31 January 2012

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The Life Story of Beatrix Potter

Author and illustrator Beatrix Potter as a child
Image via Wikipedia
Whether a woman of nobility or firmly ensconced in the working classes, Victorian England was not the most encouraging time. For women finding their feet in academia, the frustrations were incredible. This is certainly true for Beatrix Potter.

Her early life
Beatrix Potter's family were wealthy, and were able to provide governesses of high degree to educate her. It was normal for girls born to families of note to be tutored privately, and this system of education was incredibly rewarding for the young Beatrix. Able to absorb languages and sciences, along with the artistic bent of her family, Potter excelled at many different subjects.

It was the natural world that captured Beatrix Potter's imagination, however. She would spend hours studying animals and insects, keeping many for study at home. The natural world truly became a way out for this young woman, who was becoming an avid student of art and science. Everything about the countryside and nature fascinated her, which led to an interest in mycology, the study of fungus.

Challenging times
In 1897, at the age of 21, Beatrix Potter submitted her findings on fungus, challenging papers on the subject. Being an amateur in the sciences, and also being a woman, the Director at Kew, William Thiselton-Dyer submitted a paper based on her notes to the Linnean Society.

Potter was not allowed to introduce the paper based on her findings, or even allowed to attend, because of her gender. This seems alien to us now, but British institutions such as the Linnean Society, this was commonplace. Although the society has apologised for their sexism, this was sadly posthumous.

Aside from her scientific leanings, it is her illustrations and literature that Beatrix Potter is best known. It was the world of fantasy and fairy tales that sparked off the interest in storytelling, with a blend of influences from Kingsley's The Water Babies, Aeosop's Fables, the Brothers Grimm and the works of Hans Christian Andersen. It was the influence of the stories with illustrations that inspired her, even to the point of finding Tenniel's illustrations in Alice in Wonderland more intriguing than the story itself.

She began to illustrate Christmas cards and note cards featuring animals of the English countryside. Potter's work began to appear in books, which drove her to produce her own illustrated stories. Rather famously it was her illustrated letters to the children of one of her former governesses, Annie Carter Moore, in which the original characters of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter Rabbit first appeared. This was the basis for Beatrix Potter's literary and artistic career.

Success at last
The Tale Of Peter Rabbit reached bookshelves in 1902 and was an instant success, leading to the publication of over 20 more books. A successful businesswoman in her own right, she derived an incredible career as a much-loved author of children's fiction. As well as this, she also had the savvy to create her own merchandise in the form of a Peter Rabbit stuffed toy.

While her life as an artist and writer was incredibly successful, her personal life was not without its sadness. Potter found love once in her life; her publisher Norman Warne. Even though her parents were against the relationship, the couple got engaged in 1905. Tragically, they never married, as Warne fell suddenly ill and died of Leukaemia a month after the proposal at the age of 37. Beatrix Potter never did marry after those sad events.

Beatrix Potter will forever be remembered as one of Britain's great authors and artists. Bringing together wholesome stories with a myriad of incredible characters that will never be forgotten. Her books will be forever part of our rich literary history.

About today's Guest Writer:
Present Days is a shop based in northern England, and is a retailer of gifts and collectables including Beatrix Potter figurines

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