My Beatrix Potter story
My own most vivid memory of a Beatrix Potter tale is over the version broadcast on PBS in 2003. My kids and I were watching The Tale of Samuel Whiskers–suddenly the poor guy is wrapped in pie crust and ready to be baked! My daughter, understandably, fell to pieces. She clutched our beloved big orange cat, Stanley, and wept uncontrollably. I tried to reassure my daughter that all would be fine and that, more importantly, it wasn’t real and that our big guy was fine. She didn’t let our cats out of her sight for a week. It took hours to get her to sleep–and this was the kid who collapsed so early, I cheated and put the clock ahead so she’d go to bed! No need to tell you that no more Beatrix Potter happened at our house!
Matthew Dennison’s Book
Dennison chose to tell Beatrix’s story a little differently. He anchors each chapter with a quote that goes with the theme of the chapter. He also tried, whenever possible, to show what aspects of her children’s books came from real life. So we learn of scenery being at real places Beatrix lived or that certain real animals were involved–that real children dear to Beatrix were the first to receive her stories as illustrated letters.
He also tells the story of Beatrix’s isolation. Her eccentric parents went above and beyond the normal Victorian mantra of keeping daughters at home. Starved of company outside her family circle, she turned inward. With no one to befriend, she befriended a menagerie of animals and shared her thoughts in her carefully coded journal. From childhood into early adulthood she was very lonely. Her parents kept such a tight reign on her that even as an adult with her own home she was forced to spend most of her time as a sort of lady in waiting to her parents. I found this very sad.
I loved learning that in addition to her children’s books with their marvelous illustrations she also quite an amateur natural scientist. She was especially fascinated by fungi–mushrooms. Nature journals, were a popular past time for Victorians and Edwardians. They would find specimens, draw or watercolor them and label them beautifully. Her nature drawings were of a professional standard as her parents had at least given her excellent tuition in art from private teachers. The book includes a few color plates with some of her nature drawings. Her love of nature also led her to be an early land conservator–buying up land to protect if from encroaching development.
Having loved the movie Miss Potter, I was pleased to learn the real stories of her first engagement and later marriage. For having such a lonely, often isolated childhood, she at least found someone with whom to share some aspects of her life.
Finally, I was so pleased to see that the author and published used such lovely endpapers for they were a fixation of Beatrix’s in her own books.