Who Was Beatrix Potter?
Beatrix Potter spent a solitary childhood with long holidays in the country. She loved to sketch animals and later invented stories about them. In 1902, Potter published The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which launched her career as a children's author. More than 20 other books for young audiences soon followed. Potter's tales of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Benjamin Bunny and others have become children's classics.
Born Helen Beatrix Potter on July 28, 1866, in London, England, Potter is one of the most beloved children's authors of all time. She was the daughter of Rupert and Helen Potter, both of whom had artistic interests. Her father trained as a lawyer, but he never actually practiced. Instead, he devoted himself to photography and art. Her mother Helen was skilled at embroidery and watercolors. Potter got to know several influential artists and writers through her parents, including painter John Everett Millais.
Potter, along with her young brother Bertram, developed an interest in nature and animals at an early age. The pair often roamed the countryside during family vacations to Scotland and England's Lake District. Potter demonstrated a talent for sketching as a child with animals being one of her favorite subjects. In the late 1870s, she began studying at the National Art Training School.
Peter Rabbit and Other Tales
Potter first tasted success as an illustrator, selling some of her work to be used for greeting cards. One of her most famous works, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, started out as a story she wrote for the children of a former governess in a letter. Potter later transformed this letter into a book, which she published privately.
In 1902, Frederick Warne & Co. brought this delightful story to the public. Their new edition of The Tale Of Peter Rabbit quickly became a hit with young readers. More animal adventures soon followed with The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903) and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904) among other stories. Norman Warne worked as her editor on many of these early titles.
Potter suffered a great personal loss in 1905 when Warne died. He passed away just weeks after he proposed to her. Her parents, however, had objected to the match. She bought Hill Top Farm in the Lake District that same year and there she wrote such books as The Tale of Tom Kitten (1907) and The Tale of Samuel Whiskers (1908).
Later Life and Death
In 1913, Potter married local lawyer William Heelis. She only produced a few more books after tying the knot. Potter published The Fairy Caravan in 1926, but only in the United States. She thought the book was too autobiographical to be released in England. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930) proved to be her final children's book.
Instead of writing, Potter focused much of her attention on her farms and land preservation in the Lake District. She was a successful breeder of sheep and well regarded for her work to protect the beautiful countryside she adored.
Potter died on December 22, 1943, in Sawrey, England. In her will, she left much of her land holdings to the National Trust to protect it from development and to preserve it for future generations. Potter also left behind a mystery—she had written a journal in code. The code was finally cracked and the work published in 1966 as The Journal of Beatrix Potter. To this day, generation after generation are won over by her charming tales and illustrations.
In 2016, Beatrix Potter fans received welcome news. A previously unpublished story, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, would be making its way to bookstore shelves that fall. An unedited manuscript for the work had been discovered by children's book editor Jo Hanks. Potter had only done one illustration for the book so Quentin Blake created the images to accompany this tale.
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