The Real Kenneth Graham – Elisabeth Galvin

Published By: White Owl/Pen & Sword
Pages: 190
Released On: 17/12/2021

He wrote one of the most quintessentially English books, yet Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) was a Scot. He was four years old when his mother died and his father became an alcoholic, so Kenneth grew up with his grandmother who lived on the banks of the beloved River Thames. Forced to abandon his dreams of studying at Oxford, he was accepted as a clerk at the Bank of England where he became one of the youngest men to be made company secretary. He narrowly escaped death in 1903 when he was mistaken for the Bank’s governor and shot at several times.

He wrote secretly in his spare time for magazines and became a contemporary of contributors including Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, and WB Yeats. Kenneth’s first book, Pagan Papers (1893) initiated his success, followed by The Golden Age (1895) and Dream Days (1898), which turned him into a celebrated author. Ironically, his most famous novel to was the least successful during his lifetime: The Wind In the Willows (1908) originated as letters to his disabled son, who was later found dead on a train line after a suspected suicide. Kenneth never recovered from the tragedy and died with a broken heart in earshot of the River Thames, His widow, Elspeth, dedicated the rest of her life to preserving her husband’s name and promoting his work.


Thanks to Pen & Sword for the gifted copy of this title in return for an honest review and a place on the book tour.

Wind in the Willows is a British staple for both children and adults, but little is known publicly about its troubled author, Kenneth Grahame, or in fact his other, better received (at time of him writing) work.

In my opinion, Kenneth’s writing is so smooth and effortless, and this is reflected in Elizabeth’s own prose. She has taken a large range of quotes and segments of letters from Kenneth’s life, and interwoven them with her own commentary and it’s just seamless.

For me, what makes for a good memoir is photos of the subject so you can link anecdotes to people. This book has a small collection, along with some Wind in the Willows sketches, that really bring added sparkle, and bring Kenneth’s story to life.

This is a comprehensive, thorough biography that touches on every aspect of Kenneth’s personal life and professional career – both positive and negative. If there’s anything Elisabeth doesn’t know about him, then it’s just not worth knowing. It’s clear she has a great love for her subject matter and has put her heart and soul into her research.

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