Beatrix Potter her childhood imagination still lingers

Children all over the world have grown up reading to Beatrix Potter’s tales of Peter Rabbit in Mr McGregor’s garden, of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail and of Tom Kitten and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle who “was nothing but a Hedgehog!”

Her stories captured hearts and imaginations. They inspired music, books, a movie, note cards, designers of children clothing and many imitators.

Beatrix Potter never quite understood the popularity of her friend Peter Rabbit and the other human-like animals. Publishers suggest it is because “she wrote to children, not for them.”

Beatrix Potter herself said, “I have just made stories to please myself because I never grew up. I was cram full of stories, including one or two novels when I was only a small child I could not for the life of me get them out.”

Animal fantasy was a defence Miss Potter invented against her bleak childhood.

She was born in 1866 into a British home, period and class which understood little of childhood. Her wealthy parents made no concessions to their daughter, Helen Beatrix and life is pictured as Victorian uneventful and very solitary.

Schooled by governesses, she was cared for by butlers and maids.

Although not unhappy young Beatrix was lonely, so she created her world in her third-floor nursery solitude. So she created her world in her third-floor nursery solitude. Biographer Margaret Lane said, “She had made friends with rabbits and hedgehogs, mice and minnows, as a prisoner is in solitary confinement, will befriend a mouse.”

In her almost secretive atmosphere, Beatrix Potter kept a diary of her activities between the ages of 15 and 30. It was written in a code which author Leslie Linder nine years to break and translate. From his findings, he wrote, “The Journal of Beatrix Potter” which made details of her early life.

“Few lives have been more jealously hidden from the public eye than Beatrix Potter’s,” says her publisher. “Even in old age, when she preferred to remain unknown and behind her everyday character of Lakeland farmer – rusty, humorous, locally formidable to conceal the artist.

When she was 26, Miss Potter began to write picture letters to children.

The original story of Peter Rabbit was addressed to Noel Moore, the child of Miss Potter’s childhood companion and German teacher when he became ill.

Noel liked the story written in the form of a personal letter and illustrated with Miss Potter’s drawings so much that her picture letters became a tradition in the Moore family.

Miss Potter wrote to his sister Norah about Squirrel Nutkin, and Mrs Moore kept all the letters tied with yellow ribbon. The popularity of the picture letters probably gave Miss Potter the ideas of writing books for children about the animals she loved and sketched.

The Moore children remembered Miss Potter as pretty and happy with sparkling blue eyes and a quiet, soft voice. Others remembered her as unusually calm and old-fashioned.

When she began publishing her stories into little books, Beatrix Potter was 37 years old. She often had to borrow the original letters she had written and sent to children. From these, she carefully copied the lines and sketches into cloth-covered exercise books.

“It is much more satisfactory to address a real live child; I often think that that was the secret of the success of Peter Rabbit, it was written to a child not made to order,” Beatrix Potter once wrote.

Beatrix Potter loved unusual words and realized that children appreciated them also, although sometimes she used then against the advice of her publishers. In “The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies” she used the word “soporific” which she was careful to explain on the opening of a page of the story so that the child would know its meaning when the term was used later.

She had other definite ideas about writing for children: “I think the significant point in writing for children is to have something to say and to say it in simple direct language. I polish, polish, polish.


The Tale of Beatrix Potter A Biography by Margaret Lane ….

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