I would like to begin my paper with a short but significant anecdote: when I was on a school excursion to Vienna, about ten years ago, I once took a tram to the city together with my friend Tini, and one of our teachers. Suddenly, the teacher asked me if I was sitting on her handbag. I, however, was only sitting on my own. Now, Tini wanted to know what I needed “that thing” for. I replied that it contained my purse, keys, tickets, wallet, a handkerchief, some medicine which I took at that time, and one or two other items which a woman prefers to have with her, but would not talk about in public. Presently, Tini asked: “And what, do you think, has mankind trouser-pockets for?!” Only then did she realize that I was wearing a long, floating, and, – of course – pocketless, skirt. Tini was highly embarrassed, our teacher (who had found her handbag in the meantime), laughed, and I had learned a lesson for life: Women’s Skirts Do Not Have Trouser-Pockets.
I was reminded of this incident some years later when I read an article by Lois R. Kuznets for my State Exam Dissertation, which I wrote on The Wind in the Willows. In this article, Kuznets discusses the role women have in Grahame’s book, coming to the conclusion that” [The Wind in the Willows blows] toward No-Woman’s Land…Women remain, forever, the Other in The Wind in the Willows.” One of the scenes Kuznets analyzes to come to this conclusion shows Toad after he has escaped from gaol in a washerwoman’s dress, wanting to buy a ticket to return to Toad Hall:
But here the cotton gown, which had nobly stood by him so far, intervened, and frustrated his efforts. In a sort of nightmare he struggled with the strange, uncanny thing that seemed to hold his hands, turn all muscular strivings to water and laugh at him all the time…At last, he burst the barriers, attained the goal arrived [sic!] at where all waistcoat pockets are eternally situated, and found – not only no money, but no pocket to hold it, and no waistcoat to hold the pocket!
To his horror he recollected that he had left both coat and waistcoat behind him in his cell, and with them his pocket-book, money, keys, watch, matches, pencil-case – all that makes life worth living, all that distinguishes the many-pocketed animal, the lord of creation, from the inferior one-pocketed or no-pocketed productions that hop or trip about permissively, unequipped for the real contest.
As Kuznets correctly remarks: “…the inferior one-pocketed or no-pocketed productions…” – that is, women.
There are, at least, two more remarks which show a similar antipathy towards women in “The Wind in the Willows”, namely Mole’s “And no more weeks in hospital, being ordered about by female nurses, Toad!” and Rat’s ”- by a woman, too!”. Both are directed towards the only figure who comes into contact with women directly: Toad. Toad also is the only figure who is not bound to his home at the River Bank, so that he can move within the Wide World freely and with ease. There, too, he meets the women who play an important role both in Toad’s adventures and “The Wind in the Willows”.
Although women, as Kuznets states, do not appear at the River Bank directly, ”their traditional nurturing functions” are transposed into its male inhabitants. Both Badger and Rat especially are nurturing figures. Badger’s “plain but ample supper” is close to a feast for Mole and Rat, after they had been lost in the Wild Wood. And Rat even goes much further by ‘adopting’ Mole into his household. This is also the reason why he received the maternal role in Gaarden’s “Inner Family of The Wind in the Willows”:
Rat…is motherly…[He] is empathic and nurturing…. Where Badger, like the traditional father, is often not available, Rat, like the traditional mother, is always at hand.
However, these qualities need not necessarily be typically feminine. Masculine societies also can have such characteristics among their members. Especially communities of pupils or students often have such ‘motherly’ characters who support the shyer, and in many cases younger, outsiders. A well-known example is the friendship between Tom, East and George Arthur in Hughes’ “Tom Brown’s School Days”. Tom and East, both already well-acquainted with Rugby life, are ordered to take care of the weak and softened newcomer, whom Tom – as does Rat with Mole – adopts into his study and looks after him, and is always at hand as well. The studies, too, show some resemblance to the homes of the River-Bankers as well. Of course, no study table could hold a feast like Badger’s famous supper, but ”a bottled-beer cellar under [the] window”, along with its other comforts make a study a place comparable to Mole End, which also is narrow, and where ”everything [is] so handy” indeed. Therefore, the interpretation of “The Wind in the Willow”s as a story about public school life, which Kathryn Graham has presented us with, is not too far-fetched. It is obvious that women cannot play a significant role in such a society, and so they do not appear as missing.
In addition, “The Wind in the Willows” is a children’s book, and I have my doubts that children see the inhabitants of the River Bank as the idle, young or middle-aged adult males which Hunt sees in them, since a child’s sense of social qualities is not yet fully developed. Nowadays, this could be even more so, since the culturally dependent differences between men and women (among them, the restriction for women not to wear trousers) have decreased significantly.
Generally, children learn to distinguish between the sexes by looking at models they meet in daily life, especially their parents. Interestingly, girls are said to imitate both the parent of the same sex as well as the parent of the other:
Girls showed a greater tendency than boys to imitate the cross-sex model. When females have markedly less control over potent rewards than males, as they do in our culture, it is not surprising if they emulate male behaviour to the degree that such cross-sex behaviour is tolerated.
This implies both a greater attractively of the male standard as well as an amount of freedom for girls to choose their model which boys do not have.