On the trail…with Beatrix PotterJul 28th, 2009 | By editor | Category: Delhiwaalah, Young World
Today is the 123rd birth anniversary of Beatrix Potter. Not only did she create lovable characters like Squirrel Nutkin and Tom Kitten, she was also a conservationist, a mycologist and an illustrator. Her first book featuring the four rabbits was brought out in 1902. Since then she went on to write and illustrate 20 more books. Have you read any of her books? If you haven’t, then try to get hold of some and read them…you are sure to love them.
Whether it’s Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin or Tom Kitten. they’re all more than 100 years old but they’ve continued to keep generations of children captivated with their mischievous tricks. But did you know that the person who wrote these stories was more than just an author? Beatrix Potter, whose 123rd birth anniversary falls today, was also a conservationist, mycologist (one who studies fungi) and illustrator.
The last talent was borne of her observations of her various pets that included frogs, newts, ferrets and rabbits. Beatrix was a rather lonely child - no playmates of her age, educated by a series of governesses with parents who didn’t encourage her intellectual pursuits - who dealt with solitude by drawing and painting. Her subjects were her pets and she sketched and resketched, honing the skill that served her so well later. She also did one other thing that many youngsters often dream of: from the age of 15, Beatrix developed a secret code to record her observations in her diary. The code was broken only after her death.
Every summer the family would go to Scotland but later her father Rupert bought a house in The Lake District, which then became their summer abode. Here Beatrix met Canon Rawnsley from whom she learnt the importance of conservation, an issue that she was to champion for the rest of her life.
But let’s get back to her books. Actually Beatrix didn’t set out with the idea of writing books. Encouraged by Canon Rawnsley, she created a few greeting cards, which were snapped up by a company in Germany. Around 1890, Noel Moore, the five-year-old son of her former governess, was ill. To cheer him up Beatrix sent him picture stories of four little rabbits: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. It was only in 1901 that she felt she could make a book out of it. After several rejections, she finally decided to publish it on her own. Soon it was picked up by Frederick Warne & Co. and by the end of 1902, about 28,000 copies had hit the stores.
Beatrix also fell in love with her publisher Norman Warne. Despite stiff opposition from her parents, Beatrix and Norman got engaged. But sadly he died of leukaemia. Beatrix continued to write and illustrate 20 more books; all on a similar format. She also bought a farm in Sawrey, one of the Lake District villages, which played a big part in her illustrations. Beatrix married her lawyer William Heelis in 1913 when she was 47 years old. Beatrix died in 1943 and bequeathed all her property to The National Trust to help preserve the beauty of The Lake District.
Check these out
The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902): About a naughty disobedient young rabbit who has adventures in Mr. McGregor’s garden.
The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903): About a mischievous young squirrel who won’t gather nuts but irritates Old Brown Owl.
The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904): About Benjamin and his cousin Peter Rabbit trying to find Peter’s clothes in the garden.
The Story of Miss Moppet (1906): Does Moppet manage to catch the mouse?
The Tale of Tom Kitten (1907): About three naughty little kittens, Mittens, Tom Kitten and Moppet, who just won’t listen to Mama Cat.
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (1908): About a duck who’s trying to hatch her eggs with the help of a fox.
The Tale of Ginger and Pickles (1909): About Ginger, a tomcat, and Pickles, a terrier who try their hand at shopkeeping.
The Tale of Pigling Bland (1913): About Pigling and his brother Alexander who try to feed all the hungry piglets.
The Fairy Caravan (1929): About the adventures of Tuppenny, a young guinea pig who runs away from home to join a travelling circus.
* Did you know that long before Harry Potter and Barbie, Peter Rabbit was made into soft toys in 1903? This means he is the oldest licensed character.
* A 1971 film, “The Tales of Beatrix Potter”, was the base for a performance by the Royal Ballet.
* The Tale of Pigling Bland became a musical, first performed at Toronto Fringe Festival in 2006.
* “Miss Potter”, a biographical film starring Renee Zwelleger, was released in 2006.
Did you know
That Beatrix was one of the early women scientists. Her attempt to join the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew as a student failed because she was a girl.
She was among the first to figure out that lichens were a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae.
Her uncle had to present her paper on germination of spores at the Linnean Society in 1897 since women could not attend the meetings. She gave many lectures at the London School of Economics.
Her watercolour paintings of fungi are preserved in the Armitt Library, Ambleside.