August 24, 2010

The Reading Corner....Helen Beatrix Potter

"There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is best of all." Jacqueline Kennedy

I thought I would begin the first day of  The Reading Corner, with someone I have admired and loved my entire life. Who has not shared in the world of Beatrix Potter and all of her creations?

Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle Duck, Miss Moppet, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Pig Wig, Simpkin, Squirrel Nutkin, Aunt Pettitoes, or Beswick Ribby!

In reading her biographies and learning of her accomplishments, I found it fascinating that this tiny child contributed so very much to society. Imagine the time in the late 1800's when women were not usually known for being any more than mothers, cooks and homemakers? I hope to share with you a small insight into her life and that you will be able to take with you, a love and respect for Helen Beatrix Potter!

Helen Beatrix Potter...Born July 28, 1866
Born to Rupert William Potter and Helen Leech Potter in Kensington, London, England

Beatrix had one  brother, Bertram, who was six years her junior and became an artist. The two sibilings remained close companions throughout their adulthood.  Beatrix and her brother, Bertram were born into a privileged household. Rupert Potter was a barrister-at-law, although he never practiced his profession. Both Rupert and Helen gained their financial freedom from inheriting cotton fortunes from past relatives. Neither Rupert nor Helen had much interest in their children and spent the majority of their time with London society events.

 Bertram was sent away to school at a very early age. Beatrix was educated by a governess, Miss McKenzie. She grew up isolated from other children. Miss McKenzie and Beatrix lived in the nursery on the third floor of Bolton Gardens. It was Miss McKenzie who introduced "B" to witches and fairies. Beatrix stated this is what started her inspiration of  an imaginary life of animals. 

She had numerous pets and spent holidays in Scotland and the Lake District, developing a love of landscape, flora and fauna, all of which she closely observed and painted. Her parents discouraged her intellectual development as a young woman, but her study and watercolors of fungi led to her being widely respected in the field of mycology.

From the age of 14 until she was 31 years old, her parents appointed her caretaker of their home. Beatrix wrote of her daily life in her beloved journals and interestingly, all of her journal writings were in code. She often confessed she had difficulty reading her own writings. The code writings remained undeciphered for 80 years, until 1958 by Leslie Linder.

Beatrix began drawing at the age of 8. Her survived drawings date back to 1875 when Beatrix would have been 9 years old. It was at the encouragement of her brother, Bertram, that "B" submitted her tiny animal drawings on note cards and place cards to a greeting card publisher and received a check for 6 pounds and a request for more drawings. Thus her career began at age 24.

During her 30's she had written her first story entitled "Peter Rabbit and Mr.McGregor's Garden". When submitted to a publishing company, the story was denied due to lack of color illustrations. Beatrix changed the title to "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" and self-published 250 copies. In 1902, she obtained a publishing contract and 28,000 copies of  "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" were distributed.

Her second children's book was "Squirrel Nutkin".

Potter began writing and illustrating children's books full time. With proceeds from the books, she became financially independent of her parents and was eventually able to buy Hill Top Farm in the Lake District. She extended the property with other purchases over time.

 In 1913, at the age of 47, she married William Heelis, a local solicitor, became a sheep breeder and farmer while continuing to write and illustrate books for children. Beatrix and William had no children. 

Helen Beatrix Potter published twenty-three books. She ended her writings in 1920 due to failing eyesight. She was 56 years old.


Helen Beatrix Potter had an interest in history, literature, politics, geology and botany.

Beatrix died of Bronchitis  at the age of  77,  December 22. 1943.

In her will, Beatrix left nearly everything to William for his lifetime, but the royalties and rights in her books were to go to Norman Warne's nephew, Frederick Warne Stephens. (Norman Warne had been her publisher and personal friend at Warne and Company.) She gave her farm and property of four thousand acres to the National Trust, which still maintains her farmhouse, Hill Top, as it was when she lived in it.

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