Potter, Beatrix (1866-1943)

Helen Beatrix Potter was born in South Kensington, London, on July 28, 1866. She was the first child of Rupert Potter, a barrister, and Helen Leech Potter. To avoid confusion with her mother, young Helen Beatrix was called Beatrix, or often, just B. Beatrix's parents were quite wealthy and absorbed themselves in the social life of London, while Beatrix lived a quiet life at home under the guardianship of a governess. Beatrix was left to find her own amusement. She spent her time tending to her many PETS, while also studying anddrawing them.

During summers, Beatrix traveled with her parents to their country home. The plants and animals fascinated her, and she found it difficult to return to London after the freedom offered by the countryside. Influenced by the preservationist views of family friend Hardwicke Rawnsley, Beatrix's love for the beauty of nature and its animals continued to grow deeper. In her mid-teens Beatrix began keeping a journal. She wrote it in a simple code that remained undeciphered for over eighty years. As the years passed, her journal increasingly revealed that Beatrix was emerging from her cloistered, lonely childhood. She never neglected her animals and her paintings, however. Rawnsley continued to en-courage her drawing, and Beatrix made a series of greeting cards and began work on a book. He encouraged her to publish. After failing to find a publisher, Potter privately published 250 copies in 1901. Only after these copies sold did Frederick Warne publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902.

Over the next decade, Beatrix wrote and illustrated more than twenty books for children, including such favorites as The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904), The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (1908), and The Tale of Mr. Tod (1912). Many of her stories take place in the actual country locations where Beatrix spent time during her childhood. Several qualities of Beatrix Potter's books set her apart from other children's authors and illustrators. Her integration of story and illustration remains unmatched in CHILDREN'S LITERATURE. Her recognition of the beauty of animals, and her ability to convey it truthfully set her illustrations apart from the grotesque, caricature-like images typical of most animal stories for young children during the Victorian era. Potter was acutely aware of the fact that it was unnecessary to make her animal characters humorous or exaggerated in order to tell her story. Her books also reveal her love of the countryside and her appreciation of its natural beauty. They are marked by an absence of sentimentality and reflect the realities of nature with subtly ironic humor. Lastly, Beatrix Potter's books were innovative in their unique size. They were small enough for a child to hold and were easily transportable. Unlike the typically large and elaborate children's books of the period, Potter's were clearly for children, rather than for parents to read to children. Also, each book cost only a shilling, and thus children from all backgrounds could enjoy the world of Beatrix Potter.

In 1913 Beatrix Potter married William Heelis, a solicitor. With her marriage began the next stage of her life. Her creative period came to an end, aside from the publication of miscellaneous sketches and notes that lacked the charm and poetry of her earlier works. Beatrix and William Heelis lived a simple yet happy and comfortable life. She spent much of her time hill-farming and acting as president of the Herdwick Sheepbreeders' Association. Beatrix also focused her efforts toward acquiring as much Lake District property as possible for the National Trust. Beatrix Potter died on December 22, 1943, at the age of seventy-seven. To this day her works are widely read, and she is remembered as one of the most beloved children's authors and artists of all time.

See also: Victorian Art.


Battrick, Elizabeth. 1987. The Real World of Beatrix Potter. London: The National Trust.

The Beatrix Potter Papers at Hill Top: A Catalogue of the Manuscripts, Miscellaneous Drawings and Papers at Hill Top, Sawrey. 1987. London: The National Trust.

Crouch, Marcus. 1960. Beatrix Potter. London: Bodley Head.

Grinstein, Alexander. 1995. The Remarkable Beatrix Potter. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

Hobbs, Anne Stevenson. 1989. Beatrix Potter's Art. London: Frederick Warne.

Hobbs, Anne Stevenson, and Joyce Irene Whalley. 1985. Beatrix Potter, the Victoria and Albert Collection: The Leslie Linder Bequest of Beatrix Potter Material, Watercolours, Drawings, Manuscripts, Books, Photographs and Memorabilia. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum and Frederick Warne.

Jay, Eileen, Mary Noble, and Anne Stevenson Hobbs. 1992. A Victorian Naturalist: Beatrix Potter's Drawings from the Armitt Collection. London: Frederick Warne; New York: Penguin.

Lane, Margaret. 1946. The Tale of Beatrix Potter: A Biography. London: Frederick Warne.

Linder, Leslie. 1966. The Journal of Beatrix Potter, 1881-1897. London: Frederick Warne.

Linder, Leslie. 1971. A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter. London: Frederick Warne.

Linder, Leslie. 1972. The Art of Beatrix Potter. London: Frederick Warne.

MacDonald, Ruth K. 1986. Beatrix Potter. Boston: Twayne.

Potter, Beatrix. 1989. Beatrix Potter's Letters. London: Frederick Warne.

Potter, Beatrix. 1992. Letters to Children from Beatrix Potter. London: Frederick Warne.

Taylor, Judy. 1986. Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller, and Country-woman. New York: Frederick Warne.

Taylor, Judy, et al. 1987. Beatrix Potter, 1866-1943: The Artist and Her World. London: Frederick Warne.