- The Tale of Beatrix Potter. A Biography, and: Nothing Is Impossible: The Story of Beatrix Potter
A long and lonely childhood seems to have encouraged in Beatrix Potter, one of England's most popular writers of children's literature, the quiet humor, attention to detail, and literary discipline which is so characteristic of her work.
In an unsophisticated but thorough biography, Margaret Lane traces the childhood experiences which developed those qualities in Miss Potter: the restricted exposure to other children her own age, the dull life in the home of unimaginative Victorian parents, Beatrix' own efforts to entertain herself through art and devotion to pets. It was, in fact, the very quality of her childhood which was responsible for stunting the social growth of the author and providing her with the leisure needed to develop her intimate knowledge of nature and animals. While Beatrix Potter's childhood lasted an unusually long time—at the age of twenty-seven she was still being told by her parents where and how to spend her vacations—it provided her accidentally with the circumstances she needed to launch into a productive adult life and to publish finally in 1901 her first edition of Peter Rabbit.
One such circumstance was her continuing friendship with Annie Carter, one of Miss Potter's several tutors in French and German. This woman, while sensitive to the need of her charge for companionship, was more eager to establish a lasting relationship of her own. So after one year with Beatrix, she married, became Mrs. William Moore, and raised the family which at last provided Beatrix with the vitality and warmth that was so lacking in her own childhood home. Through the years, Beatrix corresponded with the Moore children and often wrote them letters which contained short animal stories and sketches. It was one such "get well" letter to Noel Moore that contained the story of Peter Rabbit.
If these children provided Beatrix an excuse to write creatively and with purpose, it was her friendship with Canon Rawnsley that encouraged her to think about the possibility of extending the audience for her work. This extremely vital man, the vicar of Wray, became a friend of the Potter family when they vacationed in his parish. He was one of the few people who considered art as a professional possibility for Beatrix and was, in fact, the strength behind her decision to publish.
In retrospect, one might consider Beatrix Potter's emergence from the world of a shy and retiring child to that of a famous author as one of the early success stories of the women's movement. For not only were Victorian women not expected to be or to produce anything of worth, but Victorian parents were actively opposed to professional achievements for their daughters. Had it not been for the encouragement of the Canon, Beatrix's enlightened brother, and a helpful publisher, Beatrix's talents, as well as her personality, might not have come to the public eye. Her strong sense of identity and ability as a member of the Crompton family (whose many literary and political achievements are discussed at some length by Miss Lane) was not enough alone to lift Miss Potter to professional standing.
The Peter Rabbit books certainly thrilled the hearts of British and American youth and, following several difficult translations, those of Europeans as well. As important as the public success of her work were the opportunities it gave Miss Potter to develop new friendships and a strong but hitherto unchallenged business acumen. Her relationship with her first publisher was multifaceted; he encouraged, advised, and consoled her. He later proposed a marriage which, although it was never consummated because of his untimely death, nevertheless challenged Beatrix's incentive to continue working and publishing her stories.
When in her forties Beatrix invested a large portion of her earnings in real estate, her advisor in this matter was a Mr. William Heelis, who suggested to this now somewhat eccentric lady...