HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 27 August 2016
Before I started to read this biography, I really knew very little about A.A. Milne. Of course, I knew he was the author of Winnie-the-Pooh and have loved his books and poems for children – as have my own children. I had a vague idea his son, Christopher Robin, made famous through those works for children, was not enamoured with his literary legacy. Lastly, I had read of his feud with P.G. Wodehouse, culminating in the satirical, “Rodney Gets a Relapse.” So, I had a whole host of half-known facts and rumours, but no real knowledge.
On the lookout for a biography about Milne, reviews and comments from other readers led me to this one, and I am so glad that it did. This is a clear, well written and sympathetic account of Milne’s life, which filled in an awful lot that I did not know and helped me to understand Milne and his legacy.
Milne was the youngest of three sons and, although he had a difficult relationship with his eldest brother, known as Barry, probably his closest relationship was with his other brother, Ken. The two remained firm friends, they did a lot of their early writing together and, when Ken became ill while still fairly young, Milne supported him, and his family, both financially and emotionally. Milne’s father was the headmaster of a school and one of Milne’s early teachers was H.G. Wells. His father was progressive and encouraged a love of learning, while also being extremely proud of his youngest son, Alan, who was extremely bright and forward for his age.
It is fair to say that Milne’s early life was fairly blessed. He did well at school and made the decision to try to become a writer. His early attempts suffered some setbacks, but then, just as it seemed he would need to go and get a job, he was offered a post at “Punch,” which not only gave him an income, but also meant his articles were going to find a home in print. Indeed, in his early career, that was what Milne was known as – for light, humorous verse, stories and articles.
He married his wife Daphne and all seemed as though it was going to carry on in the same way, happy, light, cheerful and successful, until the advent of the First World War. Although a pacifist, Milne ended up at the battle of the Somme and the things he saw certainly stayed with him. However, once he did return home, he was upset to find that he was not welcomed back to “Punch” with open arms. Milne was always aware that he needed his wages – he did not have the comfort of having an independent income. There was some bad feeling when Milne left for war on half wages and, when he was unable to give up the chance of having a play put on in London, it was felt that he should have been writing for “Punch” and not the stage…
Milne and Daphne had only one child, their son, Christopher Robin. From all I have read in this book, it seemed that Milne idolised his son and that he was – far from being distant from him – extremely close for a man of that class and that era. In fact he was jealous of Christopher Robin’s Nanny and enjoyed taking his son on walks, playing games with him and every letter that he wrote seemed to have included news of his son – known as Billy Moon – and his exploits.
Christopher Robin did have a teddy bear, but it was Milne’s boredom during a house party, combined with a request for him to write something for a children’s magazine, which led to him writing what would become, “When We Were Very Young.” Milne had had huge success on the stage, as well as being a popular writer, but nothing prepared him for the success of his children’s books. The amount of books he sold was amazing and the success of “Winnie the Pooh,” sealed his fate. He only wrote four works for children, but they would be what defined him.
This biography really fleshes out Milne as a man and I found that I liked him far more than I thought I would. He was slightly prudish, moralistic, tended to hold a grudge and enjoyed crosswords, golf and cricket. He obviously loved his wife, although they drifted into slightly separate lives as they grew older, but it was sad that he did not realise how using Christopher Robin in his books would be disliked, and resented, by his son as he got older. To be fair, Milne did not realise – could not have realised – how phenomenally successful Pooh would be. In hindsight, it might have been a good idea to have used a fictitious name, rather than that of his son.
Although Milne fought against being known solely for his works for children, it is obviously that we remember him for. I hope that he would be proud of his legacy. His writing has given pleasure to generations of readers and they remain delightful, warm and wonderful reads.