A DEDICATION TO BEATRIX POTTER
The Tailor of Gloucester (1903)
Helen Beatrix Potter (28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943) was an English author, illustrator, mycologist and conservationist best known for children’s books featuring anthropomorphic characters such as in The Tale of Peter Rabbit which celebrated the British landscape and rural lifestyle.
Born into a privileged household, Potter, along with her younger brother, Walter Bertram, grew up with few friends outside her large extended family. As children they had numerous pets and spent holidays in the south of England, in Scotland, and in the English Lake District.
There she developed a love of the natural world which she closely observed and painted from an early age. Her parents were artistic and interested in nature and the out of doors. While Beatrix was happily never sent off to boarding school, her education in languages, literature, science and history was broad and she was an eager student.
Although she was provided with private art lessons, Beatrix preferred to develop her own style, particularly favoring watercolor.
In her twenties, she concentrated on the study of fungi mycology, of ancient artifacts archeology, and of geology, and achieved a measure of respect from the scientific establishment for her reproduction of fungi spores and her scientific illustrations.
In her thirties, Potter published the highly successful children’s book The Tale of Peter Rabbit publishing it privately, and then in 1902 as a small, three-color illustrated book with Frederick Warne & Co. Between 1902 and 1918 she published over twenty popular children’s books
First edition, 1902
Potter had drawn, for her own enjoyment, illustrations for Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus stories, and she was probably inspired by these as well as by the European tradition of animal fables going back to Aesop.
When she was 27 and on holiday in Scotland, in a letter dated 4 September 1893 she sent a picture and story about rabbits to Noel Moore, the five-year-old son of her last governess, Annie Carter Moore. Moore was the first to recognise the literary and commercial value of Potter’s work and encouraged her to publish the story.
She borrowed back the letter in 1901, developed and expanded the tale, and made it into the book titled The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s Garden.
She sent her tale to six publishers, but was rejected by all of them because of the lack of colour pictures, which were popular at the time. In September 1901, she decided to self-publish and distribute 250 copies of a renamed The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Later that year she finally attracted the publisher Frederick Warne & Co.
The publishing contract was signed in June 1902 and, by the end of the year, 28,000 copies were in print. In 1903, Beatrix Potter registered her Peter Rabbit doll at the Patent Office.
She followed Peter Rabbit with The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin in 1903, also based on a letter to one of the Moore children. Such was the popularity of these and subsequent books that she earned an independent income.
Adaptations and fictionalisations
In 1936, Walt Disney wanted to make a film about Peter Rabbit, but Potter refused. Her works remained printed only almost until the copyright was due to expire, decades after Potter’s death.
In 1982, the BBC produced The Tale of Beatrix Potter. This dramatisation of her life was written by John Hawkesworth and directed by Bill Hayes. It starred Holly Aird and Penelope Wilton as the young and adult Beatrix respectively.
In 1971, The Tales of Beatrix Potter directed by Reginald Mills was released. Several of the Tales were set to music, with choreography by Frederick Ashton and it featured dancers from the Royal Ballet, London, dancing in animal costumes to the musical score of John Lanchbery performed by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.
In 2006, Miss Potter, a biographical film starring Renée Zellweger was released.
The mystery writer Susan Wittig Albert is publishing an eight volume series featuring a fictionalised Beatrix Potter in “The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter” focusing on the period of her life she lived in the Lake District.
Public Domain Images:
Dover Clip Art