Potter was born in 1866 and died in 1943
Her first of 24 children's books, The Tale of Peter Rabbit
was published in 1902
Over the Hills and Far Away The Life of Beatrix Potter by Matthew Dennison brings vividly and lovingly back to life a writer who created out of her childhood experiences growing up in the Lake District of England characters like Peter Rabbit that have brightened the world of children all over the world. In reading the biographies of English authors you will often find Beatrix Potter as their earliest reading life memory.
Dennison does a wonderful job showing us how Potter's imagination was shaped by her early years living in rural England, especially by her contacts with rabbits, hedgehogs, ducks, mice, cats and other animals. Dennison for me painted a portrait of a girl growing up with kind, decent, loving but emotionally remote parents whose reserve created with Beatrice and her brother a need to make a fantasy world from the animals she grew up with. Even into her twenties Beatrix would take her rabbits or her hedgehog with her own trips. Beatrix possessed a powerful intellect, deeply curious about the natural world. She became a world class authority on the fungus of the lake region. It was here she first developed her amazing gifts for drawing.
Her parents were quite affluent. There was never a time of hardship but Beatrix wanted her own money. Her first income came from her now world over loved drawings of humanized animals in family settings. In 1902 she published her first children's story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Beatrix was, as was the custom, educated at home by governesses. She had access to lots of very good books and was an avid reader not just of the European fairy tradition that so influenced her but all of the best of Literature including the classics. Beatrix became engaged at 30 but her fiancé died well before they married. At age 47 she married, and remained happily married for 30 years, to a county solicitor that had helped her with the purchase of a farm. Her parents even then looked down on her husband as little more than a "tradesmen".
Beatrix was very into land conservation and took her farm very seriously. As time when on she became seriously wealthy, much of it was through spin off merchandise from her stories and licensing rights to her drawings, she expanded her Lake District Farm. She was considered an expert breeder of sheep. Beatrix was childless but was very close to her husband's large family, as wise, warm and generous and aunt as one could wish for.
Dennison goes into a lot of very interesting details about her relationships with her publishers as well as her farm occupation. She had managers but she was very hands on.
I really liked this book. To me Dennison subtlety conveys the streams of consciousness that arose in Beatrix through her childhood. Beatrice seems to have remained under the psychological dominance of her parents long into adulthood. If you read her stories you will see they are not all treacly sweet, in one mother goose story the young are told that father ended up in a pie.
There is a lot more in this top flight literary biography than I have mentioned. If you have find childhood memories of her stories you will love this book, if you have kids, maybe you will be motivated to share the stories with them.
Beatrix Potter is an important figure in 20th century English literature and helped create an imaginary world through her drawings.
I hope to read his biography of Vita Sackville-West soon
Matthew Dennison is the author of six works of non-fiction. He read English at Christ Church, Oxford, as Douglas Jerrold Scholar, and afterwards the History of Decorative Arts at the University of Glasgow. His thesis – on Sevres porcelain hyacinth pots – was subsequently published in abridged form by Country Life.
His first biography, THE LAST PRINCESS: THE DEVOTED LIFE OF QUEEN VICTORIA’S YOUNGEST DAUGHTER was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2007 and became a Hatchards number one bestseller; it has been published in nine UK editions to date. EMPRESS OF
ROME: THE LIFE OF LIVIA was published by Quercus in 2010 and was followed in 2012 by THE TWELVE CAESARS, published by Atlantic, a Daily Mail Book of the Week, acclaimed by The Spectator as “magnificent”. In the summer of 2013, William Collins published his biography of Queen Victoria, QUEEN VICTORIA: A LIFE OF CONTRADICTIONS, described by Hugo Vickers in The Times as “a tremendous coup”. All four titles have been published in the States by St Martin’s Press.
Matthew’s biography of Vita Sackville-West, BEHIND THE MASK, was published by William Collins in October 2014 and became a ‘Book of the Year’ in The Times, The Independent, The Observer, and The Spectator. The US edition has just been released. His latest book OVER THE HILLS AND FAR AWAY: THE LIFE OF BEATRIX POTTER was published by Head of Zeus in October 2016. He is currently working on a biography of Queen Caroline of Ansbach for HarperCollins.
Matthew is a journalist and regular contributor to a range of publications, including Country Life, The Spectator and Telegraph Magazine; he contributed to ‘Queen Victoria’s Children’ and ‘Royal Cousins at War’ for BBC 2 and ‘The Queen’s Longest Reign’ for BBC1.
He is married and divides his time between North Wales and Shropshire. - from the publisher's webpage.