It is a little while since I have posted about books I have been reading. (Isn’t it funny how you start this blogging caper with firm ideas about what you plan to do, and then, after a while those ideas seem to wander off somewhere else!) But I have been reading.
The tale of Beatrix Potter: A biography by Margaret Lane
Beatrix Potter’s Art selected by Anne Stevenson Hobbs
Beatrix Potter is famous for her illustrated stories, especially The tale of Peter Rabbit. I think my favourite is The tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.
Her ability to draw the natural world in exquisite detail began at an early age. She was almost an only child — her younger brother was sent away to boarding school at an early age — in an upper middle class Victorian household. An academic education for Beatrix was not an option and so she was tutored at home. It was a very lonely life that she filled with animals and drawing.
The high point of each year was when the family, including her brother Bertram, went on holiday to Scotland and later the Lake District. The children had freedom they never had in London. They were fascinated by the natural world, and brought back many treasures, including animal bones they boiled the flesh off. In the nursery in London Beatrix kept rabbits and other small animals. She drew it all — birds’ eggs and caterpillars, foxgloves and fox skeletons.
The book of Potter’s art shows what a beautiful artist she was. We know her as the creator of Peter Rabbit. She could not have achieved the simplicity of her illustrations without having many years of practice behind her. There are studies of rabbit ears and drawings of her rabbit in his box. Even when she dresses her animals, the true form and nature is there.
As well Potter was a superb natural artist. Before she published her books she had completed an artistic survey of fungi, including dissections and microscopic details. She also painted butterflies, with microscopic detail of the scales on the wings. She did studies of a dead thrush, the skull of the family cat and fossil studies. All are beautifully done. There are many works in the book, some of them can be seen here.
Against the wishes of her family Potter was engaged to Norman Warne, her publisher. However he died before they could marry. Later in her life she married William Heelis and settled down to life on her farm. She didn’t continue with her books. It’s interesting to see the photos in the biography. As a child and young adult she is very serious, no smiles. On her wedding day there is a very shy smile, and later photos show her beaming! How wonderful that she was finally able to find the life that she wanted to live.
And another thing….
I found the biography on the shelves at my Mum’s house, untouched since the 70s. It has been nibbled by silverfish; it has thick, slightly yellowed pages; it has that old book smell; it has a dust jacket; and best of all it has a wonderful inscription to Mum on the frontispiece. Can an ebook have any of that?