Kenneth Grahame's masterpiece, The Wind in the Willows, describes the adventures of five friends, four of whom are, apparently, bachelors.

We can infer that Mole was a bachelor since (1) he did his own spring-cleaning, and (2) his larder consisted of only a tin of sardines, some captain's biscuits, and a bottle of Old Burton ale (see chapter 5: Dulce Domum). This is pretty basic fare, and typical of any young fellow living on his own.

The author makes it quite clear that Badger was a lifelong bachelor. Besides, he obviously had little time for domesticity since, it has to be said, his home and personal attire, although comfortable, were rather shabby.

Toad, who was rich, could easily afford to employ servants, although they are never mentioned directly. In any case, one could imagine that he would have had not the slightest idea of how to boil an egg.

Otter, who is not too much involved in the story, was happily married and had already started a family.

This leaves the Water Rat. Ratty's larder was obviously well-stocked, since he could put together a fine alfresco meal at a moment's notice (see chapter 1: The River Bank). Ratty's picnic hamper contained:


You get the idea. I can't imagine a bachelor, living on his own, having such a comprehensive range of victuals to hand. However, here's the killer (see chapter 11, 'Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears', which takes place mostly in Ratty's home):

The Toad was simply wild with jealousy, more especially as he couldn't make out for the life of him what the Mole had done that was so particularly clever; but, fortunately for him, before he could show temper or expose himself to the Badger's sarcasm, the bell rang for luncheon.

Now, if the bell rang for luncheon, then someone must have rung it, and I don't think that it was the pizza delivery boy. So, here's my question: did Ratty have a housekeeper (or was there some other domestic arrangement of which we can only speculate), or is there something that I have missed?

  • "Toad, who was rich, could easily afford to employ servants, although they are never mentioned" - they are mentioned indirectly: there's a "butler's pantry" at Toad Hall in Chapter 12.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 15:38
  • @Randal'Thor Good point. I have put this question together mostly from memory, since I haven't had time to reacquaint myself with the book.
    – Mick
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 15:39

2 Answers 2


Probably not.

There's some textual evidence for this throughout the book:

When they got home, the Rat made a bright fire in the parlour, and planted the Mole in an arm-chair in front of it, having fetched down a dressing-gown and slippers for him, and told him river stories till supper-time.

-- Chapter 1

Would the Rat be making a fire himself if he had a servant to do such things for him?

In the winter time the Rat slept a great deal, retiring early and rising late. During his short day he sometimes scribbled poetry or did other small domestic jobs about the house

-- Chapter 3

Again, the Rat would be unlikely to be doing his own odd jobs if he had a housekeeper or butler.

As to the specific quote you mention from Chapter 11: the Rat hadn't been involved in the conversation for some time before "the bell rang", so it's quite plausible that he simply went out of the room to see about the food, leaving the others talking, and rang the bell himself to let them know it was ready.

As well as finding specific quotes, we can answer this question by a more general character analysis. All four animals play different roles in the story:

  • Mole is the young innocent audience surrogate who knows little about the Riverbankers or the Wild Wooders. He could be equated with a young man, perhaps in his early twenties, who's spent most of his life indoors and is just beginning to learn about the outside world.
  • Badger is the wise old recluse, heard about for a while as a distant and faintly scary creature before he's finally introduced. He corresponds to an old bachelor who has a few close friends whom he'll defend to the death, disdains all other company, but has plenty of wisdom to share.
  • Toad is the young 'jock', impulsive and foolish, with a great deal of goodwill but not much common sense. He's definitely the last scion of a rich family, a young man brought up in luxury who likes to show off but still somehow manages to be liked.
  • Rat is the worldly and practical one, endlessly good-natured and second only to Badger in his knowledge and experience. The first part of the book is about him teaching Mole the practical skills of living on the riverbank: swimming, rowing, knowing the ways of the woods and the other animals, and so on. He corresponds to a middle-aged gentleman, sociable, competent, and physically active, who gets on well with all his neighbours and knows everything about the area.

Someone like that is usually not only capable of cooking their own meals, doing their own housework, and so on, but actively takes pleasure in it. Rat is not the sort of person who would be likely to employ a butler or housekeeper.

In analysing this book, we must remember that it was meant to be a sort of parody of Edwardian England. The anthropomorphised animals can all easily be identified with particular types of people in that time and place in the real world. Once we can identify how a character was designed and whom they might correspond to, it becomes much easier to analyse their personality.

  • 1
    This is an excellent answer (as is @HDE's), but there is one snagette: why would Rat have a meal bell if he cooked for himself? I have a feeling that someone else is involved, even if it is only a daily help. A mistress, of course, would be sensational.
    – Mick
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 19:44
  • 1
    @Mick Because he often has visitors, including in groups. From just the first few chapters it's already clear that Ratty is a sociable chap and knows nearly everyone around. He invites Mole to dinner the first day they meet. He probably invites lots of people home all the time. If he leaves a group of people chatting and then goes to make dinner, a bell is an easy way to tell them it's ready.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 19:47
  • 1
    I suppose you are right. One can just imagine the four of them gathered around the dinner table (before Otter got hitched and Mole turned up): Toad bragging, Badger pontificating, and Rat and Otter exchanging either bored or incredulous looks.
    – Mick
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 20:02

Quite likely not.

Let's go all the way back to the picnic in Chapter 1, when Mole and Rat are discussing how Rat lives by the river:

[Mole] ‘And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!’

[Rat] ‘By it and with it and on it and in it,’ said the Rat. ‘It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing.

This seems to indicate that Rat treats the river as a friend, or perhaps family. He's a boater, and loves to explore it. He even seems to indicate that it gives him much of what he needs to live. The Mole thinks this must be rather boring - after all, he prefers to venture out at times (though he likes the security of his own hole very much, thank you).

‘But isn’t it a bit dull at times?’ the Mole ventured to ask. ‘Just you and the river, and no one else to pass a word with?’

‘No one else to—well, I mustn’t be hard on you,’ said the Rat with forbearance.

"No one else to pass a word with" seems to indicate that Rat doesn't talk with anyone at all - likely including any servants or a housekeeper he could manage to fit in his home (which is, compared to Toad Hall, quite small).

Later on, it seems that Rat's picnics come from his own effort, not someone else's. After talking with Otter, the subject of the conversation with Mole swings back to food:

‘Well, well,’ said the Rat, ‘I suppose we ought to be moving. I wonder which of us had better pack the luncheon-basket?’ He did not speak as if he was frightfully eager for the treat.

Of course, Mole ends up being the one doing the packing, but the passage is still strongly suggestive that Rat is, at the least, capable of collecting his own food from his pantry. Additionally, from Chapter 2 we learn that Rat does do various household chores:

During his short day he sometimes scribbled poetry or did other small domestic jobs about the house

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