I was not an enthusiastic reader as a child, nor in my early adolescence for that matter. I read what I had to in primary school and poured my energies into playing, making money, cleaning my bedroom and, then, in my late childhood and adolescence, organized sport. I tried to make money in many ways and, after making it, spending it; I liked watching TV and then listening to music after my mother sold the lighted chirping box. I liked having fun with my friends through all the stages of childhood and adolescence during which I grew from a neonate in the summer of 1944 to puberty in 1957, and then to early adulthood at university in the mid-1960s. I attended 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.
In all of this I never came across Beatrix Potter’s children’s books and, if I did, I do not recall the experience. As I gaze back at those halcyon years more than half a century later, I can say that I have just begun to learn about this famous children’s writer. Potter died just seven months before I was born during that horrendous WW2. 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 one year ago, at 8:30 on Christmas Day 2010. This delightful story 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. 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 more than half a century of writing, 1950 to 2011, I have only written(according to my computer directory) 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!”(3)
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 often demand of heritage an imagined, not an actual, past. But this is changing and the picture of heritage and what people want from it has become more complex. 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)
In the last week of 2011 I came across a review(4) of two works about Potter: Beatrix Potter: A Life In Nature by Linda Lear, St. Martin’s; and Miss Potter a film directed by Chris Noonan. In Lear’s work we read in one of Potter’s letters to her publisher: “If it were not impertinent to lecture one’s publisher, you are a great deal too much afraid of the public for whom I have never cared one tuppeny-button. I am sure that it is this attitude of mind which has enabled me to keep up the series. Most people, after one success, are so cringingly afraid of doing less well that they rub all the edge off their subsequent work.”
The world’s most popular children’s author had a low opinion of both books and children: “I never have cared tuppence either for popularity or for the modern child; they are pampered & spoilt with too many toys & books.” -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; (2) “The zebra-crossing made famous by The Beatles is given heritage status,” holidaylettings.co.uk, 25 December 2010; (3) I did refer to Potter 2 or 3 times in my essays and assorted writings from 1950 to 1995, but these literary efforts are not kept in my computer directory; and (4) John Lanchester’s “The Heroine of Hill Top Farm,” in The New York Review of Books, 15 March 2007
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 and mimic
Paul McCartney, John Lennon,
George Harrison & Ringo Starr
just crossing that famous road.
The black-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 was not the actual site. That the crossing had been moved to fit the needs of municipal, or perhaps national, heritage preferences, these historical and anthropological connoisseurs argue—was a sad commentary on modern commercial dictates.
25 December 2010 to 30 December 2011
I was not an enthusiastic reader as a child, nor in my early adolescence for that matter. I read what I had to in primary school and poured my energies into playing, making money, cleaning my bedroom and, then, in my late childhood and adolescence, organized sport. I tried to make money in many ways and, after making it, spending it; I liked watching TV and then listening to music after my mother sold the lighted chirping box. And so it was that I did not know of the writings of Beatirx Potter.