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The Annotated Wind in the Willows

April 6, 2010

Wayne writes: In her December post Christina mentioned that I had been reading The Annotated Wind in the Willows, edited with a preface and notes by Annie Gauger (W.W. Norton, 2009, 470 pp.), and The Wind in the Willows: An Annotated Edition, edited by Seth Lerer (Harvard University Press, 2009, 273 pp. plus 16 pp. of color plates). Since Kenneth Grahame’s novel is one of my favorite books, I couldn’t resist buying both of these. Also, I’ve had a weakness for annotated editions ever since I came upon Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice (1960 and later): Christina and I have many examples on our shelves. From these I have always learned something new and gained a deeper appreciation of the stories and poems concerned.

Annotated Wind in the Willows

Annie Gauger’s edition of The Wind in the Willows begins with an effusive (and frankly superfluous) ‘introduction’ by Brian Jacques, and a ‘preface’ by Gauger which traces the first part of Grahame’s life (born in 1859, he died in 1932) and the history of The Wind in the Willows through its publication in 1908. After these are an essay, ‘Alistair Grahame and The Merry Thought’, about the private ‘literary magazine’ in scrapbook form produced by Grahame’s son, a valuable biographical source as well as the first place of ‘publication’ of Grahame’s story ‘Bertie’s Escapade’; and a long account, ‘The Illustrators, Their Editions, and Other Depictions of The Wind in the Willows’. Following the text proper, Gauger has published (except for one included in her notes) the complete text of Grahame’s story-letters to Alistair which were expanded into The Wind in the Willows; fifty-seven letters from the boy’s governess, Naomi Stott, to Mrs. Grahame in the period April 1907–May 1908; a list of the books owned by Alistair, compiled by himself around 1911; excerpts from reviews of The Wind in the Willows; a note by Eleanor Graham, ‘Kenneth Grahame on Abridgment’, concerning a schools version of The Wind in the Willows which Grahame successfully argued should not be abridged; Grahame’s essay ‘The Rural Pan’ from Pagan Papers; and a bibliography.

Wind in the Willows Annotated Edition

Seth Lerer precedes his annotated text only with a single long discussion of The Wind in the Willows which, he feels, synthesizes ‘the best and most recent research into Grahame’s life and work’ – best, of course, is a subjective term, and research is not necessarily good just because it is recent (nor, for that matter, are all of Lerer’s sources recent) – and follows it with a brief afterword concerned with illustrations for The Wind in the Willows and with the work’s early critical reception. A bibliography rounds out the volume. This is meager fare next to the bounty provided by Gauger, though not without interest. Lerer uses his essay to introduce many of the ideas he explores later in his notes: chiefly that Grahame’s novel is related not so much to his life as to his other publications and, especially, to his reading. The Wind in the Willows, he says – by no means the first to say so – is related to animal tales, to Romantic poetry, to the philosophy of John Ruskin, to late Victorian ‘domestic idealism’ (p. 25) and ‘Edwardian modernity’ (p. 29), to Shakespeare, to Gilbert and Sullivan, and to Oscar Wilde, inter alia. Lerer aims to bring The Wind in the Willows ‘into the ambit of contemporary scholarship and criticism on children’s literature, while at the same time exploring the historical and social contexts for the novel’s origins’ (p. 2). He says that his edition is ‘for the scholar and critic as well as for the child and parent’, but its audience is clearly more the former: it is a literary study, written with academic detachment, very different from Gauger’s work, which (with no less scholarship) is meant for a general reader and conveys the editor’s enthusiasm for, and immersion in, Grahame’s work and world.

In her annotations Gauger includes a significant amount of biographical information about Grahame and his family and friends, and cites to a greater extent than Lerer authorities on Grahame’s work, such as Peter Green. She also very impressively draws upon archival sources, including the Grahame papers at the Bodleian Library, while Lerer uses only published references. There is remarkably little overlap between their notes: their first common gloss concerns ‘onion-sauce’, Mole’s rejoinder to the rabbits demanding a toll in chapter 1. Lerer defines this as ‘hogwash’, and explains that ‘by the nineteenth century, onion-sauce had come to represent the simplicity of home cooking, in contrast to the fancy cuisine of court or the Continent’ (p. 48). In support, he cites the Oxford English Dictionary, which quotes Dickens’ mention of onion-sauce in Nicholas Nickleby, in association with roast pig. Gauger, for her part, interprets Mole’s words as ‘threatening the rabbits and making a joke at their expense. Onion sauce was always served with baked rabbit’ (p. 4). I would disagree that Mole is making a threat, but rather a rude remark; and Gauger then proceeds to claim that A.A. Milne, like Kenneth Grahame, portrayed rabbits as dimwits, giving as an example Rabbit in The House at Pooh Corner – but Rabbit is by no means dim, even if he isn’t always as clever as he thinks.

By this point in chapter 1 (her note 8), Gauger has annotated the first sentence of the book (‘The Mole had been working very hard all the morning’); Mole’s ‘divine discontent’ at his dark home and spring-cleaning; ‘So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again’ (but without defining the unusual verb scrooge); ‘The sunshine struck hot on his fur’; the word cellarage; ‘he pursued his way across the meadow till he reached the hedge on the further side’; and ‘“Hold up!” said an elderly rabbit at the gap’. She comments in turn about Mole’s domestic situation as a reflection of ‘class and changing class structure in 1908’ (p. 2); on Mole’s longing for spring as a reflection of ‘Grahame’s longing to escape from his London job as Secretary of the Bank of England’ (p. 2); on Mole ‘digging himself out of his own domestic soot’ (p. 2) compared with urban Londoners trapped by their jobs in a polluted city; on Peter Hunt’s suggestion that Mole’s emergence into the light recalls the beginning of Wordsworth’s Prelude; on Mole quitting his underground home in favor of a meadow, doing ‘what a Londoner with moderate means would like to do’ (p. 4); on Mole and Rat and the servants they would have had in their respective circumstances; and on Arthur Rackham as ‘the only early artist to render Mole’s interaction with the rabbits’ (p. 4). Lerer, in contrast, up to his note 7 has glossed spring-cleaning, whitewash, scrabbled, scrooged, and chaffing, and has commented that the opening of The Wind in the Willows is similar to that of The Hobbit by Tolkien, with Mole and Bilbo Baggins both leaving a comfortable home to explore a wider world. (While I would agree with the similarity of Mole End and Bag End, Mole and Bilbo have significantly different motivations for going elsewhere, so the comparison can go only so far.)

Lerer’s annotations are fewer and briefer than Gauger’s, which makes for a more elegant layout – with ample white space – but also many missed opportunities. The selection of words to gloss on the grounds of unfamiliarity is always a matter of opinion, of course: I would have omitted notes for bedraggled, meander, spellbound, and hullo (hello), for instance, but included ones for drakes (male ducks) and scull (oar). But for the most part I think that Lerer is right to define as many words and phrases as he does, and that Gauger defines too few (though she does explain scull). Lerer’s concern with literary antecedents for The Wind in the Willows sometimes goes too far, presenting analogues as if they were unquestionably direct sources for Grahame; and in the chapter ‘Mr. Toad’ he argues rather too forcefully that Grahame seems to have been ‘aware of developments in the psychoanalytic study of aberrant behavior’, citing ‘as representative of contemporary views’ the Textbook of Insanity (1905) by Richard Krafft-Ebing (p. 132). Tolkien called the phenomenon of readers of his works seeing various things in them that he did not intend to be there applicability, and I believe that both Lerer and Gauger exhibit this tendency to some degree. As good as Gauger’s annotations tend to be, she often views The Wind in the Willows with a present-day disapproval, commenting especially on issues of class and gender. I also would have preferred both editors to have tempered some of their statements to make them less definitive in tone, as when identifying a place or event with an aspect of Kenneth Grahame’s life, in many cases when these can be no more than (educated) guesses.

The perfect annotated Wind in the Willows would contain elements of both volumes, with the greater share of material coming from Gauger’s. As she says in her acknowledgments, ‘undoubtedly there is more to be added to (or perhaps deleted from) the notes’ (p. 375), anticipating a further, emended edition perhaps decades from now. This is much to be desired. Until then, the Wind in the Willows enthusiast will want to have both of these books, for the good and the bad each can offer.

Images: Dust-jackets for the Gauger and Lerer editions. The former includes art by Nancy Barnhart, Arthur Rackham, and Ernest H. Shepard. The latter features a color plate by Shepard. Another review of these books, by our friend David Bratman, was published in his blog in March, but I deliberately left it unread until after my own review was complete. There are also a number of other reviews on the web, each of which has comments that Gauger and Lerer should collect in the event that either of them produces a revision.


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