Linda Lear tells the story of Beatrix Potter and how the engaging little characters she created came to be. Lear brings the Victorian woman behind the children’s books to life in her captivating biography, Beatrix Potter: The extraordinary life of a Victorian genius.
I’ve seen the film Miss. Potter (2006), which starts with her in her 30s, and I found her to be a slightly odd, eccentric, lonely plain woman. However, I am glad to say Lear effectively dispels these assumptions as she portrays an attractive image of an ambitious Victorian genius confined by society. Not in the least dotty, as she appears in Miss. Potter directed by Chris Noonan.
Lear displays the life of a wealthy Victorian woman as Beatrix suffers from boredom and uselessness. There is a real sense of sorrow for a lost childhood and a seemingly empty future for Beatrix as a teen. She has no independence and feels crushed under her domineering mother. In her 20s Beatrix searches for self-worth and direction, which makes me glad to be living in the 21st century.
If you’re interested in the development of science, especially in the Victorian era may also learn a lot from this biography as it details Beatrix’s experiments and struggles in a mans world. Although it wasn’t unusual for women of that time to dabble in amateur botany Beatrix was held back by the prejudices exhibited by Victorian men. However, for others the long chapters focused mainly on botany may become tedious, although they are interesting to read for a while. It appears this passion for nature and science gave a sense of purpose and achievement to Beatrix’s life, and her discoveries are evident in her children’s tales, particularly the drawings. Lear instills true respect for a lady who studied the natural world in such accurate detail that some scientific drawings are still used today to classify fungi.
Stick with it and you shall be rewarded with the fascinating tale of how The Tale of Peter Rabbit came to be published, among many other classic favourites. Lear goes further and describes Beatrix’s personal losses and gains (both animal and human), creating an accurate image of a Victorian woman who becomes almost rebellious in later life yet retains a sense of duty both to family and the natural world that so captivated her.
This biography is very well researched. Lear’s writing is fabulous, smoothly incorporating quotes from letters and other sources, seamlessly creating an image of Beatrix’s life, which closely impacted upon her work. As well as educating the modern reader, Lear transports you back to your childhood with passages dedicated to the little books so admired by people everywhere. “I have just made stories to please myself because I never grew up!” p.426.
Lear shows how remarkable Beatrix Potter really was. Her later life is a joy to read as it lacks the purposelessness of her younger days. She transforms into an intelligent, determined, resourceful woman with exacting standards, especially when it comes to the publishing of her books. Her unrivalled realism through the wars and her ailing health did nothing to dampen her spirits or prevent her from continuing to be an active member of the farm as well as the preservation and conservation of the Lake district, even into her 70s. She would certainly be delighted to know her legacy continues and the beauty of the lakes remains.
It is a surprisingly easy, captivating read, even for those who do not usually read biographies (like me). Lear is a fabulous writer and her passion shines through as she incorporates the well-known and well-loved aspects of Beatrix’s life along with her private connections and interests. If one wishes to learn about Beatrix Potter, this is the only book to turn to.A true story of a modest woman who touches the heart of the world with her “pretty little books” written with a fluent, honest hand. A must read.