The Secret of a Happy Marriage: Reading The Wind in the Willows
You can dispense with psychological testing, horoscopes, compatibility checks and relationship counselling, all the panoply of means devised to test whether you and your proposed spouse are destined for a lifetime of conjugal bliss or will split, amid recriminations and bitterness, in a few years’ time, for I have found the answer. To know whether you are truly compatible, find out what he or she thought of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and the age at which your intended first read it.
For myself, ‘The Wind in the Willows’ is the first book I can recall reading – my mother tells me I was five at the time but since she is firmly convinced of my genius we can probably take that with a pinch of salt – my little legs, marked with the signature pattern of British Rail upholstery, drumming against the metal beneath the seat in one of those old-fashioned train compartments as I breathlessly read through to the end, oblivious of the delight I’m told I caused the other passengers as this small, brown boy plunged into the most English of literary landscapes. I re-read ‘The Wind in the Willows’ many times when I was young, and regularly through the years, managing to keep my edition in good condition. But this time, when I went to read the story again, for a change I picked up my wife’s edition, to find it marked with the inscription ‘Harriet Whitbread 1975 Christmas’. So she was six when she first read it, and it has travelled with her through an itinerant life as an actor, through digs and flats, to finally settle with me; we were destined from the moment we each entered Grahame’s England.
So there, that is the answer. If you and your intended both read ‘The Wind in the Willows’ at about the same young age, if you both skipped past ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ chapter because you didn’t really understand it but now find that it has become close to your favourite part of the book, if you both want to take tea with Toad and settle down next to the fire with Rat and Mole, then you have met your soul mate and a life time of domestic happiness is ensured.
However, if neither of you have read ‘The Wind in the Willows’, then you place yourselves at the mercy of Aphrodite; will she make her blessing permanent, or temporary? In all likelihood it will be a marriage that endures rather than blesses. And if your reaction to ‘The Wind in the Willows’ differs then, I am sorry to say, you are surely destined for divorce; far better not to marry, and find someone else who read the story at the same time as you and appreciates it as you do.
And if you tried to read ‘The Wind in the Willows’ as a child and found it undreadable, objectionable or boring, which opinions you still hold despite being grown and able to know better, then I, for one, am glad never to have made your acquaintance.