Sunday, February 6, 2011

A look at a book: Beatrix Potter

I came into the possession of three books recently which I thought were good enough to share.

Let's take a look at the first one, shall we?

Beatrix Potter at home in the Lake District  is by Susan Denyer, who has the absolutely amazing title of 'National Trust's Historic Buildings Representative' in northern England.  I would probably pay money to have that job, although that wouldn't work very well would it?

She's very well qualified to bring us this charming epistle, since her speciality seems to be in the field of 'vernacular architecture' (I'm going to pretend to know what that means), and the traditional buildings of the Lake District.

'A beautiful book which will keep anyone ever touched by Beatrix Potter's life and work thoroughly absorbed from stunning cover to cover.' - Antiques

As soon as I saw this book on the shelf in the library, I immediately pounced on it before it could disappear.  Where has it been all this time?

It was published in the year 2000 by Frances Lincoln Ltd in London, and has finally journeyed over the seas to the far away land of Australia, where certain girls can open it up an drool over pictures of cottages, rolling hills and little Peter rabbits.

I suppose the main purpose of the book is to look at the places Beatrix Potter lived in and loved throughout the Lake District, covering her family and holiday homes, farmhouses, and the famous Hill Top farm.

If buildings aren't really your thing, though, there are plenty of drawings, photos and paintings, which describe the interesting little details of an author/artist's life.

The beautifully appointed pages include paintings and drawings by Beatrix herself.  Some are familiar (see below), while others are unpublished works.  Did you know Beatrix would paint pictures of the rooms she stayed in when she was on holiday so she could remember the furnishings?  How detailed is that?

Here's a little bit of a peek:

"Her other grandmother, Jane Leech, lived at Gorse Hall, near Stalybridge... when Beatrix was eighteen, she paid her last visit there.  Before arriving she was full of apprehension:
'I have very pleasant recollections of it, which I fear may have changed.  I have now seen longer passages and higher halls... the passage I used to patter along so kindly on the way to bed will no longer seem dark and mysterious... It is six or seven years since I have been there, but I remember it like yesterday.  The pattern of the doormat, the pictures on the old music-box, the sound of the rocking horse as it swung, the engraving on the stair, the smell of Indian corn... I would not have it changed.'"
~ page 11

I don't really know much about Beatrix's other published work outside the little animal stories...  A quick Wikipedia search shows that she stuck with the children's stories genre.  (This is totally off topic, but did you know she wrote a story called The Fairy Caravan about the adventures of Tuppenny, a guinea pig who runs away from home to join the circus...hah!)

It seems to me that Beatrix was a budding author right from the start.  While on holidays she kept her pen busy, not only sketching caterpillars and bunny rabbits, but also writing 'pen-portraits' of people she met:

'The most funniest old lady, large black cap, spectacles, apron, ringlets, a tall new rake much higher than herself and apparently no legs: she had stepped out of a fairy tale...'

'Polly who "sortied in a brown cloak and a hat with two defiant feathers..." out from Limefitt Farm; Mrs Hanes and her 'caats' in an old row of cottages above Sky Hill... "with black hair and eyes, in spectacles, with a clean cottage and soapy hands... gesticulating in the middle of her flagged kitchen..." 
~ Page 15

No wonder she could produce such quaint artwork and tales, if she was existing in such an environment as Hill Top Farmhouse.  Did you ever see such a precious abode?  ('Abode' is the perfect word for such a snug cottage don't you think?)

Hill Top

Hill Top farmhouse is now a shrine to Beatrix Potter: its rooms are preserved almost as she left them. It is a shrine she set up for herself.  In the six rooms - hall, parlour, bedroom, treasure room, sitting room and 'new' room - she arranged her possessions with care and precision and kept them as a place for work and for entertaining.  She added to and rearranged the furniture over the years while she lived across the road at Castle Cottage on the other side of Near Sawrey.  After her death a few of her belongings from Castle Cottage were moved to Hill Top in accordance with her wishes in order that this, her final work, should be preserved.
~ Page 46


Hill Top was becoming inextricable tied up in her work as new stories were woven round it, but it was also becoming a work in its own right, a drawing made manifest, and part of the way Beatrix wished to project herself.
~ Page 36

I love the fact that Hill Top features in most of Beatrix's story books.  In fact it seems that all the quaint little rooms and furnishings that her little rabbits and cats live in, were real places that Beatrix loved.

Not only has she preserved beautiful furniture and interiors in her own Hill Top farmhouse, but she's encapsulated them in her stories and art work, to last even further generations.  I'm sure she'd be happy to know that we are still enjoying them today.

'It is extraordinary how little people value old things if they are of little intrinsic value.'
~ Beatrix Potter 

I would have loved to have had so many more pictures of Beatrix's sketches and paintings, and photos of her garden (setting of The Tale of Tom Kitten), and her kitchen (The Tale of Samuel Whiskers), and my favourite - her doll's house (Tale of Two Naughty Mice).  But you will have to get the book for yourself...enjoy!

'My dear Noel, I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter...'
~ Letter from Scotland to Noel Moore, 1893.  The now famous Tale of Peter Rabbit.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Check out your local library and see if they have this gorgeous book, or you can buy it from (Australian buyers)

Or if you need to see more now, check it out on Google Books!  ~ the official home of Peter Rabbit   ~ a great site exploring 'Beatrix Potter's' Lake District, tied up with the film Miss Potter (which I would SO recommend, by the way)  ~ Beatrix Potter and Hill Top at the National Trust

Keep posted for the appearance of my next book - an amazing memorial of Gallipoli, World War I!

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