Lear, Linda: Beatrix Potter: The extraordinary life of a Victorian genius (2007)

Linda Lear has done an amazing job with this biography about Beatrix Potter’s (1866-1943) life.

Here in Norway our national TV channel NRK has sent Potter’s tales from time to time on children’s television (barne-tv). One of the times was while my boys were still young enough to watch children’s television. Potter’s tales are absolutely darling and the artwork lifelike. While Beatrix Potter was a popular writer of children’s books, her influence is also still felt in other areas.

Beatrix Potter was born 1866 to Rupert and Helen Potter. Both were Unitarians and they were both of merchant stock. There was a younger brother Bertrand. The whole family were artistic. Rupert was an amateur photographer.

As girls did not go to school, and the family was wealthy, Beatrix had the advantage of having governesses until the age of 18. Life as a child in a wealthy Victorian family was very different to modern life. Nature was in, and there were no serious protests when Beatrix and Bertrand brought a variety of animals and insects into their school room to study and draw (and have as pets).

During summer holidays the family would go away from London to some country house or other. Beatrix and her brother would roam the landscape, scetch what they saw and study the material. Both became quite good at natural history. But in Victorian times, as today, non-scientists were seldom taken seriously by the scientific community. In spite of the quality of the work that Beatrix would research, she found that being a woman and a non-scholar was greatly to her disadvantage. Her work with fungi (mycology) shows an eye for detail and an understanding of her study objects that has caused the continued use her work in academicae.

In 1902 Potter published her first book about Peter Rabbit, and it soon became immensely popular. Today you can get her collected stories through Amazon with the artwork that she made for her books. I think you will find that Beatrix really knew what her animals were supposed to look like. Along with the very real locations used in her stories, her work is incredible. This is one of the best children’s authors from this period. I cannot praise the quality of her work enough.

One of her great passions in life was the preservation of nature. Once the money started rolling in, Potter began buying up Lakeland properties, restoring them to past glory. Once she died she deeded all of her properties to the National Trust for preservation as far as it was possible. Hill Top was her first purchase and life-long love. Of all of her buildings, it is the one that has been kept as she left it, and Beatrix fans flock there.

Eventually Beatrix married William Heelis, her solicitor. There were no children, but both used all of their energies on the Lakelands, trying to keep it away from investors that they felt would destroy its beauty.

1971: The ballet film was released, The Tales of Beatrix Potter, directed by Reginald Mills. Set to music by John Lanchbery with choreography by Frederick Ashton and performed in character costume by members of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House orchestra. The ballet of the same name has been performed by other dance companies around the world.

1982: the BBC produced The Tale of Beatrix Potter TV-series.

1992-1995: The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends is an animated television series based on the works of Beatrix Potter, featuring Peter Rabbit and other anthropomorphic animal characters created by Potter. It was originally shown in the U.K. on BBC between 1992 and 1995 and subsequently broadcast in the U.S. on Family Channel in 1993–1995. The series has also been released on VHS and DVD.

2004: Potter is also featured in a series of light mysteries called The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert. The eight books in the series start with the Tale of Hill Top Farm (2004).

2006: Chris Noonan directed Miss Potter, a biopic of Potter’s life focusing on her early career and romance with her editor Norman Warne.

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