Beatrix Potter
Answer to Name This Famous Person Game - September 2014
by Mike McLeod

Helen Beatrix Potter was born into an upper middleclass family on July 28, 1866 in London. Even though her father Rupert was an attorney, both he and his wife Helen were wealthy from inheritances received from their parents. Beatrix and her brother Bertram grew up in a large house and were taught by governesses.

She was correctly identified by Ted Carlton of Utah and Sherron Lawson of Roswell, Ga.

At a young age, Beatrix exhibited an artistic talent for drawing, and since both of her parents were creative, they provided art classes for her. However, she never attended any schools, being taught by her governesses. 


Beatrix Potter as a young woman.

“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”

Beatrix loved animals, and she and Bertram had many pets in their home. Beatrix also loved flowers and plants, and she was quite competent at drawing flora and fauna.

After Annie Moore, one of her governesses, moved away and married, Beatrix kept in contact with her. In addition to writing her letters, Beatrix also wrote little stories and drew pictures of animals in letters that she sent to Annie’s children. Annie suggested Beatrix publish the stories as books.

This led to Beatrix Potter selling 100 million books in 35 countries—but not right away. Beatrix’s initial approaches to six publishers were turned down. Finally in 1901, she self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit with the help of Frederick Warne & Co. It was almost an instant success.

A 1902 first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
(Photo: public domain.)

Beatrix Potter and her dog Kep, 1913.
(Photo possibly by Rupert Potter, her father.)

Frederick Warne & Co. was run by three brothers. The youngest, Norman Warne, was Beatrix’s editor, and because of their close association with her continuing to publish more books, they fell in love. However, Beatrix’s parents were adamantly opposed to their engagement because publishing was a lower-class trade—even though both of their inheritances came from their parents being in the lower-class cotton trade.

In Victorian England, class status was extremely important. It opened doors for opportunities and business deals. It regulated society and dictated who was master and who was servant. Those lines were not easily crossed. Beatrix’s parents had climbed a few rungs up the social ladder from their own parents’ station, and they did not want their daughter climbing back down and limiting herself.

This did not deter Beatrix. She was in love and fully intended to marry Norman Warne. Alas, this was not to be. A month after their engagement, Warne died of what was diagnosed as leukemia.

Although heart-broken, Beatrix continued on with her life and with her writing. She published about two books per year, and her income allowed her to purchase land and farms. She became an award-winning sheep breeder and a land conservationist. This actually played a role in Beatrix falling in love again and getting married.

Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey northwestern England, the home of Beatrix Potter where she wrote many of her stories. She featured parts of it in her illustrations and donated it to the National Trust.

Deciding to purchase property in the lake country of northwestern England, Beatrix engaged the services of local attorney William Heelis. Her business dealings with him eventually led to their falling in love and getting married in 1903. Beatrix was 47 at the time.

“I hold an old-fashioned notion that a happy marriage is the crown of a woman’s life.”

Over her lifetime, Beatrix wrote about 33 books, and she illustrated most of them. Her profits allowed her to buy more than a dozen farms, which she donated to the National Trust in her will. Beatrix Potter died on December 22, 1943 from heart disease and pneumonia, but her beloved Peter Rabbit lives on.

 ------------------------------------

References:
Victoria & Albert Museum, “Biography of Beatrix Potter,” www.vam.ac.uk.
PeterRabbit.com.
Quotes are courtesy of Goodreads.com.
 

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