28 January 2008

Kenneth Grahame. The Wind in the Willows, 1908.

Kenneth Grahame. THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. Methuen, London, 1908.

Current Selling Prices
$4000-$80,000 /£2000-£40,000

Kenneth Grahame belongs to a distinguished group of authors who had to work in banks while writing. One thinks also of P.G. Wodehouse and T.S. Eliot (whose smart Bloomsbury friends had a whip-round so that he could leave.) The modernist poet Wallace Stevens was effectively a banker (investment and insurance) and Charles Sprague worked for 45 years for the State and Globe Banks and was often referred to as the "Banker Poet of Boston." Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), was both poet, banker and connoisseur. Grahame was shot during an unsuccessful bank robbery, which may have precipitated his retirement in 1907. It is possible that without this bungling bank robber we would not have Toad of Toad Hall, let alone Rat, Mole and Badger.

He was part of the 1890s generation of writers, though hardly a decadent, and his work was published in 'The Yellow Book.' Grahame wrote parts of "The Wind in the Willows" originally in a letter form to entertain his young son. After an American publisher rejected his manuscript, "The Wind in the Willows" was first published in England, 1908. The story of its birth is best told at SOUTH COAST REPERTORY PLAYGOER’S GUIDE site
'...the masterpiece began innocently enough as bedtime stories told to his young son, Alastair, nicknamed Mouse. These nightly creations so captivated the child that he flatly refused to go away on holiday unless his father promised to write down future installments and mail them to him, chapter by chapter. Mouse’s governess, who read the father’s letters aloud to him, evidently saw something unusual there for she saved them and returned them to the boy’s mother for safe-keeping. Mouse and his nurse might have remained the only people in the world to have ever heard the adventures of Toad and Company had not an agent for a large American publisher visited the Grahame household one day in hopes of convincing Kenneth ...to write something for them “on any subject at any price.” Grahame had nothing ready and was about to send the publisher away empty-handed, until his wife remembered the collection of bedtime stories. Although Grahame apparently didn’t relish “the sheer physical torture” of writing, he added new chapters to the letters and handed them over. The publisher grabbed them up greedily and returned to America, but was disappointed to discover that the realistic human characters in the author’s previous works had been replaced by animals—and wild animals at that!

The stories were rejected and returned to Grahame, who published them in England in 1908 under the title The Wind in the Willows. The book met with an initially mild reception but after finding an unlikely champion in President Theodore Roosevelt*, Grahame’s fanciful novel soon began winning the hearts of readers both young and old. The American publisher saw the error of his ways and followed suit, making The Wind in the Willows a solid hit on both sides of the Atlantic...'
* This is not the only time a US president has made a book into a bestseller. President Reagan's favourite book was John Hackett's 'The Third World War' which sold boatloads of copies on the back of his recommendation. Would be president Milt Romney has just got into trouble for saying that his favorite novel is Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction writer and Scientology founder. At least he is assured of Tom Cruise's vote. Famously John F. Kennedy is said to have helped Ian Fleming's fortunes in America by proclaiming that the Bond novels were his preferred reading. For a witty examination of these matters check out a SLATE article from May 2007.

VALUE? The following amazing auction result occured in the late 1990s:-

Grahame, Kenneth, 1859-1932 - The Wind in the Willows. L, 1908 - 1st Ed - Orig cloth, in d/j with fraying to corners - Sotheby's, Nov 10, 1998, lot 88, £39,000 ($64,740) - BM

With the buyer's commission and inflation this is the equivalent now of over £50K or $100,000 +. Another record refers to the d/w being in the first state and indeed a 'second issue with 7/6 price' can be found on ABE in reasonable shape at $15000. Usually 7/6 indicates you have a first state but that is on, say, 1920s Christies--with 100 year old jackets you have to be very careful (in many ways.) The correct price on the jacket, counter intuitively, is 6 shillings. The right jacket is rather rare--only three have been seen in the last 30 years.

Sans jacket its highest record is £7200 for an 'exceptional copy' in 2006, this is possibly the one that currently resides on ABE at circa £13000. There were many limited editions including the lovely 1932 issue signed by Grahame and the illustrator E.H. Shepard (coloured image below). It was 200 copies only and can cost $5000+, a worn copy signed to A.A. Milne made $14000 in 2005. The one to have bought (with hindsight) would be the Bradley Martin copy of the 1908 first in "pristine" d/j - with a signed letter from Grahame to a family member loosely inserted. It probably seemed expensive at the time at $20,000 (Sotheby's New York, Jan 30, 1990, lot 2363.)

TOADAL TRIVIA. Contemporary reviews were lacklustre- The Times wrote 'For ourselves we lay The Wind in the Willows reverently aside and again, for the hundredth time, take up The Golden Age.' Arthur Ransome gave the book a studied review in The Bookman in which he claims the book 'is an attempt to write for children instead of about them. But Mr. Grahame's past has been too strong for him. Instead of writing about children for grown-up people, he has written about animals for children.' He went on to claim that the book, written for the nursery, is full of wistfulness and that it is a failure - for children will not understand the dual nature of the animals. Richard Middleton took a Jungian view in a 'Vanity Fair' review seeing the different layers in the book - he saw that the characters 'are neither animals nor men, but are types of that deeper humanity which sways us all. To be wise, an allegory must admit of a wide application ... and if I may venture to describe as an allegory a work which, critics who ought to have known better, have dismissed as a fairy-story, it is certain that The Wind in the Willows is a wise book.'

No comments: