1866 - 1943
BEATRIX POTTER was born July 28, 1866, and until she was in her thirties, she was cloistered in her nursery with little social contact. Her father, Rupert Potter, was a barrister and solicitor with an amateur talent in photography. Beatrix's mother was the less affectionate of her parents, spending most of her time making calls and sewing. With the birth of Beatrix's brother, Bertram, when she was five, her loneliness was abated. The children shared many interests and talents, including painting. But when Bertram was of age, he was sent to school, and Beatrix remained alone in the nursery.
The greatest delight in Beatrix's life as a child was her family's summering in Perthshire. From these visits, she and Bertram secretly created a menagerie of rabbits, mice, rats, newts, a bat, a toad, snails, lizards, a kestrel, an owl, a jay, and various insects, which Beatrix tended in the nursery while Bertram was at school. They also collected dead animals to dissect or boil down in order to reconstruct the skeletons. Beatrix created her own classification system for the fossils and used Bertram's microscope to make detailed observations, and for her powers of observation she received the passing praise of the painter Sir John Everett Millais, an acquaintance of her father.
This enthusiasm for scientific observation developed into an intensive study of fungi. Although Beatrix was encouraged by several people—including her uncle, a knighted scientist—her discoveries were dismissed by experts as the work of an amateur. In the face of these discouragements, Beatrix struggled against depression, nervous headaches, rheumatic fever, insomnia, and faintness; she despaired of escaping her parents' house, blaming her own shyness and insufficient beauty as well as her parents' rigidity. Nevertheless, she continued working and had a strong sense of her own interests and goals.
When Beatrix was in her twenties, a vicar of Windermere, where the Potter family now spent their holidays, admired her watercolors and suggested that she make illustrations for cards and nursery rhymes; her brother then helped her sell her first efforts. Though Beatrix enjoyed the slight independence this work gave her, the inanity of her employers' assignments was discouraging. She returned to her own world in her nursery, sharing her work with only a few relatives and with her former governess's children.
The first incarnation of The Tale of Peter Rabbit was an illustrated story-letter Beatrix sent to one of her governess's little boys in 1893.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Women Writers of Children's Literature. Contributors: Harold Bloom - Editor. Publisher: Chelsea House. Place of publication: Philadelphia. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 125.
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