There is something about Beatrix Potter that reminds me of Jane Austen. Not that I knew her of course, um, well, I wish I did. She would tell me to get going with my ideas, put my thoughts down and see where my characters take me. She would also tell me, my imagination should roam the world, soar like the mighty eagle, fly like a re- born Phoenix… right, er, well, I should begin my writing from there. I could never be the artist Beatrix was and there will be no Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle Duck or Squirrel Nutkin, yet, she inspires me daily. It is a little known fact about me that I treasure my rather large copy of the Tales of Peter Rabbit, and protect it obsessively. I will not part with it for anything, except to hand it over to my girls, in time.
They, sadly, don’t understand my obsession and think that mum’s a bit funny. I have a zillion characters in my head, with names, places and images, I would like to write about. A book for children is something I have long dreamed of, so, today, I celebrate Beatrix Potter. No special reason, not her birthday or anything like that, just because. Because I feel like it, because I think she was a wonderful woman, author, entrepreneur and artist. Because she has taught me that talking to my characters may just bring them to life – um, I wouldn’t do it in public of course, that would make me slightly potty- most importantly, she has taught me that characters take time to form, to grow and make their name well-known. They maybe bunnies, ducks, frogs or mice. They still have a voice, you know, whenever a parent reads the Tales of Peter Rabbit and friends to their child, the characters come alive. It is what Jane Austen did when she created Emma and her Mr Knightly, Darcy and Elizabeth or Wentworth and Anne. J.K Rowling, or Jo as I like to call her, (not that I know her either) did the same with Harry Potter… Oh I could go on about HP, I could tell you all the Latin terms Jo used, rather brilliantly I might add, and even cast every spell verbatim, what I am trying to say is that, I salute Potter, no, not Harry, although sometimes I like to use my daughter’s wand and pretend I am professor McGonagall, well,that’s another story altogether. I’m talking about Beatrix Potter.
Beatrix had a wonderful background, before she ever began to write. She spent a lot of time with nature and animals on numerous family vacations. I read that she could tell the most glorious and imaginative tales when she was as little as 7 or 8, and quite often she entertained her little brother at bedtime – oh, to have had a glimpse into her mind…She spent a lot of time with dogs and bunnies and ducks. This love of nature lead her to painting greeting cards, then on to writing and doing her own illustrations. Those tiny books that so endeared her to me, er well, not just me, now grace the libraries of many children and some adults, like yours truly.
I remember when my eldest was born, I searched obsessively for all things Peter Rabbit. It began with the journey of a Peter Rabbit (soft) bunny. He arrived all the way from Australia, along with a baby book and a picture frame. As I started to read to my baby, every night, I really think she began to gurgle, when Peter got into a lot of trouble. Tiny smiles formed at my voice, when she realized Jemima was a silly and funny duck. Although Benjamin bunny was always the kind of bunny I wanted for a pet. Peter was the sweetest. And he, the most well-known bunny of them all, had caught my attention, again, some thirty odd years later, when I introduced him to my daughter. I had a thing for Hunca Munca – the Tale of Two Bad Mice – just because they were full of mischief, but also full of warmth and conscience. How do you not fall in love with two naughty mice who create havoc in a doll’s house and then make up for it by leaving a very crooked six pence for the little girl who owned the house, on Christmas morning. Not only that, they proceed to sweep the house with a broom and dust pan every morning and evening, just to say they are sorry. It is the perfect blend of propriety and mischief Beatrix loved.
It is said that Beatrix fell in love with Norman Warne, who took over the publishing of her books from his brothers. While the tale of ‘Hunca Munca’ developed, they became un-officially engaged. It is a personal tale, this one, simply because Beatrice was quite the rebel. She loathed Victorian customs, loved her independence, didn’t want to conform to society and wanted to make her own way – a pioneer of sorts. She felt that being married off to someone of the same class and position, just because propriety required it, was appalling. Falling in love with Warne was her choice. He, was not her parents choice, he, was in publishing and therefore Beatrice thought him quite suitable, her equal.
There is a wonderful film, ‘Miss Potter’ with a truly British cast and the lead played by Renée Zellweger. Ewan Mcgregor plays such a dashing Norman Warne – have you seen Salmon Fishing in the Yemen? Ewan is wonderful Um, sorry, I’m getting carried away. Renée plays a superb Beatrix Potter, emboldened with heart and independence, her creativity so warmly portrayed. Oh and I mustn’t forget to mention… the scenery is just magnificent. I highly recommend it, if you haven’t already seen it. My favorite part is seeing Peter and Jemima come to life.