Wind in the Willows

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sun Jul 6 10:25:41 EDT 2003


Charlie wrote in reply to me:

>> As far as I know it is never suggested that the hundreds of mustelidae
>> involved had no homes of their own, BTW.
>I don't think I suggested it either, did I?

I assumed the squatter's movement as a template, from your comment about
"anarchists", perhaps erroneously, and certainly that movement was at least
ostensibly intended to provide homes for the homeless or for those who
couldn't find anywhere within their means to rent.  (After the well-meaning
Rent Acts that made a lot of landlords stop renting their premises out at
all rather than try to abide by the new laws, but that's a whole 'nother
argument...)

The only excuse for the forcible occupation of another's dwelling when it
is already in occupation might be that one were homeless and desperate.
Otherwise it is simply banditry *whoever* one is.

[Toad's career of crime]
>> Two?  No, three: two cars and a horse, counting the car he drove into the
>> pond, but that's not technically robbery, I don't think, because the
>owners
>> were still in it at the time so he didn't "intend permanently to deprive".
>> Maybe he kidnapped them?
>That's an interesting legal question! I don't have the book to hand, so I
>may well have missed things, but I'd be happy to settle for taking and
>driving away with a good helping of criminal damage. (In mitigation for
>Toad, I think it was the same car on both occasions.) But didn't Toad also
>bribe the washerwoman, now I come to think of it? So we must add corruption
>to the list.

I don't think it *can* be "taking and driving away" if the owner and the
chauffeur are both in the car at the time!  Dangerous driving, perhaps; but
had they not intervened he wouldn't have put it into the pond, so I'm not
sure about the criminal damage: there might be some question as to whose
responsibility the damage to the car actually was...  (A good lawyer, which
Toad didn't seem ever to have, could probably have made a case there on his
account.)

>(I think the unspoken "they will eat you"
>> is probably understood by the child.  Like "your father had an accident
>> there: he was put in a pie by Mrs McGregor" in Peter Rabbit.)
>You could read it like that (if you're fond of subtexts and such :-))

Oh, ouch, staunch the blood!  :-)

>Well, he perhaps *felt* they were hunting him - but if they had been doing
>so
>seriously Ratty would have found little more than a well-chewed mole carcass
>on his arrival, and we'd have been in quite a different kind of book! Giving
>him a fright seems nearer the mark, possibly preparatory to relieving him of
>his keys and pocket book.

Threatening behaviour, assault, robbery with violence....

>Didn't someone write a book which tells this whole story from the stoats'
>and weasels'
>point of view, incidentally? Which would certainly be relevant to this
>discussion. Called Wild Wood, or something similar.

Not relevant, I think, just as a French historical-fiction account of the
Waterloo campaign would not be particularly relevant to a discussion of
*Vanity Fair*.

>> Also of course because the Toad is a buffoon, who takes himself so
>> seriously that nobody else can.
>Absolutely - this is really the main point I was trying to make. The book
>makes it very difficult to take Toad's actions seriously, and deliberately
>so. It uses a kind of rhetoric (involving emphasis, selection, focalization,
>and all the other tricks of the storyteller's trade) to make us feel the
>mustelidae's crimes (and even their horrible wedge-shaped faces!) as hateful
>and threatening, and those of Toad as comic, or harmless misdemeanours, or
>even justified, and that this rhetoric both reflects and reinforces a
>certain ideology (or set of attitudes, if you prefer) partly based on class.

As in, the Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger are provided by the Rat with an
extreme collection of weapons preparatory to their entry into Toad Hall,
but very properly use none of them except sticks?  M'yes.  Definitely a
class thing, that one.

If the question of how the narrative voice inclines the reader is left to
one side, and we try to look at what actual offences are committed by any
party, and what retribution is exacted, we have:

Stoats-and-weasels (with occasional ferret alliance):
Terrorise an entire neighbourhood and render it unsafe for others to go
about their lawful concerns within it
Employ unprovoked armed force in the seizure of property
Burgle
Employ threatening behaviour (they point loaded guns at the Mole and the
Badger when M and B are in the area of Toad Hall, remember)
Commit assault and battery repeatedly (not only did they beat up M and B
when they took over Toad Hall, they also pelt them with stones whenever the
opportunity presents itself thereafter)
Discharge a firearm at one of Her Majesty's subjects and within fifty yards
of the Queen's Highway (at least once: we are not told whether they merely
threaten M and B, or actually fire at them)

Penalty: prevented from continuing so to behave.  They are not even
deprived of their firearms, that I noticed?

Toad:
Takes and drives away a motor car
Cheeks a rural policeman
Possible bribery (but the washerwoman is being paid for something she has
delivered, so that one is moot)
Jailbreaking
Steals a horse

Penalty: Sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment, and making restitution of
the value of the horse.
(The authorities do not apparently ever try to recapture him, nor does he
seem to live in fear that they will do so, though.  So I suppose that can
be balanced against the lack of actual penalty suffered by the
stoats-and-the-weasels)

Rat, Mole, Badger
Accessories after the fact of a jailbreak.  (As far as I can see, the
Authorities never get round to taking the obvious step of turning up at
Toad Hall with a warrant for Toad's re-arrest, and as far as I know failing
to shop a friend if nobody has asked about him isn't a criminal offence, as
yet.)
Employ armed force in pursuance of the repossession of stolen property.

Penalty: they have to go on putting up with the Toad.... (maybe they come
off worst, at that!)

>Toad is acting alone and
>> without using unprovoked violence (in fact his theft of the horse occurs
>> only after he has himself been assaulted) and can therefore be seen at
>> least slightly as a Lone Outlaw; which is a type the English have always
>> had a soft spot for.
>I don't quite see him in the Lone Outlaw category! Though this is very much
>how he sees himself in one or two of his more bumptious moments. But he's
>not exactly Robin Hood, is he? Friar Tuck, possibly...

I don't see him as Robin Hood either.  Nevertheless, he is a single
criminal, whereas those he opposes are mob-handed.  This makes him The
Underdog, if one chooses to look at it that way, and therefore a
Sympathetic Character.

>> I bet the gaoler's daughter made sure her Aunt was
>> not left in difficulty over the matter.
>I think her fate was much more uncertain - and that though this was indeed
>the outcome they were hoping for, they didn't hope with any great
>confidence.

At the point at which a thank-you present for the gaoler's daughter is
mentioned, her Aunt is not. I think if she'd been sacked, the Badger would
be noted as forcing the Toad to employ her (which would be a good thing, I
s'pose, for her.)

>> >In this book, as in the society in which it was written, double standards
>> >apply.
>> As in every society, really.
>Indeed. If I were an ideological critic (which mantle I have assumed purely
>for the purposes of this thread, you understand, and will soon cast off!) I
>would make this point at every opportunity.

And very dull you would be, too, so I am glad it's going to fade like the
dew on the mountain shortly.  :-)

>> I don't think that twenty years' imprisonment is exactly a smack on the
>> wrist.
>It's not - but my Oxford example was based on the real world, and Toad's
>sentence is given in a fictional context that makes liberal use of comic
>exagerration (and is also designed to increase our sympathy for Toad - that
>rhetoric again!).

My response was also based on the real world.  We may cavil at the
wrongness of fining the two drunk-and-disorderly louts the same amount when
the one could pay it out of his petty cash and for the other it might be a
month's wages, but the fine for the offence was standardised unless there
were very obvious mitigating or aggravating circumstances to be taken into
account, and if the accused was found or pleaded guilty that amount would
be what was levied.  In sober fact, someone of the middle or upper classes
might pick up extra penalties from some magistrates because he, unlike his
lower-class counterpart, ought to have known better and therefore deserved
to be reminded that such behaviour was beneath him.  (And the Oxford bloke
then also had the Procters to face, and they would likely cause him to be
fined a second time for being out of his College overnight without prior
leave.  How's that for unfair?  Done twice for the same offence!)

>> >(Why except Badger and Otter
>> >from the general country-dweller condemnation of the mustelidae, by the
>way?
>> Grahame did, was what I was pointing out.
>Ah. I wondered if that's what you meant - your original sentence was a bit
>ambiguous.

I was suddenly seized by doubt as to the families of the other characters,
and went and had a look in the Observer's Book of British Wild Animals.
The ambiguous bit was an add-on to cover the facts I discovered there: if
I'd persued it too much the post would have got Even Longer.  Sorry about
that.

>> >And I promise you, WitW, really *is* one of my favourite books. That's
>> >why I'm so hard on it. In America they call it tough love...
>> One of mine, too, so I do my best not to be too filled with irritation at
>> the loathesome Toad.  Never did like him.  Like him even less now that I
>> can't think of him without being reminded of That Man Archer.
>Oh, me too! He's Archer to a T (a Model-T, probably). Weird to think that
>Toad Hall is the Old Vicarage, Grantchester. Thus are two pre-WWI  classics
>coinjoined...

When I was a child I was shown Mapledurham House from the river and told
that it was where Toad Hall was taken from, and I must say that apart from
the trees growing out of the chimneys it did look much like the original
illustrations.  And there is a very convincing Wild Wood quite close by.

It actually makes me quite cross that the Old Vicarage is owned by Archer,
but I expect he (or his fragrant wife) is looking after it well, so I ought
not to find their ownership of it distasteful.  Pure unreason and
prejudice, and I know it.

>> I do love the Mole, and I find the Rat very sympathetic, and
>> the Otter is a Good Egg, so I suppose if they and the Badger insist on
>> taking up the cudgels (literally) in the Toad's defence I am obliged to go
>> along with what I regard as their wrong-headedness.  I just prefer the
>> sections in which the Toad is elsewhere.
>I share all those preferences. :-) My favourites are the Dulce Domum and
>Seafaring Rat chapters.

Mine too.  In that order.

>The Piper at the Gates of Dawn always gives me a
>shiver down my spine too, though I hear it's considered horribly mawkish by
>some.

So it may be, but I never see it that way.  It doesn't quite fit the rest
of the book, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

>But then I'm the one who cried at Charles Lamb's 'Dream Children'...

Try *Castle Blair* some time (the chapters in which the dog is shot, and
their cousin dies) if you want to weep legitimately and get some of the
chemical that causes depression out of your system!  Or the chapter in *The
Armourer's House* with the little green dancing floor....

Minnow


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