Saturday, October 02, 2010

Beatrix Potter (An Awesome Women guest post)

A big thank you to Jessica at Park Benches and Bookends for this amazing guest post about Beatrix Potter! Beatrix Potter is definitely an awesome women and deserves this wonderful spotlight! And Jess is pretty amazing herself - her book blog which she co-writes with her husband is fast becoming one of my favourite blogs around. What I love most about it is the variety of books discussed. Park Benches and Bookends is a very thoughtful and intelligent blog and it is my delight to read it on a regular basis! So thank you, Jessica.

When the name Beatrix Potter crops up most people immediately think of her famous range of children’s books which featured beloved characters such as Peter Rabbit and Jemima Duck. Potter wrote a total of 23 children’s books and even if you have not read any of them then you are probably familiar with the illustrations which helped these books become famous. But while her books may have been loved by children for generations, writing was just one aspect of her life and it is her other work and interests which raises her status to ‘inspirational’ (to me anyway).

Potter was not born into humble beginnings; she was born into a privileged household and was educated from an early age by a governess. Her first love was not literature but rather her mind worked in a more scientific way and she became very interested in the study of lichens and fungi. According to Wikipedia she was the first person to ‘suggest that lichens were a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae’ (whatever the heck that means.) Unfortunately in this scientific world Potter often came against a brick wall because of her sex. While she did lecture at the London School of Economics several times, she was never allowed to become a student at the Royal Botanic Gardens and her scientific papers had to be submitted by her uncle.

Potter did not start writing her books until she was well into her thirties and she used her artistic skills (which were previously used to draw fungi) to illustrate her books. Once a publisher was eventually found, they were immediately popular and not only allowed her to become financially independent from her parents without having to marry, but she was also able to purchase her own property in the Lake District which is where she also made her mark.

Potter was very familiar with the Lake District (an area of outstanding beauty in the North of England) as she had often holidayed in the area. In 1903, she brought her first property there and then used her money from her children’s books to purchase more and more land in the area.

During the later part of her life she stopped writing books and instead devoted her time to the conservation of her land in the lake district, she even became a expert sheep breeder and was president of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders' Association.When her parents died she inherited a substantial amount which she used to purchase more land in the area to add to her already substantial assets.

When Beatrix Potter died she left almost all of her land in this area to the National Trust (The National Trust which is a charitable organisation was founded during Potters lifetime and its aim was to protect and preserve the countryside including areas like the lake district.) The amount of land which Potter left was quite substantial and amounted to over 4000 acres of land and 15 farms ensuring that more of the area would be protected.

So there you have it, a very interesting life which lots of different elements. Although she could only go so far with her scientific endeavours, she did not do what a lot of women would do in her position which was to marry a rich man. She instead created a legacy through both her writing and her conservation work (long before conservation was popular.)


  1. good choice - I used to love her stuff when I was small

  2. Beatrix Potter is a very inspiring woman, I think. As you said, her children's books are very enjoyable, but the lifestory that comes with them is all the more interesting, I think. I am always so sorry to realise how little opportunity women back then had when it came to careers in science for example. .

  3. I've been familiar with Beatrix Potter since I was a little girl & a big fan of her beautiful children's books. Later on I did some research & discovered how very intelligent she was & read of her interest in flora, fauna & most of nature. I can only imagine how much she could have done in the world if she was alive today. Her story is also illustrates how difficult society was for women not so long ago. Although respected for her knowledge of fungi etc. she was still considered inferior because she was a woman. Her parents supported and encouraged her intellectual development & loved the stories Potter published. But when Potter fell in love with her publisher, Norman Warne & made plans to marry, her parents completely disapproved considering Warne of a lower social staus. This disagreement caused considerable difficulty between Potter & her parents. And before anything could be resolved Warne died leaving Potter broken-hearted.

    Potter eventually married when she was in her 40s & published many books which are filled with beautiful illustrations she did herself.

    I'm so glad you wrote this wonderful post & tribute to an amazing woman. Thanks Jess!
    ~ Amy

  4. Thanks for a great post on one of my favourite authors!

  5. Great post - BP was an amzing woman one of the highlights of our 2001 trip to the UK was visiting the places in the Lake District she was associated with.

  6. Cat - That does sound like an amazing thing to do, I'm not sure I've ever been in the Lake District! Need to remedy that!

    Deniz - All the credit goes to Jessica!

    Amy - Thank you for the wonderful comment.

    irisonbooks - It is such a shame how women have been treated, but I think Beatrix Potter was definitely an inspiration for what she accomplished despite such restraints on her.

    kirsty - I'm glad you enjoyed it :)


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