09 July, 2008

A.A. Milne



Alan Alexander Milne was an English author, best known for his books about the teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh and for various children's poems. Milne was a noted writer, primarily as a playwright, before the huge success of Pooh overshadowed all his previous work.

Milne joined the British Army in World War I and served as an officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and later, after a debilitating illness, the Royal Corps of Signals. After the war, he wrote a denunciation of war titled Peace With Honour (1934), which he retracted somewhat with 1940's War With Honour. During World War II, A. A. Milne was Captain of the Home Guard in Hartfield & Forest Row, insisting on being plain 'Mr. Milne' to the members of his platoon.

He married Dorothy "Daphne" de SĂ©lincourt in 1913, and their only son, Christopher Robin Milne, was born in 1920. In 1925, A. A. Milne bought a country home, Cotchford Farm, in Hartfield, East Sussex. He retired to the farm after a stroke and brain surgery in 1952 left him an invalid and by August 1953 "he seemed very old and disenchanted". terary career

After graduating from Cambridge in 1903, A. A. Milne contributed humorous verse and whimsical essays to the British humour magazine Punch, joining the staff in 1906 and becoming an assistant editor.

During this period he published 18 plays and 3 novels, including the murder mystery The Red House Mystery (1922). His son was born in August 1920 and in 1924 Milne produced a collection of children poems When We Were Very Young, which were illustrated by Punch staff cartoonist E. H. Shepard. A collection of short stories for children Gallery of Children and other stories that became part of the Winnie-the-Pooh books were first published in 1925.

Looking back on this period (in 1926) Milne observed that when he told his agent that he was going to write a detective story, he was told that what the country wanted from a "Punch humorist" was a humorous story; when two years later he said he was writing nursery rhymes, his agent and publisher were convinced he should write another detective story; and after another two years he was being told that writing a detective story would be in the worst of taste given the demand for children's books. He concluded that "the only excuse which I have yet discovered for writing anything is that I want to write it; and I should be as proud to be delivered of a Telephone Directory con amore as I should be ashamed to create a Blank Verse Tragedy at the bidding of others."

The real stuffed toys owned by Christopher Robin Milne and featured in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. They are on display in the Donnell Library Center in New York City.Milne is most famous for his two Pooh books about a boy named Christopher Robin, after his son, and various characters inspired by his son's stuffed animals, most notably the bear named Winnie-the-Pooh. Christopher Robin's bear, originally named "Edward", was renamed "Winnie-the-Pooh" after a Canadian black bear named Winnie (after Winnipeg), which was used as a military mascot in World War I, and left to London Zoo during the war. "The pooh" comes from a swan called "Pooh". E. H. Shepard illustrated the original Pooh books, using his own son's teddy, Growler, as the model. Christopher Robin Milne's own toys are now under glass in New York.

Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926, followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. A second collection of nursery rhymes Now We Are Six was published in 1927. All three books were illustrated by E. H. Shepard. Milne also published four plays in this period. He also "gallantly stepped forward" to contribute a quarter of the costs of dramatising P. G. Wodehouse's A Damsel in Distress.


The overwhelming success of his children's books was to become a source of considerable annoyance to Milne, whose self-avowed aim was to write whatever he pleased, and who had, until then, found a ready audience for each change of direction: he had freed pre-war Punch from its ponderous facetiousness; he had made a considerable reputation as a playwright (like his idol J. M. Barrie) on both sides of the Atlantic; he had produced a witty piece of detective writing in The Red House Mystery (although this was severely criticised by Raymond Chandler for the implausibility of its plot). Indeed, Milne's publisher was displeased when he announced his intention to write poems for children, and he had never lacked an audience.

But once Milne had, in his own words, "said goodbye to all that in 70,000 words", he had no intention of producing a copy of a copy, given that one of the sources of inspiration, his son, was growing older.

His reception remained warmer in America than Britain, and he continued to publish novels and short stories, but by the late 1930s the audience for Milne's grown-up writing had largely vanished: he observed bitterly in his autobiography that a critic had said that the hero of his latest play ("God help it") was simply "Christopher Robin grown up... what an obsession with me children are become!".

Even his old literary home, Punch, where the When We Were Very Young verses had first appeared, was ultimately to reject him, as Christopher Milne details in his autobiography The Enchanted Places, although Methuen continued to publish whatever Milne wrote, including the long poem 'The Norman Church' and an assembly of articles entitled Year In, Year Out (which Milne likened to a benefit night for the author).

He also adapted Kenneth Grahame's novel The Wind in the Willows for the stage as Toad of Toad Hall. The title was an implicit admission that such chapters as Chapter 7, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, could not survive translation to the theatre. A special introduction written by Milne is included in some editions of Grahame's novel.

Several of Milne's children's poems were set to music by the composer Harold Fraser-Simson. His poems have been parodied many times, including with the books When We Were Rather Older and Now We Are Sixty.

Milne died on January 31, 1956

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