Tuesday 29 July 2008

Belatedly, Beatrix

Yesterday, the heat having effectively knocked out my mental faculties, I missed the birthday of Beatrix Potter, despite the fact that Google had Potterised its homepage to mark the occasion.
Here's an artist who divides opinion sharply, some loving and some hating her works. The haters usually accuse her of anthropomorphic tweeness and a difficult, child-unfriendly use of language. Well, there is very little tweeness in Potter's work, the best of which has a decidedly dark edge; her animals are always liable to eat each other, or fall foul of human pest control. And her use of language is bracingly uncondescending and highly individual, with a peppering of songs, rhymes and dialect words spicing up the more correct and formal discourse. That the books are a joy to handle and look at goes without saying. She was an astonishing watercolourist and her meticulously beautiful pictures manage the magical feat of making her animal characters at once fully humanised and fully their animal selves. No wonder her works have lasted - indeed have continued to generate a small industry for a century. Many aspects of that industry are regrettable, but surely the works themselves are, in their unique way, true classics.


  1. It was, as far as I know, the only National Trust pub / tiny hotel, The Tower Bank Arms in Sawrey, as seen in many of the illustrations in her books. We were fairly regular guests back in the early eighties, the place was magic, totally original with the obvious very strong association with Beatrix Potter.
    We brought up both of our children via Beatrix, still have all of the books, in midwinter we can both be found in front of the fire pouring over them, I wonder how many more parents do, millions probably.
    Anyone who can criticize Potter is a very sad individual.

  2. Ah yes a lovely pub - at least it was 20-odd years ago, and being NT I suppose it must still be. Bet it gets hideously crowded though, like the farmhouse.

  3. The pub was very crowded when we were there a little over a month ago, perhaps because it was raining most of the time. The timed tours of the Potter's house eliminate most of the crowding there. While we elected not to wait an hour outside in the rain until our time came, the stroll around was pleasant enough. The drive there was quite nice.

    As Malty says, this is a great destination for those with small children. It is a shame that so many things in the store were over-priced compared to other NT properties.

  4. I never saw the books when I was a child, so didn't discover them until adulthood. I used to pick old copies up secondhand on market stalls in the 1970s - they're probably worth quite a bit now, and read them to my children. What a delight - what pleasure. Yes, very dark and scary - Tom Kitten as a roly poly pudding, waiting to be boiled in a cloth, and as for Samuel Whiskers! Not to mention the terrifying Tale of Mr Tod. all masterpieces - she was a genius

  5. I used to read the books to my kids. Loved the drawings, too. But that movie with Renee Zellweger was egregious. that did old Bea a disservice, I think.