My plan for this blog for the rest of the year is to write weekly (or biweekly) #WCW (Woman Crush Wednesday) posts.
“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”
You might think Beatrix Potter is an odd choice to begin with, but that is because you don’t understand how brilliant this woman was.
Born in 1866 to an upper-class family in Kensington, Potter doesn’t exactly sound like someone who should have had to fight for much in life. Which is what makes it so surprising to read a biography of this woman, and see how often the word ‘battle’ or ‘struggle’ comes up.
A lonely child, taught by a governess and as such having little contact with other children, Potter reached an early fondness for flora and fauna of all kinds. This love would eventually lead to a life-long interest in science, specifically in the natural sciences. As daughter of a wealthy family, she was made ‘household supervisor’ by her family, a position which gave her lots of time to devote herself to science.
She made studies of plants and animals at the Cromwell Road museums, and learned how to draw with her eye to a microscope. She became particularly interested in funghi, and wrote a paper called On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae (gilled funghi) that in 1897, with the help of her uncle, notable chemist Sir Henry Roscoe, was presented by the Assistant Director of Kew on Beatrix’s behalf to the (all male) Linnean Society. But, being an amateur and, probably more significantly, being a woman, her efforts were not taken seriously – and her theories were rejected.
She would struggle in her life not only with the male-led field of her interest, but also with her family’s expectations of her. She fell in love with her publisher, Norman Warne only her family didn’t approve of him, as he had to work for his living. And then, he died only a month after proposing, of a now-curable blood disorder.
She had to fight her family to marry her eventual husband later on as well – William Heelis was a ‘country solicitor’ and therefore not good enough for Kensington-born Potter – but she eventually won them over.
Marriage to Heelis meant that she could move away from her parents’ house and into the Lake District, where she would stay, writing until her eyesight began to fail her and she published her final book in 1930, but still farming until her death in 1943.
When she died she signed her land over to the National Trust, who still maintain the 14 farms and over 4000 acres of land to this day.
I loved Beatrix Potter as a child – but I preferred Jemima Puddle-Duck and Tom Kitten to Peter Rabbit. A kitten that gets really fat and is then almost baked into a pie by rats? A nosy goose that almost gets eaten by a fox? Actually, maybe I just like stories where the protagonist almost gets eaten…
Beatrix Potter was an effervescent, creative, joyous woman, whose work is still enjoyed by children worldwide. Not only was she brilliant, she was an inspiration, and as such makes an excellent #WCW.