If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Friday, January 9, 2009

Miss Potter: A Woman Ahead of Her Time

I finally rented the movie Miss Potter the other day. I was interested in the movie because Beatrix Potter was an artist, an independent woman in the Victorian age, and a conservationist. She was a woman ahead of her time.

Beatrix is best known as the author and illustrator of such children's classics as The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Her life straddled the 19th and 20th centuries. Born to a privileged family Beatrix she was raised by governesses and spent holidays in the Lake District in England, to which she would return to live in later life. Hers was lonely childhood spending time with her many animals, exploring the landscape, and drawing animals, flora and fauna from a very early age.

The movie presented Beatrix's mutton-chop-sideburned father, Rupert, as appreciative and encouraging of her artwork. In contrast her sour-faced mother, Helen, never really appreciated her art, even after she became well known for her books. She discouraged her daughter from getting an education. Her uncle tried to get her into the Royal Botanical Gardens as a student, but was rejected because of her gender. Later she became respected as a mycologist for her numerous drawings of lichen and fungi.

Beginning with The Tale of Peter Rabbit Beatrix wrote and illustrated 23 books, which have become the largest selling children's books in the world. Beatrix, a single woman, became independently wealthy. The movie focuses upon her relationship with her book publisher, Norman Warne. Her parents were dead set against her marriage. Norman died before they were able to marry.

Beatrix purchased a farm in the Lake District and lived there on her own. She began purchasing surrounding farms through her solicitor William Heelis in order to preserve the land from developers. They ended up getting married and she ended up with with 14 farms. After her death in 1943 all the land was donated to the British National Trust.

Here was a woman who kept drawing in spite of discouragements, was able to live independently, publish her works, was not boxed in by traditional women's roles, became knowledgeable through self-study and observation, used her wealth to preserve land, and lived a full and rich life. Beatrix Potter was a woman ahead of her time.

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