Helen Beatrix Potter (July 1866 – December 1943) was an English writer, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist, best known for her children’s books featuring animals. She had numerous pets and spent holidays in Scotland and the Lake District, developing a love of landscape, flora and fauna, all of which she closely observed and painted. Beatrix’s parents lived comfortably at 2 Bolton Gardens, West Brompton, where she and her brother, Walter Bertram, were born. Both parents were artistically talented and her father, Rupert William Potter, was an amateur photographer, who had invested in the stock market and by the early 1890s was extremely wealthy.
Beatrix Potter’s parents didn’t discourage higher education, although it was common, in the Victorian Era, women of her class were privately educated and rarely went to university. Botany was a passion for most Victorians and nature study was a popular enthusiasm and she was eclectic in her tastes: she was collecting fossils, studying archeological artifacts and she was interested in entomology. In all these areas she drew and painted her specimens with increasing skill. She was also interested in Mycology.
Beatrix Potter’s artistic and literary interests were deeply influenced by fairies, fairy tales and fantasy. She was a student of the classic fairy tales of Western Europe, as well as stories such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, “Aesop’s Fables”, the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, the folk tales and Mythology of Scotland, the German Romantics, Shakespeare and the romances of Sir Walter Scott. Before the age of eight, she loved “The Owl and the Pussycat” of Edward Lear’s and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”. “The Brer Rabbit Stories” of Joel Chandler Harris had been family favorites.
She studied book illustration from a young age and developed her own tastes. When she started to illustrate, she chose first the traditional rhymes and stories, “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, “Puss-in-boots”, and “Red Riding Hood”. But most often her illustrations were fantasies featuring her own pets: mice, rabbits, kittens and guinea pigs.
As a way to earn money in the 1890s, Beatrix and her brother began to print Christmas cards of their own design, as well as cards for special occasions. Mice and rabbits were the most frequent subject of her fantasy paintings. In 1890, the firm of Hildesheimer and Faulkner bought several of her drawings of her rabbit Benjamin Bunny to illustrate verses by Frederic Weatherly titled “A Happy Pair”. In 1893, the same printer bought several more drawings for Weatherly’s Our Dear Relations, another book of rhymes. Beatrix Potter was pleased by this success and determined to publish her own illustrated stories.
In 1900, Potter revised her tale about the four little rabbits, and fashioned a dummy book of it, that was unable to find a buyer for. So, she published it for family and friends at her own expense in December 1901. Family friend Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley had great faith in Potter’s tale, recast it in didactic verse, and made the rounds of the London publishing houses. Frederick Warne & Co had previously rejected the tale but, eager to compete in the booming small format children’s book market, reconsidered and accepted the “bunny book”.
In her thirties, Beatrix Potter published the highly successful children’s book “The Tale of Peter Rabbit» and, since then, she began writing and illustrating children’s books full-time.
She wrote about 30 book and the best known being her 24 children’s tales. She died of pneumonia and heart disease in December 1943 at her home in Near Sawrey at age 77, leaving almost all her property to the National Trust. Potter’s books continue to sell throughout the world in many languages with her stories being retold in song, film, ballet and animation, and her life depicted in a feature film and television film.
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902)
- The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903)
- The Tailor of Gloucester (1903)
- The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904)
- The Tale of Two Bad Mice (1904)
- The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (1905)
- The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan (1905)
- The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher (1906)
- The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit (1906)
- The Story of Miss Moppet (1906)
- The Tale of Tom Kitten (1907)
- The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (1908)
- The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or, The Roly-Poly Pudding (1908)
- The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909)
- The Tale of Ginger and Pickles (1909)
- The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910)
- The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (1911)
- The Tale of Mr. Tod (1912)
- The Tale of Pigling Bland (1913)
- Appley Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes (1917)
- The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse (1918)
- Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes (1922)
- The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930)
- The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots (2016)
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