On behalf of everyone at All Fancy Dress we hope you are all enjoying a fantastic World Book Day
and that children are inspired to read even more by the many great authors past and present. With this in mind we decided to do an in-depth feature on another successful children's author, the best-selling Beatrix Potter.
A Kensington-born girl born into a privileged Unitarian family, Beatrix Potter displayed her artistic talents from a very young age, developing her love for art and the natural world during holidays in Scotland and the picturesque Lake District.
But few could surely have predicted the impact this prodigious young girl would have on children’s literature over the last century and to this very day.
Potter’s love for writing began at the tender age of 14 when she began to keep a diary, with her accounts fostering her creativity as she reported on society, with detailed observations of life evolving around her. Although her accounts do not provide an accurate record of her personal life it provides invaluable insight into British society in the late 19th Century.
Her fascination with mycology encouraged Potter to draw regularly wonderfully accurate fungi drawings that developed her illustrative talents. But determined to profit from her artistic talents, Potter switched her attentions from the theoretical wonders of the world to the rather more fanciful.
A student of classic fairy tales of Western Europe, she developed and published her first tale about “four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter”. ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit
’ was an immediate success and was to become one of the most famous children’s letters ever written, providing the springboard to Potter’s career as a children’s storyteller.
She followed up her first book with ‘The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin’ and ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’, working in close contact with editor, Norman Warne and eventually crafted 23 short stories – the last of which, ‘Cecil Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes’, and published in 1922 was a collection of popular nursery rhymes.
The immense quality of Potter’s illustrations brought each story to life, along with her charming depiction of traditional rural Britain and the imaginative qualities she used to bring her animal characters to the fore.
The beginning of the Beatrix Potter legacy
As an innovative businesswoman of her time, Beatrix Potter crafted a host of spin-off merchandise that was to form part of her lasting legacy, including figurines, china tea sets and many other items.
Her close working relationship with Norman Warne eventually saw them become an item and they were unofficially engaged in 1905. Potter’s potential marriage to Warne courted controversy from her parents who objected to Warne’s ‘in-trade’ social status, but tragically their romance came to an abrupt end following Warne’s death with Leukaemia aged 37.
Both Potter and Warne were set to purchase Hill Top Farm in Lancashire as a holiday home prior to his passing and Beatrix went ahead with buying the property where she lived and wrote many of her later stories.
Potter later married in 1913 to widely-respected man William Heelis, the man charged with acting on Potter’s behalf to protect her estate. Heelis was again disapproved by Potter’s parents as he was only a country solicitor, but the couple married at St. Mary Abbots in Kensington on 15th October, 1913.
Settled in countryside life and in a stable relationship with her country solicitor husband, Potter’s next stories, ‘The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck
’ and ‘The Tale of Tom Kitten
’ were entirely representative of her contentment with her newfound rural lifestyle.
The latter years
Beatrix remained committed to her writing and illustrations, although mostly for her own pleasure in her later years. Following a happy and rewarding 30 years of marriage to William Heelis, Potter passed away in December 1943 following complications from pneumonia and heart disease.
The National Trust
Such was her love of Britain’s countryside that she left almost her entire estate to the National Trust, with over 4,000 acres of land, including 16 farms, cottages and cattle. In terms of her literary legacy, Potter also left many of her original illustrations to the National Trust
, while copyright to her published books were left with Frederick Warne & Co. which is now a division of the Penguin Group.
Hill Top Farm is now open to the general public by the National Trust, while much of her artwork is now displayed in the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead. Many of Potter’s stories have been retold in many forms, from song and ballet to film and animation and she is still remembered fondly as one of the world’s best-loved children’s authors who did much to convey the wonder of the traditional 19th Century Britain.