The classic children's story The Wind in the Willows can be read as a "gay manifesto" that gives an insight into the writer's latent homosexuality, an academic has claimed.

Kenneth Grahame's novel, published in 1908, tells the story of four anthropomorphised woodland animals messing about in boats in Edwardian England.

But beneath the surface, the tale is a subversive reflection of Grahame's sexual attraction towards men, according to Peter Hunt, emeritus professor in English and children's literature at Cardiff University.

After researching the author and his work for his upcoming book, The Making of the Wind in the Willows, Hunt argued that there was evidence to suggest that Grahame was gay, even though he had a wife and child.

Grahame married Elspeth Thomson at the age of 40. While his wife and son lived in Cookham Dean, Berkshire, Grahame spent most of his time in London in a house which he shared with a man who was a friend of overtly homosexual writer Oscar Wilde. Homosexuality was illegal during Grahame's lifetime.

"You could read it as a gay manifesto," said Hunt, calling it a "story of maleness and male companionship", The Times (paywall) reported. Among the "clues" he has found is a scene in which Mole holds Ratty's paw in the darkness and whispers, "I'll do whatever you like, Ratty". In another scene, a "god's rippling muscles" are described.

The writer is believed to have suddenly left a post at the Bank of England because, Hunt believed, his bullying superior - who was the template for the character of Toad - knew he was gay.