Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Beatrix Potter

I have never been a complete fan of Beatrix. Firstly as when I was younger I thought her name was Beetroot, and secondly as her books seemed so twee, with pale drawings and pocket sized books that screamed ‘I am for a child’. However, you have to take your hat off to anyone who writes a children’s story with the word ‘soporific’ in it, as well as to someone who liked to dissect ol’ Peter the bunny before she drew him.

Here is Beatrix Potter at the age of 15 with her dog, Spot, shortly before she no doubt dissected him as well.

Beatrix came from a rich family, and spent her time taking her rabbit for walks on a lead. And no one thought this was odd…? However, she lived in Kensington, so perhaps that explains that. Reading into her life, she appears a somewhat bored, somewhat repressed lady, or at least to my 21st century sensibilities, she wasn’t allowed to be educated or really do anything, apart from be her parent’s housekeeper. She invented her own code when writing her diary, now surely you have to be bored to do that, as unless you are the prime minister, who would darn well care whether you put ‘I made the tea’ in code? &*^)”*($&”), is what I say to that. And she studied fungi, which in my book, is mould. Ah Beetroot, I am beginning to understand…

At the age of 36, she finally published The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which went down a treat with the children of 1902. A following 22 books were to come, all about bunnies, frogs, squirrels and kittens. The sort of animals that were familiar to children back then, not the sort of animal’s children have as pets today, no cosy heart-warming tale of Tessie the Tarantula, or Simon the Snake.

Still, this changed her life and brought her out of her parents shadow, enabling her to buy land and a cottage called Hill Top in the Lake District. She even married, and perhaps no longer needed to write in code. At least, one hopes so.

As for her books – well, they are still considered best sellers with children and with adults. First editions fetch up to £100 each on eBay, a current sale has bids already up to £50, with 6 days left to go. Children can get Peter Rabbit Song books, magnets and stationary. The website of publisher Frederick Warne, now an imprint of Penguin, is simply http://www.peterrabbit.com/ and you can visit Hill Top Cottage and immerse yourself in Beatrix Potter world, should you wish. I presume the dissecting table is not on show?

So she caught the imagination of the time and cornered the market in books on bunnies. What can I learn from her? Diligence, patience, drawing everything you see around you, making up stories about your world. She is rather a hard act to follow...

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