Beatrix Potter

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Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), English Victorian artist and author of children's stories, creator of such winsome and nattily attired characters as Benjamin Bunny, Squirrel Nutkin, and of course Peter Rabbit.

Her books have been translated to braille and numerous languages including German, Latin, Welsh, Spanish, French, Japanese and Dutch. Many are still in print and beloved world-wide. Helen Beatrix Potter was born on 28 July 1866 in South Kensington, London, England. Her parents were Helen Leech and Rupert William Potter. Even as a young girl Beatrix, as she was known, loved animals enough to secret them away into the house including rabbits, frogs, kittens, hedgehogs and mice. A bout with rheumatic fever would affect her heart and health for the rest of her life. Though she was quite shy, she was a very creative girl, encouraged by her parents and governesses who taught her to paint and draw. She also kept a journal which illuminates her highly imaginative and sensitive nature.

The Potter family spent many summers in the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District of England where Beatrix and her brother Bertram immersed themselves in the natural world, which became a life-long passion and subject of intense study for Potter. She explored the varied geography and flora and fauna, recording her observations of the landscape, fossils, insects, fungi, birds, flowers and animals in sketches, drawings, and watercolours. She also made the acquaintance of a kindly Vicar and writer, Hardwicke Rawnsley, who was also a lover of the Lakeland and advocated for its preservation. He would become a great supporter and mentor to her in her future life as writer.

Whilst in London living with her parents and governess Beatrix would visit the Museum of Natural History to sketch and continue her studies though it was sometimes frowned upon that a woman was pursuing such studies. When she was away from home visiting the countryside she wrote some short stories and greeting cards for her governesses' children, and one of them formed the basis of her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902). Young and mischievous, Peter gets into various binds with Mr. McGregor, who happens to have a lush garden full of fresh carrots.

When the royalties started coming in Potter purchased property, then Hill Top farm in Sawrey, where she raised Herdwick sheep and increasingly spent her time, though she would still visit with her elderly parents in London. On 15 October 1913 Potter married the country solicitor William Heelis. Potter continued to increase her lands and write books at Hill Top, the quaint stone home, lush gardens and surroundings the setting for so many of her stories. Today it is still visited by many admirers of her classic childhood tales. Potter often submitted her stories to children first to 'test' them before publishing. She worked her finely detailed illustrations in pen and ink, pencil, watercolours, and oil.

Helen Beatrix Heelis died on 22 December 1943. After cremation her ashes were scattered over her lands. Her vast estate of thousands of acres was left entirely to her husband, whereupon his death it was bequeathed to the National Trust. The Beatrix Potter Society was founded in 1980.

Other Beatrix Potter titles are; The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903), The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904), The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher (1905), The Story of Miss Moppet (1906), The Tale of Tom Kitten (1907), The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck (1908), The Tale of Ginger and Pickles (1909), The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (1911), Appley Dapply's Nursery Rhymes (1917) and The Tale of Johnny Town Mouse (1918).

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2006. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on Beatrix Potter

BEATRIX POTTER: The Fulfilment Not of Fact But of Fancy

I was not an enthusiastic reader as a child, say, 4 to 12 years old, nor in my early adolescence(13-15) for that matter. I read what I had to in primary school and poured my energies first into simple playing and then after the age of 9 organized sport. I was also keen on trying to make money and then I was more keen after making some. Watching TV was a big event from the age of six to nine until my mother sold this lighted chirping box. Listening to music was central to my life as far back as I can remember. Having fun with my friends as far back as I can remember from, say, 1947 at the age of 3 to puberty in 1957 was part of who I was back then. I began to attend meetings with my parents in the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Party, in the churches of various Christian denominations and in a new religion which had been in Canada for only half a century at the time--the Baha'i Faith. I never came across Beatrix Potter’s children’s books. Potter died just seven months before I was born in 1944. She was a woman ahead of her time. She saw the money-making potential in her most famous character and created the first patented soft-toy in 1903. He was Peter Rabbit---the oldest licensed toy character. She also left an astounding legacy of stories, characters, art and 4000 acres of unspoiled landscape to the world by means of England’s National Trust. ABC1 screened Miss Potter at 8:30 tonight, Christmas Day 2010. This delightful story of a part of her life from the age of 32 to 47, from about 1898 to about 1913, was a most fitting bit of TV for Christmas Day in Australia, for me at the age of 66 and retired from FT, PT and casual work. Potter is a post-Victorian and pre-modern writer. Her work is not a moralizing series of books; indeed, one critic calls her work “close to a series of immoral tales.”(1) In my half a century of writing, 1960 to 2010, I have only written the following sentences about this famous writer: “A visitor to Beatrix Potter's Hilltop Farm in England's the Lake District exclaimed, "This is how I always imagined Peter-Rabbit-Land!” But Scotland, and not the Lake District, inspired Potter’s famous tale of Peter Rabbit. What we hold in our imagination is, so often, not fact but fancy--how we wish things, how we think things are. But, in reality, they are not! Her writing, her 23 small format children's books, were the fulfilment not of the facts of life but of a rich imagination, of an acute artistic sensibility, and of simple and not-so-simple fancy. People in our world demand of heritage an imagined, not an actual, past. Sites wilfully contrived often serve heritage better than those faithfully preserved—at least sometimes. This was true of The Beatles' famous Abbey Road crossing.(2)-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Humphrey Carpenter in Katherine Chandler, "Thoroughly Post-Victorian, Pre-Modern Beatrix,” Children's Literature Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 4, 2007, The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 287–307; and (2) “The zebra-crossing made famous by The Beatles is given heritage status,”, 25 December 2010. Joining the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace is the pedestrian crossing near those Abbey Road studios which the Beatles made so iconic in 1969. The crossing which appears on the Fab Four's 1969 album title Abbey Road has become one of the capital's biggest attractions: tourists renting London holiday homes venture there to mimic Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison & Ringo Starr just crossing that famous road. The black and white crossing which is thought to have moved slightly from its original position, has now been given official recognition by heritage minister John Penrose. The nearby studios were listed in February 2010. They were the actually preserved, not wilfully contrived, not some imagined, made-up past in ’69.(1) (1) The zebra-crossing made famous by The Beatles was given heritage status this week. Some critics, with a sense of the importance of historical accuracy and detail, have expressed concern that the site of this crossing is not the actual site. That the crossing has been moved to fit the needs of municipal, or perhaps national, heritage preferences, these historical & anthropological connoisseurs argue, is a sad commentary on the dominance of modern commercial dictates over the truths and realities of history. Ron Price 25 December 2010 Updated on: 23/2/'11

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