Literary Daybook, May 10

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
May 10, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

Today in fiction

On May 10, Deborah takes the high school equivalency exam.
-- "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" (1964)
by Hannah Green

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to fictiondays@yahoo.com.

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1907, Kenneth Grahame wrote the first (or the first extant) of a series of letters to his son, Alastair, describing the adventures of Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger that became "The Wind in the Willows." Grahame had been inventing such bedtime stories for several years, and the letter, occasioned by his being separated from Alastair on his 7th birthday, picks up what seems to be a continuing tale:

"Have you heard about the Toad? He was never taken prisoner by brigands at all. It was all a horrid low trick of his. He wrote that letter himself -- the letter saying that a hundred pounds must be put in the hollow tree. And he got out of the window early one morning, & went off to a town called Buggleton, & went to the Red Lion Hotel & there he found a party that had just motored down from London, & while they were having breakfast he went into the stable-yard & found their motor-car & went off in it without even saying 'Poop-poop!'"

Alastair was an only child, born blind in one eye and with a squint in the other. Grahame's biographers describe his son as both spoiled and neglected, and conclude that his death at age 19 was most likely a suicide, brought on by increasing pressure and maladjustment.

"Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wild World," said the Rat. "And that's something that doesn't matter, either to you or me. I've never been there, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any sense at all ..." ("The Wind in the Willows")

Grahame himself is described as one who pined for but never took the Open Road, as an escape from his banking career and a loveless marriage. When he offered "The Wind in the Willows" to his publisher he described it as a book "of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides, free of problems, clear of the clash of sex, of life as it might fairly be supposed to be regarded by some of the wise, small things 'that glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck.'"

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The first two of Grahame's letters to his son are on display where they were written, at the Greenbank Hotel in Falmouth, Cornwall; the entire series is in "My Dearest Mouse: The Wind in the Willows Letters" (1989).

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.


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