author, Grahame's refuge from his disastrous marriage and his mundane, if well-compensated, job in the Bank of England. Lois Kuznets points out the mock-epic Odyssean theme and structure. Peter Hunt sees the novel as animal idyll, Bildungsroman, sociological document on class warfare, anarchist comedy, burlesque, nostalgia, sexist conservative tract—"by fits and starts, all of these" (97).
The novel richly repays all such readings, but here I would like to head back to the text's origins, curiously neglected by most interpreters of the book and warranting examination of the sort Marilyn Butler calls for when she observes, "The writings of the past ask for an educated reading, as far as possible from within their own discourse or code or cultural system" (43). It is particularly worth remembering that the narrative involves not only a specific author but also a specific addressee. The Wind in the Willows began as a series of bedtime stories that Grahame told his son Alastair in 1904, evolved into story letters when the two were apart in 1907, and finally took published form in 1908. In this essay, I contend that what Grahame wanted to pass down to Alastair, from father to son, from public-school old boy to future new boy, is material designed to inform the child about his future education, presented in a form meant to be palatable and accessible to the four-year-old audience of the oral stories and the seven-year-old on holiday with his governess. The story of the neophyte Mole, who makes friends, acquires knowledge and skills, and widens his world, is specifically applicable to the situation Alastair was shortly to face. Though The Wind in the Willows serves admirably as a general guidebook to the ways of that interesting young animal the English schoolboy, its fictive and rhetorical strategies specifically reflect the particular anxieties and circumstances of its author and its addressee. In that sense, this obliquely cautionary and educational tale written by an initiate of the system is schoolboy lore customized to meet the needs of a one-boy audience.1* * *
Interestingly, the one piece of schoolboy fiction we are sure Grahame read, Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), resulted from the identical impulse: Thomas Hughes wrote the novel as he pondered what to tell his eight-year-old son Maurice about entry into the world of school. But if Alastair—eccentric, overemotional, physically handicapped, precocious, maternally dependent—were to meet and recognize himself in late-Victorian realistic schoolboy fiction, he would see his prototype mocked, bullied, and tagged with a derisive effeminate nickname, such as "Molly" or "Fluff." Such misfits, in fiction, faced the torment of being tossed in a blanket or held over a fire—or in the real-life case of Lewis Carroll at Rugby, might have books defaced with such a taunt as "C. L. Dodgson is a muff." The Wind in the Willows 's covert resemblances to classic school stories suggest that rather than frighten Alastair by modeling his work on the available realistic novels and periodicals (The Captain, The Boy's Own Paper), Grahame chose a more oblique and palatable form for dispensing schoolboy survival tips.
The choice to present material through animal fantasy rather than school story would have been heartily endorsed by C. S. Lewis, a near contemporary of Alastair Grahame's, had he read The Wind in the Willows in childhood rather than first encountering it in his twenties. In "On Three Ways of Writing for Children," Lewis articulates his dislike of the realistic schoolboy fiction he had read as a child. Lewis's hostility centers on the disappointing illusions of realism: "I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me; the school stories did" (1078). Such stories gripped him with the longing to be a popular, athletic, and successful schoolboy; they returned him to his own world "undivinely discontented" (1078). This discontentment, perhaps the natural lot of the ordinary many, would be a still greater risk for a boy carrying Alastair Grahame's extraordinary burdens.
In his excellent biography of Kenneth Grahame, Green reports that "Alastair Grahame was born, prematurely, on 12th May 1900; and to his parents' in- tense distress, proved to have congenital cataract of the right eye, which was completely blind, together with a pronounced squint in the left—which was also ‘over-sighted’" (227). The delicate child of unhappily married parents, Alastair "became the recipient of both his parents' thwarted emotions" (227). To say that he was spoiled would be an understatement. Carpenter comments on Alastair's "precocious, cheeky manner which nauseated Grahame's friends" (152). Green deplores Elspeth Grahame's refusal to recognize her son's physical handicaps and mental instability and argues that she created a fantasy of his physical prowess and mental brilliance: "The boy's whole life became a struggle to live up to the impossible ideal she set him; and in the end the strain proved too great" (228). Kenneth Grahame did not share his wife's illusions about Alastair. As a former public-school boy himself, Grahame knew from experience what his overindulged and overpraised son would face. As he was writing the story-letters to the seven-year-old Alastair in 1907, he must have been agonizing over the ordeal that according to upper-middle-class convention lay ahead: departure from the cocoon of mother's adoration and nanny's cosseting to the harsh male world of the English public school.
Grahame himself had enjoyed success in this overwhelmingly masculine world, where boys slept five or six to a room, the teachers were all men, and there was only the rarest contact with woman in the form of Matron, who helped the smaller boys and sometimes dispensed treats in the kitchen to the homesick and dispirited. After early experiences with the arbitrary and bizarre ways of the schoolmasters at St. Edward's School, Oxford, he learned to conceal or indirectly present his own ideas while winning prizes for Divinity and Latin prose in 1874 and the Sixth Form Class Prize in 1875. He earned the respect of his fellow students through gaining First Fifteen colors for Rugby, making the second eleven in cricket, and serving as Senior Prefect (head of school). He wrote essays for the school paper and spoke in the Debating Society. But despite his successes, Grahame clearly remembered the pain of his own entry into the world of the public school. In an essay called "The Fairy Wicket," published in The National Observer in 1892, he sketches the vivid image of "a small school-boy, new kicked out of his nest into the draughty, uncomfortable outer world, his unfledged skin still craving the feathers where into he was wont to nestle" (Prince 30-31). Green reports Grahame's belief that "the ordeal of school is unavoidable; henceforth one must live in the enemy's camp, wear his colors, and mouth his public shibboleths. What is more insidious is the possibility that one may come to believe in them" (32).
Most written records of school days, autobiographical and fictional alike, fall into one of several categories, depending on the writer's attitude. Royston Lambert identifies five distinct types of schoolboy, three of whose attitudes are likeliest to result in written accounts: the conformist, who believes in both the ends and the means of his particular school's system; the innovator, who seeks reform and improvement; and the rebel, who rejects the institution outright (358).2 The attitude Grahame expresses comes closest to fitting into the category Lambert calls "ritualist," that of a boy who follows school rules without accepting them. As a ritualist and as a parent who seems to have understood his son's particular circumstances, Grahame apparently found none of the usual direct methods of instruction appropriate for Alastair but instead encoded the lore necessary for schoolboy survival in the anthropomorphic animal story that became The Wind in the Willows. It may be, then, that one reason Grahame did not directly offer advice about schoolboy life was an ambivalent reluctance to either ally himself with the "enemy camp"—the world of arbitrary, dogmatic adults—or directly attack the system propounded in that camp, a system under which he himself had done well. Another reason might be his understanding that Alastair would never excel at sports requiring hand-eye coordination and stamina and his tactful reluctance to draw attention to his own successes in such schoolboy endeavors.3
Whatever his reasons, Grahame's strategy involved doing what is implicit above in such previously quoted phrases as "kicked out of the nest" and "unfledged skin." He transmuted school into the Riverbank, schoolboys in general into animals, Alastair in particular into Mole, who, involved in explicitly domestic doings as chapter one of Wind in the Willows begins, says "Hang spring-cleaning," leaves his dark hole, and scratches his way upward into the sunlit meadow. The choice of a mole as the story's new boy is particularly well calculated given its immediate audience, the partially blind Alastair. But any new boy at school might, to a lesser extent, be a mole of sorts—obliged to leave the dark, womblike confines of home and nursery for enlightenment. Like the mole (if we are to take his animal nature with any seriousness), the new boy ejected from his nest cannot at first see the spring charms of his new environment. He must learn the ways of the River- bank (or school); get along with the other animals (or boys); find a particular ally to protect, instruct, and befriend him; and win the respect of his comrades through athletic endeavor.
In making the place of learning a river and its environs, Grahame appropriates an accessible and popular metaphor. As land-dwelling humans find, water is an alien element but one to which they can, with practice and instruction, grow accustomed. Horace Annesley Vachell's The Hill, a 1905 novel about contemporary Harrow, begins with a didactic passage based on this likeness: "You're about to take a header into a big river. In it are rocks and rapids, but you know how to swim, and after the first plunge, you'll enjoy it" (1-2). Besides being alien, "not-home," a river is dynamic. Like school, it is not simply a place but a means of taking those who embark away from home or back again, a motif Christopher Clausen delineates in "Home and Away," his comparison of The Wind in the Willows and Huckleberry Finn. Finally, the river is a distinctively congenial choice for Grahame's immediate audience. The Grahame family lived on the Thames, at Cookham Dene in Alastair's childhood, later at Pangbourne. Interestingly, the primary sport in Wind in the Willows, boating, was Kenneth Grahame's favorite recreation; and Alastair, despite his visual impairment, was a competent boater and swimmer.
Having found his way to the riverbank and met one of its habitués, the Water Rat, Mole candidly admits that he has never been in a boat or lived the jolly river life. Rat takes the neophyte under his wing, as an older boy might a younger, and shares the lore of the world that is, in his words, "brother and sister to me … and company, and food and drink…. It is my world, and I don't want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing" (8). Rat smooths Mole's way with introductions to other members of his set. He warns Mole away from undesirables, notably the animals of the Wild Wood: "weasels—and stoats—and foxes and so on. They're all right in a way—I'm very good friends with them—pass the time of day when we meet and all that—but they break out sometimes, there's no denying it, and then—well, you can't really trust them, and that's a fact" (9-10). Some critics read the Wild Wooders as projections of Grahame's bourgeois social fears (proletarians, socialists, radicals); but in the context of life at school they are equally apt representations of the bounders, blighters, and cads a keen schoolboy loathes, those who are not "our sort" once the process of indoctrination has taken hold. Such indoctrination is a staple of realistic schoolboy fiction, where, for instance, it takes the form of feuds between classical and modern students ("our sort" and "cads" respectively) in Talbot Baines Reed's The Cock House of Fellsgarth (1891) and Compton Mackenzie's Sinister Street (1913).4
The Wind in the Willows begins this process by offering a series of object lessons for Alastair, or any other new-boy-to-be. In one such instance, Mole
began to feel more and more jealous of Rat, sculling so strongly and easily along, and his pride began to whisper that he could do it every bit as well. He jumped up and seized the sculls so suddenly that Rat … was taken by surprise and fell backwards off his seat…. "Stop it you silly ass!" cried the Rat, from the bottom of the boat. "You can't do it! You'll have us over!" The Mole flung his sculls back with a flourish, and made a great dig at the water. He missed the surface altogether, his legs flew up above his head, and he found himself lying on top of the prostrate Rat.
The immediate result may be humiliation for the rash and untutored new boy—Mole has to "brush away a tear or two with the back of his paw" while Rat "kindly looked in another direction" (17)—but the more enduring result is Rat's transmitting to Mole the lore of river life, and "very thrilling stories they were, too, to an earth-dwelling animal like Mole" (17).
Having met the friend who will be David to his Jonathan, Mole makes the acquaintance of authority as it exists for the Riverbank animals—Badger, who resembles nothing so much as a gruff but kindly headmaster of the Arnoldian type. As Grahame's text describes Badger, "He seemed, by all accounts, to be such an important personage and, though rarely visible, to make his unseen influence felt by everybody about the place" (38). Literally the eminence grise of the story, Badger embodies moral authority; his purpose is to encourage, exhort, and, if necessary, reform those under his protection. Mole's first sustained encounter with Badger begins as he and Rat, frightened and exhausted, knock at Badger's door. Badger's initially sharp and suspicious response turns quickly to fatherly concern: "He looked kindly down on them and patted both their heads. ‘This is not the sort of night for small animals to be out,’ he said paternally. ‘I'm afraid you've been up to some of your pranks again, Ratty’" (58). After taking care of their physical comforts—a fire, dry clothes, supper—Badger assumes the place of adult authority "in his armchair at the head of the table" and evokes Rat and Mole's explanation of the suspected "pranks." He "nodded gravely at intervals as the animals told their story, and he did not seem surprised or shocked at anything, and he never said, ‘I told you so,’ or ‘Just what I always said,’ or remarked that they ought to have done so-and-so, or ought not to have done something else" (the last two things Badger left unvoiced are clear echoes of the Anglican prayerbook's General Confession). Avoiding heavy-handed didacticism, Badger allows the two animals to examine their own behavior and mistakes and to draw conclusions for themselves—rather like Mr. Rastle's gentle guidance of Stephen Greenfield in Reed's The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's (1871). This lighter approach that trusts to Rat's and Mole's essential good instincts, however, will not be Badger's way with the fascinating bad boy of the River, Toad of Toad Hall. Hearing of Toad's latest outrageous behavior, Badger announces, "Well, we'll take Toad seriously in hand. We'll stand no nonsense whatever…. We'll make him be a sensible Toad" (62). When Rat and Mole inquire about Badger the next morning, the two young hedgehogs (who from their deferential behavior might be seen as representatives of lower school or a lower class) inform them, "The master's gone into his study, Sir … and on no account wants to be disturbed" (64). Remote or nurturing, gruff or sympathetic as circumstances demand, patiently attentive, decisive but not judgmental, morally upright but not censorious, Badger is the ideal headmaster for the Riverbank "school."
The attempted reform of Toad is perhaps Badger's greatest pedagogical challenge, variously referred to as "taking in hand," "rescue," "conversion," and "mission of mercy." Because of his particular status, Toad must change for his own good and for the good of Riverbank society. Arguably the most memorable character in the novel, Toad is rich, self-centered, charming, and driven by the impulse of the moment. No discreet and dutiful member of the middle class, he never delays gratification, pursues fad after fad to comically catastrophic conclusions, and brags about his home, wealth, wit, and good looks. Along with Mole and Rat, Toad can be seen as a recognizable type of schoolboy: like Flashman of Tom Brown's Schooldays or "Demon" Scaife of The Hill, Toad is a flamboyant narcissist, a sort likely to run into trouble at school. Indeed, when Carpenter speculates humorously on the animals' educational backgrounds, he says, "One could imagine Toad enjoying a brief period at Eton or Harrow before being expelled."5
Toad's determination not only to break ranks but to go out-of-bounds into the Wide World of society—and women—sets him apart from the school community. Claudia Nelson points out that "of all the animals, Toad has the greatest affinity with the human (adult and—worse—female) world" (167). His passion for motor cars has an undoubted sexual quality and brings him into contact with nurses, jailer's daughters, washerwomen, and the dreaded bargewoman. As The Wind in the Willows demonstrates, to follow the errant path of a character like Toad invites disaster. His unfettered individualism is personally harmful; but worse, in the eyes of Rat and Badger, it lets the side down. Toad "has been corrupted by modern gadgets; he has made a public fool of himself; he is conceited and irresponsible and a spendthrift; he has disgraced his friends" (Green 245). It is worth noting how this catalogue of sins blends the personal and the collective. Toad's self-indulgence not only hurts him but also rends the fabric of riverbank society. His downfall enables the disreputable stoats and weasels to invade Toad Hall and, ensconced there, to mock the respectable animals of Toad's set. In the cautionary case of Toad, Grahame lays down for a son encouraged to think too much of himself the foundation of public school spirit: loyalty to the group. Observing the perils of Toad, Mole and Alastair learn the importance of team spirit: never, never let the side down. Or in the words of the Eton Boating Song (performed in situ suo just a few miles down the Thames from the Grahames' house or the riverside prototype of Toad Hall, Mapledurham House), "Yes we'll still swing together / And swear by the best of schools."
In Mackenzie's Sinister Street, an experienced older boy, Rodber, gives the young protagonist, Michael Fane, some good advice about school life: "‘Look here,’ said Rodber, ‘I don't mind telling you, as you'll be a new kid, one or two tips about school. Look here, don't tell anybody your Christian name and don't be cocky’" (87). Shortly thereafter, Sinister Street's narrator wryly characterizes the practical schoolboy virtue of anonymity: "Michael congratulated himself that generally his dress and appearance conformed with the fashion of the younger boys' dress at Randall's. It would be terrible to excite notice. In fact, Michael supposed that to excite notice was the worst sin anybody could possibly commit" (92).
Adults may come to learn that several sins are worse than notoriety, but the schoolboy lore that Grahame passes down through The Wind in the Willows con- curs with that offered in Sinister Street. As we have seen, the cockiness of Toad never goes unpunished. We never learn what Rat, Mole, or Toad may have been christened, for the characters never address one another except by surname or the generic "old chap"—only the younger of the hedgehogs, Billy, and Portly, Otter's young son, have the juvenile feature of Christian names, which signal that they are still at home with mother. Conversation in the novel is stylized to the point of impoverishment, in Kuznets's phrase "full of colloquial expressions, some of them juvenile taunts and insults, rather hackneyed in its use of descriptive adjectives like ‘jolly’ and ‘stupid’" (113). (For proof that such adolescent reductiveness transcends cultures, classes, and decades, one need only cite the contemporary equivalent to Mole and Rat's "jolly" and "stupid": Beavis and Butthead's division of all things into what is "cool" and what "sucks.")
As all these conventions would suggest, The Wind in the Willows, like other schoolboy fiction, stresses giving up eccentricity and individuality in order to become part of a community. Much of Mole's essential "moleness" is left behind as the novel proceeds. He gives up his underground hole, though, like a schoolboy on holiday, he is allowed a return for Christmas before leaving, presumably forever. Becoming a Riverbanker, he puts aside childish ways. After chapter five we hear no more of his tears; by chapter nine he feels confident enough to persuade Rat against becoming a Wayfarer; and at the conclusion he joins Badger, Rat, and Toad in the mock-epic battle to regain Toad Hall from the stoats and weasels. With Mole's "insider" status solidified, the novel's last image is of the four animals linked together as heroes of their generation, much like Stalky, Beetle, and M'Turk at the end of Kipling's Stalky & Co. (1899).
As many nineteenth- and twentieth-century British novels and memoirs testify, schooldays were, or at least were considered, the crucially formative time of a ruling-class man's life. In the Duke of Wellington's memorable pronouncement, "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton." Cyril Connolly, an Eton contemporary of Alastair Grahame's, wrote more negatively of the school's potent influence in Enemies of Promise:
In fact were I to deduce any system from my feelings on leaving Eton, it might be called The Theory of Permanent Adolescence. It is the theory that the experiences undergone by boys at the great public schools, their glories and disappointments, are so intense as to dominate their lives and to arrest their development. From these it results that the great part of the ruling class remains adolescent, school-minded…. Early laurels weigh like lead and of many of the boys whom I knew at Eton, I can say that their lives are over.
A feminist reader might see indoctrination of the sort Connolly describes and Wind in the Willows enacts as the cultural weaning of ruling-class males.6 Trained to detach themselves from and subsequently to idealize, corrupt, or mystify the influence of mothers, aunts, sisters, and (female) lovers-to-be, Connolly's Etonians and Grahame's Riverbankers remain, like Bertie Wooster and the other Drones of P. G. Wodehouse's fiction, perpetual schoolboys and bachelors at heart. Literary descriptions of their state generally have more charm than do its actual consequences.* * *
Idyllic though its story may be for many readers, whether children, permanent adolescents, or adults, The Wind in the Willows held some dark ironies for its immediate audience of one and its author. When it proved enormously successful, Grahame resigned from the Bank of England to devote himself to writing, but he never produced another book. And if he wrote The Wind in the Willows with the primary goal of advising Alastair on the attitudes, behavior, and language that would lead to success in one of England's famous public schools, his narrative failed to achieve its desired effect. Rather than send Alastair away at the customary age of eight (Grahame's own age when he started at St. Edward's), the family kept the child at home with a governess until he was ten. Then, with trepidation, they sent him to prep at the Old Malthouse School in Dorset. Luckily, it was a cheerful and permissive place. Alastair was not so fortunate when in 1914 he went from his prep school to Rugby, one of the "great schools" and his mother's unrealistic choice. "Rugby," writes Alison Prince, "was a tough school, ruthless in its dealings with any boy who put on airs or who seemed in any way odd or less than a ‘good sport.’ Alastair, full of airs and debarred by his poor sight from all sports except swimming, had been thrown into a life which was, by his standards, little short of hell" (285). He was desperately unhappy and resigned within months. In January 1915 the Grahames got him into Eton, where he managed to stay a little more than a year. Alastair completed his education under private tutors at home and eventually entered Christ Church College, Oxford. His contemporaries at university recalled that he always seemed miserable. Struck by a train, Alastair died, a probable suicide, at the age of twenty. He seems never to have adjusted to the schoolboy world whose lore is so memorably encoded in The Wind in the Willows.
1. Indeed, even the anomalous "Pan" chapter corresponds to a trope of schoolboy fiction and memoir. In many school narratives, a Wordsworthian encounter with the spiritually nurturing power of nature, a mystical episode of religious awakening, or a conversion experience fosters the protagonist's individual self-development amid the communal values-building and socialization dominating public-school life.
2. These attitudes, of course, lead to different kinds of literature, which Jeffrey Richards characterizes as "the conformist, which endorses the dominant ideology, the alternative, which proposes changes, and the oppositional, which proposes rejection and abolition" (8).
3. J. A. Mangan points out that it is impossible to overestimate the importance of athletic skill in British public-school life. See his Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School.
4. For an interesting discussion of cads, bounders, and blighters, see Mackenzie 212.
5. Carpenter envisions Badger as "undoubtedly at Winchester and New College," Rat presumably from "a minor public school which had a headmaster who admired Arnold and Maurice," and Mole as perhaps "a pupil at a provincial grammar school" (229).
6. This line of critical thought emerged in correspondence with Malcolm Kelsall.
Butler, Marilyn. "Against Tradition: The Case for a Particularized Historical Method." Historical Studies and Literary Criticism. Ed. Jerome J. McGann. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1985. 25-47.
Carpenter, Humphrey. Secret Gardens: The Golden Age of Children's Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
Clausen, Christopher. "Home and Away." The Moral Imagination: Essays on Literature and Ethics. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1986. 39-50.
Connolly, Cyril. Enemies of Promise. New York: Macmillan, 1948.
Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. 1908. New York: Dell, 1969.
Green, Peter. Kenneth Grahame: A Biography. New York: World, 1959.
Hunt, Peter. An Introduction to Children's Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994.
Kuznets, Lois R. Kenneth Grahame. Boston: Twayne, 1987.
Lambert, Royston. The Hothouse Society. London, 1968.
Lewis, C. S. "On Three Ways of Writing for Children." 1952. The Riverside Anthology of Children's Literature. Ed. Judith Saltman. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. 1075-81.
Mackenzie, Compton. Sinister Street. London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1913.
Mangan, J. A. Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School: The Emergence and Consolidation of an Educational Ideology. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981.
Nelson, Claudia. Boys Will Be Girls: The Feminine Ethic and British Children's Fiction, 1857-1917. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1991.
Prince, Alison. Kenneth Grahame: An Innocent in the Wild Wood. 1994. Allison & Busby, 1996.
Richards, Jeffrey. Happiest Days: The Public Schools in English Fiction. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1988.
Vachell, Horace Annesley. The Hill: A Romance of Friendship. London: John Murray, 1905.
Mark I. West (essay date 1999)
SOURCE: West, Mark I. "Narcissism in The Wind in the Willows." In Psychoanalytic Responses to Children's Literature, edited by Lucy Rollin and Mark I. West, pp. 45-51. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1999.
[In the following essay, West focuses on the endearing nature of Toad's egocentric tendencies in The Wind in the Willows which, although childlike, are nevertheless the actions of an adult.]
Of the four major characters in The Wind in the Willows, Toad has always been the favorite of young readers. This was true even before the book existed as a completed manuscript. Toad, along with Mole, Rat, and Badger, first appeared in bedtime stories that Kenneth Grahame told to his son Alastair. The boy took a special interest in Toad and delighted in hearing about Toad's misadventures. When Alastair was separated from his father during the summer of 1907, he asked him to send more letters about Toad's activities. Alastair's governess preserved these letters, and Grahame later used them as the basis for The Wind in the Willows (Elspeth Grahame 1-22).
Toad's popularity among children is certainly understandable. He is an exuberant troublemaker, and children are usually drawn to such characters. As Nicholas Tucker has pointed out in "The Children's Falstaff," Toad "dared do and express many of the things they may have often felt like doing, and such children could both feel superior to Toad's obvious deficiencies and excesses and also revel in them at the same time" (163). Toad's self-centeredness is another quality with which children can easily identify. Narcissistic tendencies, Freud argues in his essay "On Narcissism," are basic characteristics of infants, and more recent psychological theorists have suggested that these tendencies remain strong throughout adolescence (Hamilton 118-19). Thus, it is not surprising that children can relate to Toad's boastfulness as well as his egocentric view of the world.
Since Toad exhibits many childish qualities, it is tempting to view him as a child. A number of people have, in fact, taken this position. Lois R. Kuznets, for example, argues that Toad can "be seen as representative of a child struggling to control his impulses and tailor his needs to the demands of society" (111). Others have suggested that Toad is simply a caricature of Alastair (Green 282). These interpretations certainly explain some of Toad's immature acts, such as throwing temper tantrums. Some critics, however, feel that it is an oversimplification to regard Toad as a child in an amphibian's skin.
Grahame's biographer, Peter Green, feels that Toad should be viewed as an adult with a "queer pathological streak" (284). A careful examination of the text tends to bear out Green's interpretation. However childishly Toad may behave, Grahame never suggests that he is not an adult. He portrays Toad as an affluent but irresponsible young man. Like most adults, Toad is fairly independent. He controls a large estate and makes major purchasing decisions. He thinks of himself as a gentleman and is generally regarded as such by his peers.
There are several other factors that indicate that Grahame wants Toad to be thought of as an adult. Although most of the characters in The Wind in the Willows are animals, Grahame clearly indicates that some are adults and some are children. The Otter's son, Little Portly, is definitely a child. The field mice who sing Christmas carols to Mole and Rat are portrayed as children. Nowhere in the book, however, is Toad equated with these young animals. For the most part, they are expected to look up to Toad, a point that Grahame underscores in the book's conclusion:
Sometimes, in the course of long summer evenings, the friends would take a stroll together in the Wild Wood,… and it was pleasing to see how respectfully they were greeted by the inhabitants, and how the mother weasels would bring their young ones to the mouths of their holes and say, pointing, "Look, baby! There goes the great Mr. Toad!"
Toad also has little in common with the children whom Grahame so lovingly describes in two of his earlier books, The Golden Age and Dream Days. These characters exude innocence and gentleness, qualities that Toad obviously lacks. As Green convincingly argues, Grahame is much more inclined to associate negative qualities with adults than he is with children (177). For this reason, Green feels that Toad is modeled, not after Alastair, but after some of the eccentric adults with whom Grahame was familiar. The two examples whom Green mentions are Horatio Bottomley, a flamboyant politician (242-43), and Oscar Wilde (284). If Toad is seen as an adult, however, it becomes more difficult to account for some of his peculiar actions. One possible way to explain much of Toad's behavior is to view him as a narcissist.
Although The Wind in the Willows was written well before the coining of the phrase "narcissistic personality disorder," Grahame's portrayal of Toad could almost be a case illustration of this particular psychological problem. In addition to his exhibiting the surface characteristics of a narcissist, Toad's thought processes and basic behavior patterns closely resemble this personality type.
In describing Toad's personality, Grahame anticipates some later theories on narcissism. Most psychological theorists who have studied narcissism agree that narcissistic behavior can often mask feelings of self-doubt and inferiority. The narcissist has a weak sense of self and attempts to compensate for this by engaging in grandiose fantasies and by seeking admiration and approval from others (Masterson 7-9). As Rich- ard M. Restak states in his book The Self Seekers, "For the narcissist, life consists of an unending round of maneuvers aimed at bolstering self-esteem" (128). So long as these maneuvers are successful, the narcissist gives the appearance of being extremely self-satisfied. If, however, these maneuvers fail, the narcissist's feelings of self-doubt well up, resulting in severe depression.
Toad's periodic bouts with depression clearly follow this pattern. He tries to think of himself as an admired figure, but when this image is threatened he becomes despondent. The most dramatic example of this type of reaction occurs when Toad is imprisoned. Faced with a lengthy sentence, he practically loses his will to live. He refuses his meals, and he constantly castigates himself. At one point he calls himself a "stupid animal" and then goes on to say, "Now I must languish in this dungeon, till people who were proud to say they knew me, have forgotten the very name of Toad" (142-43). His depression, in other words, stems from his realization that he may have lost the admiration of his peers. He comes out of his depression only after having convinced himself that the jailer's daughter "admired him very much" (147).
In addition to causing depression, the narcissist's sense of self-doubt can lead to other problems. One of these is a tendency to engage in dangerous activities. Restak provides the following explanation for this behavior:
Burdened with crushing feelings of inertia and deadness, the understimulated self frantically reaches out to the world in order to grasp the excitement and vitality which it inwardly lacks. Forms of self-stimulation replace natural and spontaneous excitements. Frantic efforts are employed to critically stir up a sense of aliveness and vitality. Addictions, sexual promiscuity and perversions, alcohol and drug-induced "highs," dangerous sports and recreational activities (hang gliding, motorcycle racing, etc.)—all are, in the last analysis, attempts to artificially repair the chronic state of understimulation.
The urge to live recklessly is certainly present in Toad. He feels that he is "at his best and highest" (121) when he is careening around in an automobile. He finds it impossible to drive at a moderate speed, even though he knows that he is risking his life. In fact, the knowledge that he is in danger gives Toad a sense of exhilaration. Such behavior may also be indicative of subconscious self-destructive impulses. The fact that he continues to drive recklessly after being injured in several accidents suggests that, on some level, Toad's accidents are deliberate. According to Karl Menninger, an authority on self-destructive behavior, such purposive accidents are a step in the direction of suicide (293-94). It is possible, in other words, that Toad's self-doubt borders on self-negation.
Since the narcissist is preoccupied with himself, he has difficulty relating to others. This point is stressed in the original Narcissus myth. Handsome Narcissus is sought after by many would-be lovers, but he rejects their advances. Instead, he falls in love with his own reflection. Contemporary theorists argue that the narcissist is incapable of forming strong bonds with others largely because of an inability to feel empathy. While the narcissist may be gregarious, he is primarily interested in winning admiration from others, not their friendship or love. Expanding on this point, Restak explains that "people are important to the narcissist only as a means of bolstering his sense of self" (128).
The narcissist's approach to relationships characterizes Toad's dealings with Mole, Rat and Badger. Toad is always a gracious host, but he refuses to talk about anything but himself. He constantly boasts about his possessions and embraces anyone who seems to admire his things. He takes an instant liking to Mole, for example, simply because Mole is impressed with his new caravan. Toad never concerns himself with how his actions might adversely affect others, and he shows little gratitude when his friends attempt to help him. Although they have come to expect such behavior, Toad's friends are sometimes hurt by his lack of empathy. Toward the end of the book, Rat tells Toad, "You don't deserve to have such true and loyal friends, Toad, you don't really" (225). Toad begins apologizing to Rat, but he stops in mid-sentence upon learning that supper is ready.
The narcissist's inability to accept other people as equals results in another problem—an inability to accept criticism. In the opinion of the narcissist, no one has a right to criticize his behavior; anyone who does is perceived as being cruel and unreasonable. Nathan Schwartz-Salant discusses this narcissistic trait in Narcissism and Character Transformation:
The experience of being with a person with a narcissistic character disorder is one of being kept away, warded off…. Criticism is met with extreme resistance. The person with a narcissistic character disorder has so little sense of identity … that any criticism at all is felt as a personal threat.
Toad's resistance to criticism is evident throughout The Wind in the Willows. On numerous occasions, Badger and Rat criticize Toad for his selfish and self-destructive behavior, but Toad never recognizes the legitimacy of their complaints. He sometimes gives the appearance of making constructive use of criticism, but he immediately reverts to his old ways. For instance, when Badger criticizes Toad for driving so recklessly, Toad apologizes and promises to reform. A few minutes later, however, he says, "I've been searching my mind since, and going over things in it, and I find that I'm not a bit sorry or repentant really, so it's no earthly good saying I am" (110). Since Toad seems to be incapable of accepting criticism, his apparent reform at the end of the book is unconvincing. One wonders why Toad is suddenly able to respond constructively to criticism. Grahame was well aware of this problem. In response to an inquiry about Toad's transformation, Grahame wrote, "Of course Toad never really reformed; he was by nature incapable of it. But the subject is a painful one to pursue" (Grahame, My Dearest Mouse 190).
Although Toad can be seen as having a narcissistic personality disorder, it is more difficult to explain why he developed this problem. Psychologists are not in complete agreement about the causes of narcissistic behavior in adults. In recent years, however, Heinz Kohut's theories on this subject have gained a considerable following. Kohut argues that the young child has a fragile but grandiose sense of selfhood. This fragile self can easily disintegrate unless it is reinforced. Most parents, Kohut believes, achieve this reinforcement by accepting and confirming the child's sense of self in all of its grandiosity. As Michael J. Patton and John S. Sullivan state in an article on Kohut's theories, most parents help their child "believe that he or she is perfect, powerful, loved, admired, and in symbiotic union with others" (376). Kohut calls this process mirroring (116). If this mirroring process does not occur, Kohut feels that the child may never develop a secure sense of self. Such a child, upon reaching adulthood, is likely to become a narcissist.
Grahame provides little information about Toad's childhood, but the information he does provide suggests that Toad may not have experienced the mirroring process that Kohut describes. At no point in the book is Toad's mother mentioned while Toad's father is mentioned on several occasions. Thus Toad's mother may not have been available to help build her son's sense of self. Toad's father was present, but he may have been too preoccupied to pay much attention to his son.
The elder Toad clearly spent most of his time amassing his fortune and maintaining Toad Hall. He also showed little confidence in his son. He never, for example, told his son about the underground passage into Toad Hall. According to Badger, he felt that Toad was too "light and volatile in character" (230) to be entrusted with the secret. It is possible, therefore, that Toad never experienced the unequivocal acceptance of a loving parent. This lack of parental acceptance may explain why, as an adult, Toad so desperately seeks approval and admiration.
Although this interpretation of Toad's personality explains much of his behavior, some may feel that it robs Toad of his charm. Toad is dearly loved by countless readers, and it is hard to accept the psychological problems of a loved one even if he is only a fictional character. Psychiatrists and psychologists are well aware of this difficulty. Often the friends of a psychiatric patient initially refuse to acknowledge their friend's problems. Once they do, they tend to distance themselves from their friend.
Such reactions are understandable, but they do a disservice to their friend. It is important to acknowledge a friend's psychological problems, but it is also important to remember the friend's endearing qualities. This holds true for Toad as well. He is a narcissist, but he is also an amusing companion. He is gregarious and often generous. His childish antics are amusing, and his exuberant approach to life is stimulating. Even though he may not be capable of truly loving others, there is something lovable about Toad. He longs for company, and it would be a shame if the acknowledgment of his narcissistic tendencies cost him his friends.
Freud, Sigmund. "On Narcissism." In vol. 14 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Trans. James Strachey. 24 vols. London: Hogarth, 1957.
Grahame, Elspeth. Introduction. First Whisper of "The Wind in the Willows." By Kenneth Grahame. Ed. Elspeth Grahame. 1-22. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1945.
Grahame, Kenneth. My Dearest Mouse: "The Wind in the Willows" Letters. Ed. Marilyn Watts. London: Pavilion, 1988.
———. The Wind in the Willows. New York: Scribner's, 1965.
Green, Peter. Kenneth Grahame: A Biography. Cleveland: World, 1959.
Hamilton, Victoria. Narcissus and Oedipus: The Children of Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982.
Kohut, Heinz. The Analysis of the Self. New York: International Universities, 1971.
Kuznets, Lois R. Kenneth Grahame. Boston: Twayne, 1987.
Masterson, James F. The Narcissistic and Borderline Disorders. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1981.
Menninger, Karl. Man against Himself. New York: Harcourt, 1938.
Patton, Michael J., and John J. Sullivan. "Heinz Kohut and the Classical Psychoanalytic Tradition: An Analysis in Terms of Levels of Explanation." Psychoanalytic Review 64 (1980): 365-88.
Restak, Richard M. The Self Seekers. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1982.
Schwartz-Salant, Nathan. Narcissism and Character Transformation: The Psychology of Narcissistic Character Disorders. Toronto: Inner City, 1982.
Tucker, Nicholas. "The Children's Falstaff." Suitable for Children: Controversies in Children's Literature. Ed. Nicholas Tucker. 160-64. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.
Claire Walsh (essay date December 2006)
SOURCE: Walsh, Claire. "Gender Trouble in Arcadia or a World of Multigendered Possibility?: Intersubjectivity and Gender in The Wind in the Willows." Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature 16, no. 2 (December 2006): 162-67.
[In the following essay, Walsh presents a study of Grahame's surprisingly complex usage of gender roles in The Wind in the Willows.]
‘Liberal’ Feminist Readings: Misogynistic Overtones in The Wind in the Willows
According to Peter Green, sex (and more particularly puberty/adolescence) is one of the ‘great enemies’ in Kenneth Grahame's world because it signals the end of childhood innocence, and ‘breaks up the ideal pattern’ (1982, p. 117). Grahame himself claimed that by using anthropomorphized characters, instead of humans for The Wind in the Willows, he avoided ‘weary sex problems’ (cited in Green 1982, p. 117). In a letter to his publishers at Charles Scribner's, Grahame's insistence that The Wind in the Willows was ‘free of problems, clear of the clash of sex’ (cited in Kuznets 1988, p. 175) further suggests that he wanted to stay away from issues of sex and gender in his book. However, as various critics' (Kuznets 1988; Gaarden 1994) charges of misogyny indicate, Grahame does not manage to avoid issues of sex, and the text arguably contains misogynistic overtones. For example, both Rat and Mole make derogatory comments to Toad about women. Rat criticizes Toad for being ‘flung into the water—by a woman too!’ (Grahame 1983, p. 172), and Mole suggests to Toad that being locked in his bedroom is preferable to spending time in hospital ‘being ordered about by female nurses’ (p. 93). Moreover, in an exchange between Toad and the Bargewoman, ‘girls’ are referred to as ‘little hussies’, and ‘idle trollops’ (p. 153). Thus, Grahame's claim to Teddy Roosevelt that the text contained ‘no problems, no sex, no second meaning’ (cited in Kuznets 1988, p. 175), reveals that perhaps Grahame was frankly ignorant of the misogynistic overtones pervading his book or he wrote from the perspective of ‘a male who finds women inconsequential’ (Marshall 1994, p. 62).
For some feminist critics, such as Lois Kuznets, Grahame's insistence that the text is free from the ‘clash of sex’, evades the fact that ‘beneath its Arcadian surface lie deeply buried and complex concerns’ (1988, p. 175). Bonnie Gaarden has argued that:
the putative maleness of all the animal characters is nullified by their singularity and by the lack of female characters, and so the four main characters are, in effect, genderless or androgynous.
(Gaarden 1994, p. 57)
If I understand Gaarden's position correctly, she is arguing that without the presence of the opposing category of ‘female(ness)’, the supposed ‘maleness’ of the main characters is cancelled out. The result is that Rat, Mole, Badger, and Toad are rendered ‘genderless’. In a similar vein, Lois Kuznets had earlier argued that male characters' fulfilment of traditional ‘female values’ reflected an ‘androgyny of nurturing males … that can postulate no similar androgyny for females’ (1988, p. 179). Kuznets contends that ‘males rather than females dispense the hospitality, create the welcoming atmosphere, and share the oral delights of food and drink’ (1988, p. 176). For Kuznets, therefore, Grahame marginalised females in his book by appropriating their ‘traditional nurturing functions’ (1988, p. 176) into his male characters.
While Kuznets' and Gaarden's readings offer a valuable entry point for critiquing the role of gender in The Wind in the Willows, in this paper I demonstrate an alternative approach using Jessica Benjamin's psychoanalytic feminist theory of intersubjectivity and gender development. First I outline Benjamin's ‘postconventional’ (1995, p. 76) approach to gender, and then follow with an ‘intersubjective’ reading of The Wind in the Willows that unsettles ‘fixed’ notions of gender identity, replacing the ‘discourse of identity’ with the notion of ‘plural identifications’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 75). Integral to this paper is Benjamin's idea that the subject can maintain plural identifications by managing an awareness of both ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’ in a intersubjective state of tension, and not as mutually exclusive oppositions conceptualised as ‘either/or’.
Jessica Benjamin's ‘Overinclusive’ Approach to Gender
According to Benjamin, there is a fundamental problem with adhering to a logic of gender which constructs masculinity and femininity as ‘binary opposites’, and thus negates the possibility of positions or identifications ‘outside’ (1995, p. 76) or ‘between’ the binary frame. Instead, Benjamin suggests we understand gender constitution in terms of ‘multiplicity and mutuality denied by the oedipal form’ (1995, p. 76). She argues that in contrast to Freud's model where difference is repudiated and identification merely functions as a confirmation of likeness, ‘difference is only truly established when it exists in tension with likeness, when we are able to recognize the other in ourselves’ (Benjamin 1988, p. 169; emphasis added). She insists that ‘recognition’ of the ‘other’ requires ‘being able to perceive commonality through difference’ (Benjamin 1988, p. 171). For Benjamin, therefore, ‘true differentiation sustains the balance between separateness and connection in a dynamic tension’ (1988, p. 171). Thus she suggests a ‘dissolution of gender identity’ (Benjamin 1988, p. 176), by reworking the terms of sexual complementarity such as ‘male-subject’ and ‘female-object’ concurrently with avoiding any attempt to simply reverse these terms, and thus swap one unsatisfactory arrangement for another. In other words, she suggests assuming a ‘paradoxical stance’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 7) by maintaining an intersubjective ‘tension’ between gender identifications.
Benjamin acknowledges that early feminist work opened up a necessary ‘intellectual space’ that uncovered the ‘real social and psychological effects’ of gender polarities on our world (1995, p. 11). However, she insists that we must keep widening that space of gender inquiry to accommodate "multidimensionality" where we recognize that "‘Woman" is not a unitary identity’ (1995, p. 11). In contrast to Kuznets and Gaarden's readings, for example, Benjamin's postconventional approach decenters ‘fixed’ gendered oppositions by integrating ‘overinclusiveness’ into complementary structures so that multiple gender positions become available. In this matrix, the ‘essentialist’ stance with its traditional association of females as the dispensers of hospitality, is deconstructed to unsettle the unreflexive binary opposition. Thus, instead of equating ‘either’ females ‘or’ males with ‘hospitality’, which allows for only one gendered opposition at a time, we can integrate the ‘overinclusive’ aspect into the binary opposition so that ‘both’ males ‘and’ females can be equated with hospitality. Consequently, from Benjamin's perspective, the male characters in The Wind in the Willows can quite comfortably carry out both ‘traditional’ masculine and feminine ‘roles’ without becoming genderless or androgynous. As in reality, sexual differences are ‘far more multifarious than the binary logic of mutual exclusivity allows’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 77), and individuals can exhibit characteristics and behaviours that do not always fit with ‘traditional’ notions of gender.
For Benjamin, Freud's oedipal model misconstrues gender identity as a ‘final achievement, a cohesive, stable system, rather than an unattainable oedipal ideal’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 70). She understands oedipal identifications to be a heterosexually ‘organized’, and ‘powerful set of fantasies’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 77) that do not allow for other identifications such as homosexual, bi-sexual and, trans-sexual. In her gender development theory, Benjamin suggests that the oedipal phase should no longer be viewed as the ‘summation of development’ (1989, p. 177). Rather she views the oedipal phase as part of a series of developmental processes/achievements, and therefore only ‘one step in mental life’ (Benjamin 1989, p. 177). Her approach suggests that in addition to focusing on the importance of the ‘oedipal phase’, equal attention should be given to ‘pre’ and ‘post’ oedipal phases of development. This would have the effect of creating a more comprehensive picture of gender development whereby coming to terms with difference is truly negotiated and integrated into the psyche. Benjamin thus proposes a developmental period called the ‘preoedipal overinclusive phase’ (1995, p. 69) during which children identify with both parents' genders equally, and assimilate opposite-sex identifications. This phase is characterised by children becoming adept at recognising ‘certain basic distinctions between masculinity and femininity’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 63). In the ‘overinclusive’ phase, children try through ‘bodily mimesis’ to imaginatively elaborate masculinity and femininity within themselves, both in terms of symbolizing ‘genital meanings’ and assimilating unconsciously the ‘gestural and behavioural vocabulary’ supplied by culture to express both gender options (Benjamin 1995, p. 63).
To elucidate her theory, Benjamin uses the example of the thirty-month old girl who may imitate her older brother's playing with action figures, and thereby assimilate masculinity symbolically—what she refers to as the ‘phallic repertoire of colliding, penetrating, invading, and blocking’ (1995, p. 63). Alternatively, a twenty-four month old boy may ‘insist he has a vagina’, and then later at three years when he is more aware of external anatomy, might instead claim to be pregnant, and thus elaborate the fantasy of ‘receiving, holding, and expelling’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 63). Although at this point in development, children identify through imagination and fantasy ignorant to the impossibility of ‘acquiring certain capacities and organs’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 103), through ‘play’ children create an intersubjective or transitional space which facilitates the ‘symbolic bridging of difference’ (1995, p. 75). This symbolic play space permits the child to ‘entertain wishes that reality denies’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 75), allowing that which is different to become integrated into the developing psyche, where it can become familiar and possibly an aspect of self. Thus, Benjamin advocates giving ‘greater’ (1988, p. 169) (although not exclusive) value to the preoedipal world, and an ‘overinclusive’ phase of role-playing, practicing and enjoying a more fluid experience of gender.
In Benjamin's developmental theory, it is only in the later ‘oedipal phase’ towards the end of the fourth year, that children relinquish their claim to ‘be everything’ (1995, p. 127). In the oedipal phase, therefore, children develop an awareness of ‘gender differentiation proper, when the complementary opposites are attributed to self and other, respectively’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 64). Benjamin insists, however, that the ‘sexual freedom’ (1995, p. 78) experienced by children in the earlier ‘preoedipal’ ‘overinclusive’ phase need not be relinquished in favour of the strict gender complementarity of the oedipal phase. Through relating intersubjectively (recognising the ‘other’ as having a separate, and yet equivalent centre of subjectivity), individuals can thus return to the ‘overinclusive position’ and ‘access the flexible identificatory capacities of preoedipal life’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 75). Recasting Freud's dualistic oppositions of identification ‘either/or’, to an ‘overinclusive’ scenario of ‘both/and’, means that the ‘overinclusive’ position enables the subject to straddle the ‘space between the opposites’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 50), to tolerate both ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’ in a state of manageable tension. At the same time, Benjamin's ‘overinclusive’ approach to gender preserves the ‘experiential basis’ of the binary categories moving ‘theory more deeply into our subjective experience, clinical and otherwise’ (1995, p. 9).
Benjamin's ‘overinclusive’ position is inspired by theoretical developments from outside the psychoanalytic world such as deconstruction and poststructuralism which ‘seek to return to the primary reference points in order to renegotiate oppositional categories’ (1995, p. 9). However, while Benjamin admits to her affinity for the ‘decentering stance of contemporary feminist theory in general’ and the ‘effort to deconstruct the notion of an essential female identity in particular’ (1995, p. 12), she continues to find the binary system of gender to be an important component of psychoanalytic thinking. While some feminist and/or queer theories such as Judith Butler's (1990) interrogate ‘essentialist positions’ and the notion of identity in particular (Benjamin 1995, p. 10), for Benjamin, binary oppositions such as man-woman ‘play a major role’ (1995, p. 11) in organizing both our psychic and experiential understanding of the world. Benjamin's ‘overinclusive’ approach to gender complementarity (‘both/and’), reworks the prevailing gender systems terms and binary logic by ‘breaking down and recombining opposites rather than by discovering something wholly different, unrepresented or unrepresentable’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 76). Benjamin suggests that it is of more value to accept the paradoxes that can arise when we identify with more than one perspective than try to resolve those contradictions (Benjamin 1995, p. 10). As I will discuss next, The Wind in the Willows can be read as exhibiting an ‘overinclusive’ approach to gender which ‘contains rather than resolves contradictions’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 59) in the representation of gender in the text.
An Intersubjective Reading of the Role of Gender in The Wind in the Willows
Citing the origins of the text as a bedtime story for Grahame's partially blind son Alistair, Cynthia Marshall argues that The Wind in the Willows, ‘offers an unusual and compelling example of a children's text that does not privilege the visual senses’ (1994, p. 59). Marshall contends that the characters are ‘detached from any sustained representation’ of their physical bodies and are therefore ‘not animals in any firm mimetic sense’ (1994, p. 59). For Marshall, this distinct lack of physical representation in the narrative enables the characters to remain undifferentiated and therefore unrestricted by ‘logical causation and spatial possibility’ (1994, p. 60). For this reason, readers are able to suspend their disbelief at a Toad driving a humansized motor car, for example. Marshall's argument has ramifications for the way we view the role of gender in the text: if she is correct and the animals' ‘move easily between radically discontinuous positions’ (1994, p. 60) then conceivably, they would also display the same level of fluidity of movement in relation to gender identifications. Toad's and Mole's cross-dressing in the washerwoman's clothes, therefore, clearly introduces ‘what has otherwise been absent from the text: a visually realized and highly gendered body’ (Marshall 1994, p. 63). Significantly, for a text that has been criticised for exhibiting misogynistic overtones, I suggest that Grahame's inclusion of Toad's and Mole's gender-bending antics in his narrative actually unsettles ‘fixed’ notions of gender identity, and is more reflective of an ‘ironic’ distortion of gender conventions (Benjamin 1995, p. 72).
Through the ‘transitional space of communicative play’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 75), which includes all forms of theatrical performance including transgender impersonation, individuals are able to maintain a ‘tension’ between gender identifications, rather than breaking them down into ‘split polarities’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 79). Therefore, dressed as the washerwoman, both Toad and Mole respectively, occupy the intersubjective/transitional space of what Benjamin terms the ‘recognizing third’ (Benjamin 2005, p. 449). In this ‘space of thirdness’ (Benjamin 2005, p. 449), Toad and Mole identify with the washerwoman (the ‘other’), and to impersonate her successfully, they must (albeit momentarily) get inside her mind and let her inside their minds. They must make the washerwoman's experience of the world congruent with their own in order to fool other people that they are indeed she. It is important to stress here, however, that as a normal part of psychic life, individuals shift ‘continually between complementary and recognizing positions’ (Benjamin 2005, p. 450), and that although Toad and Mole briefly assume the washerwoman's persona, when their need for the disguise has passed, they quickly revert back to their old selves unchanged by the experience.
According to Benjamin, gendered self-representations are in reality constantly being ‘destabilized by conflicting mandates and identifications’ (1995, p. 70) and in The Wind in the Willows, Toad's foray into trans-gender impersonation highlights the social structuring of identity. In the narrative, the washerwoman's clothes blur the lines between ‘identity’ as a biologically determined role and as a social/economic construct. For example, when dressed as herself, the washerwoman's clothes define her as a working class woman. Conversely, Toad's clothes define him as part of the nouveau-riche. The contrast between her social status and Toad's is clear as the Gaoler's daughter states: ‘you are very rich’ and ‘she is very poor’ (Grahame 1983, p. 118). However, despite his initial revulsion at the thought of parading around the countryside dressed as a washerwoman (p. 120), Toad soon realises that for all his wealth, the washerwoman has something he does not have, namely—the freedom to come and go from the prison as she pleases.
Although aware of the benefits of his disguise in facilitating his escape from prison, Toad has also been warned by the Gaoler's daughter that he will have to endure ‘chaff’ from the male warders, and must maintain the pretence of being ‘a widow woman’ with a ‘character to lose’ (p. 121). Thus, in order to sustain the illusion of an upper-class (male) Toad passing off as a working class (human) woman, Toad must do more than simply wear the washerwoman's clothes; he must mimic another recognised identity. In order to maintain his disguise, Toad ‘suited his retorts to his company and to his supposed character’, and successfully dodges the ‘outspread arms of the last warder’ who was ‘pleading with simulated passion for just one last farewell embrace’ (pp. 121-122). The consummate performer, Toad is:
soon agreeably surprised to find how easy everything was made for him, and a little humbled that both his popularity, and the sex that seemed to inspire it, were really another's.
This passage demonstrates Benjamin's ‘overinclusive’ position in that Toad is momentarily able to sustain the paradoxical tension between his ‘ideal self-representation and actual self-experience’ (1995 p. 70). For Benjamin, transitional space is opened up by the ‘action of play and just pretend’ (1995, p. 95), and through pretending to be someone else, and by ‘performing’ another's identity, Toad is able to manage two identities (his own and the washerwoman's) in a state of tension. Furthermore, at the same time as he is assuming and assimilating the identity of a ‘different other’ (Benjamin 1998, p. 82), Toad momentarily shares the washerwoman's experience of the world. He becomes ‘a little humbled’ and clearly aware that the ‘popularity’ and recognition he is receiving is directed more at what he represents (the washerwoman) rather than who he really is underneath (a Toad). Here Toad's awareness of the distinct differences between his ‘real’ self and the ‘identity’ he is playing demonstrates how through the transitional space of play, the intersubjective self is able to ‘tolerate and sustain’ (Benjamin 1998, p. 105) two contradictory or conflicting subject positions without losing a sense of self identity.
When Toad finally escapes from prison, he is further faced with the washerwoman's economic and social limitations, and experiences the extent to which his ‘new’ identity (and arguably his ‘own’) is constructed by social discourses. To his ‘horror’ he discovers that he had left his ‘pocket-book, money, keys, watch … all that makes life worth living’ (p. 124) behind in his cell. Probably for the first time in his life, Toad is without money, and must beg and supplicate himself on to the mercy of others. Ironically, therefore, although Toad's disguise as the ‘well-known’ and ‘popular character’ of the washerwoman gives him the kind of freedom he needs to escape from prison undetected, he is also restricted by the social and economic hardships of the woman he is ‘forced to represent’ (p. 123).
Whereas Toad's performance in the dress is clearly bound up with the washerwoman's social and economic identity, Mole's use of the same dress to trick the stoats and weasels occupying Toad Hall, shows the further destabilisation of the portrayal of gender in the text. Although Toad undoubtedly suffers during his time as the washerwoman, Mole later uses the dress for a different purpose, one in which he is not constrained by the same need to mimic the real washerwoman's identity. Indeed, not only does Mole successfully pass himself off as a human female as indicated by the stoat sentries at Toad Hall identifying him as a washerwoman (p. 187) and the sergeant in charge asking him to ‘run away my good woman’ (p. 187), but he also has a great deal of fun doing it: ‘I've been having such fun!’ (p. 187). Mole's more playful performance of cross-dressing in the washerwoman's clothes demonstrates Benjamin's idea that by sustaining the tension between contrasting elements (such as a small animal dressed as a human female, or one individual impersonating another), plural identifications become ‘potentially available’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 73) rather than inaccessible, and that interplay between multiple positions can be enjoyable.
When considering the question posed by this paper's title: ‘Gender Trouble in Arcadia or a World of Multigendered Possibility?’, I suggest that while The Wind in the Willows will always remain constrained by its own ‘historical moorings’ (Marshall 1994, p. 67), using Benjamin's ‘overinclusive’ approach, the narrative can be read as sustaining an intersubjective tension between binary positions revealing gender experience as ‘both tenacious and fragile’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 70). Thinking of gender in ‘intersubjective terms’ means leaving a world of ‘fixed boundaries with un-crossable borders’ for a ‘transitional territory in which conventional opposites create movable walls and pleasurable tension’ (Benjamin 1995 p. 70). Therefore, assuming a ‘paradoxical stance’ (Benjamin 1995, p. 7) towards gender means acknowledging that that even though The Wind in the Willows can certainly be read as a homosocial narrative (Kuznets 1988, Gaarden, 1994), it can also be viewed as undermining its own apparent misogyny with a playful, theatrical approach to gender construction. Furthermore, Benjamin's perspective reveals that far from being ‘fixed’ or immutable, one's ‘ideal self-representation’ is constantly being modified by conflicting identifications every day of our lives. Consequently, our ‘actual self-experience’ is perhaps more multifarious than reified notions of gender dichotomies would seem to permit. As a theoretical position, the in-between space of Benjamin's ‘recognizing third’ (2005, p. 449) overcomes the limitations of the dualistic binary frame within which contemporary feminist theory operates (Benjamin 1995, p. 76), and I would argue, helps to push the boundaries of psychoanalytic feminist inquiry beyond ‘fixed’ notions of gender identity.
Benjamin, J. (2005) ‘Creating an Intersubjective Reality: Commentary on a Paper by Arnold Rothstein’, Psychoanalytic Dialogues 15, 3: 447-457.
Benjamin, J. (1999) ‘Recognition and Destruction: An Outline of Intersubjectivity’, in S. A Mitchell & L. Aron. (eds) Relational Psychoanalysis: The Emergence of a Tradition. Hillsdale, New Jersey, The Analytic Press Inc., pp. 181-210.
Benjamin, J. (1998) Shadow of the Other: Intersubjectivity and Gender in Psychoanalysis. New York and London, Routledge.
Benjamin, J. (1988) The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination. New York, Pantheon Books.
Gaarden, B. (1994) ‘The Inner Family of The Wind in the Willows’, Children's Literature, 22: 43-57.
Grahame, K. (1983) The Wind in the Willows. London, Scholastic Book Services.
Green, P. (1982) Beyond the Wild Wood: The World of Kenneth Grahame, Author of The Wind in the Willows. Exeter, England, Webb & Bower.
Kuznets, L. R. (1988) ‘Kenneth Grahame and Father Nature, or Whither Blows The Wind in the Willows?’ Children's Literature, 16: 169-174.
Marshall, C. (1994) ‘Bodies and Pleasures in The Wind in the Willows’, Children's Literature, 22: 58-69.
Chalmers, Patrick R. Kenneth Grahame: Life, Letters, and Unpublished Work. London, England: Methuen and Co., 1933, 321 p.
The first biography of Grahame, relying on the reminiscences of Grahame's widow, Elspeth.
Graham, Eleanor. Kenneth Grahame. London, England: Bodley Head, 1963, 72 p.
A brief biographical and critical study from a noted children's writer.
Green, Peter. Kenneth Grahame, 1859-1932: A Study of His Life, Works, and Times. London, England: John Murray, 1959, 400 p.
Argues that Grahame was far more complex than critics and readers realized, identifying a number of late nineteenth-century issues and concerns in his work.
Prince, Alison. Kenneth Grahame: An Innocent in the Wild Wood. London, England: Allison and Busby, 1994, 384 p.
Identifies Elspeth Grahame's exaggerations about her husband in both Chalmers and Green's biographies.
Blount, Margaret. "Dressed Animals and Others." In Animal Land: The Creatures of Children's Fiction, pp. 131-52. New York, N.Y.: Avon Books, 1974.
Studies the escapist tradition of animal societies in classic works of children's literature including The Wind in the Willows.
Gaarden, Bonnie. "The Inner Family of The Wind in the Willows." Children's Literature 22 (1994): 43-56.
Equates each of the four main characters in The Wind in the Willows with a specific role in a prototypical family, i.e., mother, father, child, etc.
Gilead, Sarah. "The Undoing of Idyll in The Wind in the Willows." Children's Literature 16 (1988): 145-58.
Charts a structural "split" between the stories of Mole and Toad that dominate The Wind in the Willows.
Gose, Elliott. "The Emergence of the Trickster: The Wind in the Willows." In Mere Creatures: A Study of Modern Fantasy Tales for Children, pp. 42-52. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1988.
Studies the psychological profiles of the four main characters in The Wind in the Willows, calling Toad a representation of the classic "trickster" figure.
Green, Roger Lancelyn. "Kenneth Grahame & A. A. Milne." In Tellers of Tales, pp. 249-57. London, England: Kaye & Ward Ltd, 1946.
Offers bio-critical portraits of Grahame and A. A. Milne
Hunt, Peter. "Dialogue and Dialectic: Language and Class in The Wind in the Willows." Children's Literature 16 (1988): 159-68.
Examines class distinctions in The Wind in the Willows.
Mendelson, Michael. "The Wind in the Willows and the Plotting of Contrast." Children's Literature 16 (1988): 127-44.
Contrasts the natures of the two seemingly distinct plotlines in The Wind in the Willows.
Philip, Neil. "Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows: A Companionable Vitality." In Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature, Volume One, edited by Perry Nodelman, pp. 96-105. West Lafayette, Ind.: Children's Literature Association, 1985.
Reviews the structural composition of The Wind in the Willows.
———. "The Wind in the Willows: The Vitality of a Classic." In Children and Their Books: A Celebration of the Work of Iona and Peter Opie, edited by Gillian Avery and Julia Briggs, pp. 299-316. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1989.
Describes The Wind in the Willows as akin to two separate novels; one focused on artistic values, and a second examining the adventures of Toad.
Sutherland, Zena, and May Hill Arbuthnot. "Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows." In Children and Books, pp. 218-19. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1977.
Brief look at the narrative discourse found in Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.
Additional coverage of Grahame's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 5; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 5; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 108, 136; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 80; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 34, 141, 178; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Major 20th-Century Writers, Ed. 2; Modern British Literature, Ed. 2; Novelists for Students, Vol. 20; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Vol. 5; St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers; Something about the Author, Vol. 100; Twayne's English Authors; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 64, 136; Writers for Children; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Vol. 1.