The beloved children’s book The Tale of Peter Rabbit is well-known the world over, and has been ever since its publication in 1902. Its universal themes still apply today and charm both children and adults in its quaint tales of country life.
Author Beatrix Potter had an inspiring life for a woman born in the Victorian era. She developed her own hobbies enough to gain an independent living from them.
It all starts with Peter Rabbit’s origin. At fourteen years old, Beatrix bought a rabbit named Benjamin Bouncer. Three years later when Benjamin died, she bought another rabbit and named it Peter. In the same year, Beatrix wrote a letter to her late governess’s son Noel, telling an illustrated tale of Peter Rabbit for the first time.
At age thirty-five Beatrix privately published The Tale of Peter Rabbit for her family and friends. Beatrix had also sent the manuscript to six publishers, but each of them rejected her. However, the London firm of Frederick Warne & Co. finally accepted the manuscript and published it in 1902. It was instantly popular and sparked a total of twenty-three “little Tales”, all published by Warne publishing.
Beatrix was a clever businesswoman and used her stories to market products to the public. As early as 1903 she made and patented a Peter Rabbit doll, followed by other merchandise such as painting books, board games, wallpaper, figurines, baby blankets and china tea sets. From all this, Beatrix earned an independent income as well as profits from her publisher.
In 1905, Beatrix and Norman Warne, one of the brothers of the publishing house who had worked with Beatrix on her stories, got engaged against her parents’ wishes. However, it was not to be; Warne died of leukemia a month after his proposal. Beatrix threw herself into her work as a distraction.
When she earned enough money from her books and received a legacy from an aunt, Beatrix bought Hill Top Farm in 1905, a property in the tiny village the Lake District in England. Beatrix’s interest in conservation first developed during her visit to the Lake District when she was sixteen and the local vicar impressed his views of the need for conservation on young Beatrix.
Esthwaite Water, which Beatrix called her “favorite lake” in England went for sale on eBay this year for 300,000 pounds. No word on any takers.
When Beatrix had earned enough money to buy farmland, love returned to her life. The property dealer, a local man named William Heelis, helped her with acquiring property and her efforts of conservation and they gradually developed feelings for each other. Beatrix’s parents once again opposed the match, but this time she ignored them and married William in October 1913. They remained together until Beatrix’s death in 1943.
Following Beatrix’s wishes, almost all her property at Hill Top was left to the National Trust, and fans of her work can now visit the property and see the settings for so many of her stories. Beatrix was also a huge conservationist and she is credited with preserving the land for what is now the Lake District National Park.
- Alan Titchmarsh: Beatrix Potter’s love for gardening (telegraph.co.uk)
- Hilltop Farm (shereenphotoadventure.wordpress.com)
- History of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit (potterybarnkids.com)