Saturday, July 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Beatrix Potter!

This week is Beatrix Potter's birthday--her 146th!--on July 28th.

Sure, I know. I've already done two blog posts on Beatrix Potter. But she is such a remarkable lady that I can't resist doing just. . .one. . .more. 



Oh, who am I kidding?

  • Beatrix started a secret diary when she was 15 years old and kept writing journals until about age 30. She invented a secret code for her diaries that wasn't cracked until about 15 years after her death in 1943.

  • One of Beatrix's early interests was mycology--the study of fungi. The Potter family lived near the British Musem of Natural History in London, where Beatrix spent a lot of time studying and drawing fungi. In her late twenties, she wrote and illustrated a book on the subject. Her uncle presented the book to the Royal Botanical Gardens, but they expressed no interest in her work. Potter was one of the first people to recognize that lichens were a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae.
  • When it came time to draw up the publishing contract for Peter Rabbit, Beatrix was not allowed to sign the contract. The reason? She was a woman. Duh. Maybe the flowered hat gave her away. Her father had to make the agreement on her behalf.
  • There is a curious "co-incidence" about some of the names used in Beatrix Potter stories. In Brompton Cemetery near the Potter family home, these names were found in computerized records of tombstones: Mr. Nutkin, Mr. McGregor, Jeremiah Fisher, Tommy Brock, and Peter Rabbett. (“Cemetery clue to Potter animals,” BBC News, 27 July 2001)
Brompton Cemetery

  • Beatrix had a mind for "merchandising" as well. She created a Peter Rabbit Doll and told her publisher Norman Warne that they should sell well at Harrod's, a London department store. She also envisioned wallpaper, board games, "painting books," and china tea sets, based on her work. She was so far ahead of her time.
  • As Miss Potter got older, her eyesight became poorer, and her paintings became more impressionistic. Eventually she lost interest in painting and writing.
  • If you're planning a literary tour of England, you won't be able to visit the burial place of Beatrix Potter. After she died, her husband William delivered her ashes to their chief shepherd, Tom Storey. Beatrix wanted to make sure that no-one knew where her ashes were scattered. Not even her husband. Tom did tell his son, but the son died suddenly and unexpectedly. Now no-one knows the final resting place of Beatrix Potter. Mwa-ha-ha.
Hyde Chapel
  • However, if you've got your heart set on a grave site, the author's parents and grandparents are buried in Hyde Chapel, east of Manchester. In 2008, the chapel held a Beatrix Potter exhibition (pictured above).
  • Beatrix left nearly all her property in the Lake District to The National Trust--more than 4,000 acres, sixteen farms, many cottages, and herds of sheep and cattle. When William died 18 months later, he left the remainder to the Trust. 

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