favourites that she had always wanted to see in print. But it was not her last book. In 1926 The Fairy Caravan was published for her many fans in the USA, but feeling that it was too autobiographical she forbade its publication in the UK during her lifetime, and British readers had to wait for their edition until nine years after her death.
1903 Beatrix had made a Peter Rabbit doll and registered it herself at the Patent Office.
Portrait of Beatrix Potter at Camfield Place, August 1886. Photograph by R. Potter.
It was in November of that same year that Beatrix bought a small working farm in Near Sawrey in the place she had come to love so much, the Lake District. She converted the farmhouse at Hill Top to provide accommodation for herself and for her farm manager and his family and she went there whenever she could get away from London. Turning forty, a whole new life was opening up before her, a situation reflected in her books, many of which are set in the area, The Tale of Tom Kitten, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and The Tale of Samuel Whiskers specifically at Hill Top.
In 1909 Beatrix bought a second farm in Near Sawrey, Castle Cottage, taking the advice of local solicitor, William Heelis, and three years later she would accept his proposal of marriage. They chose Castle Cottage to be their home and in October 1912 Beatrix Potter, author and artist, became also Mrs William Heelis, farmer and countrywoman.
Following the death of her father only a few months after her marriage and with the royalties from her books and the merchandise, Beatrix was a considerably wealthy woman. In 1919 she bought a house in nearby Windermere for her mother and that same year set up a Nursing Trust for the local villages. In 1923 she bought a vast nearby sheep farm, Troutbeck Park, and in 1930 she became one of the major supporters of the National Trust and their campaign to save the Lake District from developers. She was a prize-winner with her sheep at local agricultural shows where she was later a judge, and she was would be President-elect of The Herdwick Sheepbreeders’ Association.
And Beatrix continued to write. The last of the ‘little’ books published in the Peter Rabbit format was Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes in 1922, a collection of her
As early as
In 1932 her American readers again had an exclusive edition of a book by Beatrix Potter, Sister Anne, her version of the story of Bluebeard. For the first time she was unable to see well enough to provide her own illustrations and they were drawn by the American artist, Katharine Sturges.
Beatrix’s farming life continued throughout the Second World War. Out on the fells in all weathers, she was managing vast areas of her own farmland, as well as a large estate for the National Trust, but her health was starting to fail. In a letter in September 1943 she wrote, ‘If an old person of 77 continues to play these games – well it can be done too often. I have plenty to do indoors and the little dogs are great company – most efficient foot warmers.’ She died on the evening of 22 December 1943.
It is remarkable to contemplate Beatrix Potter’s gift to the world. She left her sixteen farms and her land of over 4,000 acres to the National Trust, thus ensuring that vast tracts of the Lake District are accessible today. To children throughout the world she left her little books, now so familiar to us all.
In 1980 the Beatrix Potter Society was formed to continue to research and to study the life of this extraordinary woman (firstname.lastname@example.org
). Her letters and her watercolours still emerge from attics or are sold from private collections, and each one adds a little more to Beatrix Potter’s fascinating story. The Society now has members all over the world. International Conferences are held in the UK and the USA, with talks by specialist speakers that are published in book form as part of a considerable publishing programme.
The Society also has two important projects, Reading Beatrix Potter, where Members visit libraries and schools to read the Tales and talk about her life and work, and Introducing Beatrix Potter for book clubs, adult classes and other interested groups.
Beatrix Potter was a woman ahead of her time, intelligent, outspoken and extraordinarily talented. Her books will be read and her work appreciated for many years to come. n
Judy Taylor was for many years Children’s Books Editor at The Bodley Head. She is now an authority on Beatrix Potter and the author of a number of books about her including Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller & Countrywoman (Warne, 978 0 7232 4175 1, £20).
A selection of Beatrix Potter’s books, all published by Warne at £5.99
The Tale of Peter Rabbit (978-0723247708) The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (978-0723247715) The Tailor of Gloucester (978-0723247722) The Tale of Tom Kitten (978-0723247777) The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (978-0723247784) The Tale of Samuel Whiskers (978-0723247852) Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes (978-0723247920)
Photograph and illustrations reproduced by kind permission of Frederick Warne & Co. www.peterrabbit.com
Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011 15
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