Mar 24, 2013

Bedtime Story Boyfriends: The Wind in the Willows

One of the favorite books of my childhood, The Wind in the Willows, was about two animal boyfriends in Edwardian England.  In the first chapter, the Water Rat is single, "messing around in boats" on the banks of a wide river (played by Lee Ingleby, in the 2006 Canadian movie).











But then he meets the timid Water Rat (gay actor Mark Gatiss), and invites him to move in. With no fanfare, they become a couple.

There are a few challenges to their relationship: Mole misses his old life underground, and Rat longs to explore the world beyond the River -- but the crises are quickly resolved, and the two men always return to the life they have built together, their romantic bond blatantly, painfully obvious.







The rest of the book involves the problems of their friends. The pompous Toad (gay actor Mark Lucas) steals a motor-car.

The reclusive Badger (Bob Hoskins) must defend his home from an invasion by juvenile-delinquent weasels (led by Radu Micu).

I knew that the gay subtext was strong and noble, but I figured it was accidental until, in graduate school at the University of Southern California (1985-1989), I read up on the life of Kenneth Grahame.  I even tried to include him in my doctoral dissertation.

Born in 1859, his parents forced him to become a banker; but he looked from afar at the glittering homoeroticism of the aesthetic and decadent movement.  He read Arnold Bennett, Max Beerbohm, and Karl Huysmans. He contributed to The Yellow Book.  He corresponded with Oscar Wilde.

In an 1895 story, "The Roman Road," a mysterious young man tells Kenneth about a distant, perhaps mythical city, where the only inhabitants are "friends."  No husbands and wives, no boyfriends and girlfriends, just "the princes in fairy tales who don't get the princess."  Kenneth eagerly makes plans to go to the "City of Friends," but then the young man vanishes, and no one else whom he asks has ever heard of it.

But Oscar Wilde's conviction for sodomy in 1895 scared Kenneth, and he distanced himself from the movement, and sublimated his same-sex desire.  He married in 1899, and had a son, Alastair, who heard bedtime stories about a Mole and a Water Rat who loved each other. They were published as  The Wind in the Willows in 1908.

See also: Saki (H.H. Monro).