THE MAN IN THE WILLOWS by Matthew Dennison


The Life of Kenneth Grahame
Email this review


A biography of the author of The Wind in the Willows.

First published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows has endured as a beloved children’s classic and has also gained a devoted adult readership. The story, which celebrates the pastoral delights found in the rural English countryside as experienced through the friendship of four anthropomorphized animals, originated as a series of bedtime stories told by Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) to his son. Grahame’s vivid descriptions of the natural setting harkened back to memories of his own childhood wanderings. Though much of Grahame’s writing for children is joyful, his personal life, as described in this latest biography by Dennison (Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter, 2017, etc.), was often bleak. Grahame’s mother died when he was young, and after living briefly with his unstable, alcoholic father, he and his siblings were sent to live with their grandmother in a rural home known as The Mount. He would often revisit this idyllic setting in his imagination throughout much of his adult life, inspiring many of his stories. But disappointment and loss continued to haunt Grahame as an adult. He was coerced by his guardian to take on a bank job rather than attend university, leading to lonely years in London beholden to a banking career while pursuing his writing interests. A late marriage would lead to further unhappiness, as their only child committed suicide before he was 20. Sadly, Dennison does little to enliven his portrait of Grahame. While respectful and not entirely unsympathetic, the author’s treatment feels like a commissioned exercise. His prose style is overly fusty, and Grahame’s portrait lacks the psychological probing one expects with contemporary scholarship. For instance, Dennison neglects to explore his subject’s sexual identity. Though a biographer is unlikely to prove that Grahame was a homosexual, this aspect of his personality has been strongly considered by other recent scholars.

A stale exploration of a nearly forgotten writer, offering little to enhance Grahame’s relevancy for modern readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-64313-007-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Pegasus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2018


NonfictionTHE TWELVE CAESARS by Matthew Dennison
by Matthew Dennison
NonfictionLIVIA, EMPRESS OF ROME by Matthew Dennison
by Matthew Dennison


NonfictionONCE UPON A TIME by Marina Warner
by Marina Warner
NonfictionTHERE'S A MYSTERY THERE by Jonathan Cott
by Jonathan Cott
NonfictionWILD THINGS by Bruce  Handy
by Bruce Handy