Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter books and biography

Beatrix Potter

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Potter's illustration of her anthropomorphic rabbits — in this case the married cousins, Benjamin and Flopsy Bunny (with Peter Rabbit in the background), from The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies
Potter's illustration of her anthropomorphic rabbits — in this case the married cousins, Benjamin and Flopsy Bunny (with Peter Rabbit in the background), from The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies

Beatrix Potter, or Helen Beatrix Potter (July 28, 1866 – December 22, 1943) was an English children's book author and illustrator. "Peter Rabbit" was her most famous character.



Beatrix Potter was born in Kensington, London in 1866. Educated at home by a succession of governesses, she had little opportunity to mix with other children or her brother, Bertram, who was sent to boarding school, leaving Beatrix alone with her pet animals. She had frogs and newts, and even a pet bat. Among her pets were two rabbits. Her first rabbit was Benjamin, whom she described as "an impudent, cheeky little thing", while her second was Peter, whom she took everywhere with her, even on trains, on a little lead. Potter would watch these animals for hours on end, sketching them. Gradually the sketches became better and better, developing her talents from an early age.

A fifteen-year-old Beatrix with her dog, Spot
A fifteen-year-old Beatrix with her dog, Spot

Beatrix Potter's father, Rupert Potter, although trained as a barrister, spent his days at Gentlemen's clubs and rarely practised. Her mother spent her time visiting or receiving visitors. Both parents lived on incomes of inheritance from their parents.

Every summer, Rupert Potter would rent a country house; firstly Dalguise House in Perthshire, Scotland for the eleven summers of 1871-1881 [1], then later on in the English Lake District. In 1882 the family met the local vicar, Canon Rawnsley, who was deeply worried about the effects of industry and tourism on the Lake District. He would later found the National Trust in 1895, to help protect the countryside. Potter had immediately fallen in love with the rugged mountains and dark lakes, and through Rawnsley, learnt of the importance of trying to conserve the region, something that was to stay with her for the rest of her life.

When she came of age, her parents appointed her their housekeeper and discouraged any intellectual development, instead requiring her to supervise the household. However, in contrast to her parents' wishes but in reflection of the period, from the age of fifteen until she was past thirty, she recorded her everyday life in journals - using her own secret code-writing.

An uncle attempted to introduce her as a student at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, but she was rejected because she was female. Potter was later one of the first to suggest that lichens were a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae[2], but her one attempt to publish was thwarted. Her uncle had to read her paper at the scientific society because they did not admit females. At the time the only way to record microscopic images was by painting them; her pictures of fungi were widely admired.

The basis of her many projects and stories were the small animals that she smuggled into the house or observed during family holidays in Scotland and the Lake District. She was encouraged to publish her story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, but she struggled to find a publisher until it was accepted when she was 36 in 1902, by Frederick Warne & Company. The small book and her following works were extremely well received and she gained an independent income from the sales. She also became secretly engaged to the publisher, Norman Warne, but her parents were set against her marrying anyone who worked for a living. He died before the wedding, causing a breach between Beatrix and her parents.

Potter eventually wrote 23 books. These were published in a small format, easy for a child to hold and read. Her writing efforts abated around 1920 due to poor eyesight, though her last major work, The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, was published in 1930.

After the death of Warne, Potter purchased Hill Top Farm in the village of Sawrey, Cumbria, in the Lake District. She loved the landscape, and would visit the farm as often as she could, discussing the set-up with farm manager John Cannon[3]. With the steady stream of royalties from her books, she began to buy pieces of land under the guidance of local solicitor William Heelis. In 1913 at age 47, Potter married Heelis and moved to Hill Top farm permanently from London - the couple had no children.

Some of her best loved works show the farm house and the village, and the farm was constantly alive with dogs, cats and even a pet hedgehog, naturally enough named "Mrs Tiggywinkle". On moving to the Lake District, Potter become engrossed in breeding and showing Herdwick sheep. She became a respected farmer, a judge at local agricultural shows, and President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association. When her parents died, she used her inheritance to buy more farms and tracts of land. After some years Potter and Heelis moved down into the village of Sawrey, and into Castle Cottage - where the local children knew her for her grumpy demeanour, and called her "Auld Mother Heelis"[4].

She died at Castle Cottage in Sawrey, on 22 December 1943. Cremated, her ashes were scattered in the countryside near Sawrey[5].

Subsequent events

In her will, Potter left almost all of her property to the National Trust — 4000 acres (16 km) of land, cottages, and 15 farms. The legacy has helped ensure that the beauty of the Lake District and the practice of fell farming remain unspoiled to this day. Her properties are now part of the Lake District National Park.

1971 saw the release of The Tales of Beatrix Potter directed by Reginald Mills. Several of the 'Tales' were set to music and danced by the members of The Royal Ballet including Frederick Ashton who was also the choreographer. "The Tale of Pigling Bland" was turned into a musical theatrical production by Suzy Conn and was first performed 6 July 2006 at the Toronto Fringe Festival in Toronto, Canada.

In 1982 the BBC produced The Tale of Beatrix Potter. This dramatization of her life was written by John Hawkesworth and directed by Bill Hayes. It starred Holly Aird and Penelope Wilton as the young and adult Beatrix respectively. The modern author Susan Wittig Albert publishes a series of mysteries featuring a fictionalized Beatrix Potter, focusing on the period of her life between her fiance's death and her eventual establishment as a farmer in Sawrey, Cumbria. In December 2006 Penguin will publish "Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature", a new biography by Linda Lear which emphasizes Potter's scientific accomplishments both as a botanical artist and as an amateur mycologist.

Miss Potter, a biographical film starring Renee Zellweger, was released on 29 December 2006.

Places to visit

There are several locations open to the general public relating to Beatrix Potter, mainly in the Hawkshead area of the Lake District, including:

  • Hill-Top Farm - open to the public, but for a limited number of vistors per day. It has been restored to exactly the condition as it was when Beatrix lived there.
  • The Beatrix Potter Gallery - in Hawkshead village, shows a number of original letters and drawings.
  • The Beatrix Potter Attraction - displays a collection of models and displays of Beatrix's work, in Windermere village
  • The Beatrix Potter Garden - at Dunkeld House in Perthshire, Scotland, now home to the Birnam Institute, has gardens recreating Beatrix's tales and exhibitions throughout the summer
  • The Beatrix Potter Shop - in Gloucester, this building was the basis for Potter's book 'The Tailor of Gloucester'. Stocks Potter-based gift items and some information


"I remember I used to half believe and wholly play with fairies when I was a child. What heaven can be more real than to retain the spirit-world of childhood, tempered and balanced by knowledge and common-sense.." - Beatrix Potter’s Journal, 17 November 1896 from the National Trust collection

List of some of the works by (Helen) Beatrix Potter

  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902)
  • The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903)
  • The Tailor of Gloucester (1903)
  • The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904)
  • The Tale of Two Bad Mice (1904)
  • The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (1905)
  • The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan (1905)
  • The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher (1906)
  • The Story of A Fierce Bad Rabbit (1906)
  • The Story of Miss Moppet (1906)
  • The Tale of Tom Kitten (1907)
  • The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (1908)
  • The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or, The Roly-Poly Pudding (1908)
  • The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909)
  • The Tale of Ginger and Pickles (1909)
  • The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910)
  • The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (1911)
  • The Tale of Mr. Tod (1912)
  • The Tale of Pigling Bland (1913)
  • Appley Dapply's Nursery Rhymes (1917)
  • The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse (1918)
  • Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes (1922)
  • The Fairy Caravan (1929)
  • The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930)

See also

  • The Tales of Beatrix Potter


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This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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