Thursday, November 3, 2011

She Is Too Fond of Books: Review of Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature

"Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality."
-- Beatrix Potter

 I am reading a most wonderful book, and I wanted to share it with you. Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, by Linda Lear, is an in-depth biography for older teens and adults -- one might say tome -- of that most gifted naturalist, author, illustrator, and countrywoman. For me, the name Beatrix Potter brings to mind delightful children's stories of anthropomorphized animals accompanied by equally delightful watercolor illustrations. That alone was enough to interest me in her life. I'm only one-third of the way into the book, and her complexities continue to astound me.

Possessed of an inquisitive nature, an indomitable spirit, and a keen interest in natural history, Potter delved into many areas of intellectual inquiry, a samplng of which includes geology, archaeology, and mycology. Her research into mushrooms and lichens actually broke new ground, a fact not recognized in her lifetime, as she herself tried to break into the increasingly specialized arenas of the professional scientists, who were often skeptical of the amateur.

Fettered as she was with the familial obligations and social pressures of most Victorian ladies of her class, Potter declined to languish within stifling the confines of the era. But her strong desire to be useful in life was often at odds with her parents' -- particularly her mother's -- expectations. Miraculously, Potter was able to balance her position as dutiful and respectful daughter with her own personal interests most of the time.

Immensely readable and engaging, Lear's biography is peppered with wel-chosen excerpts from Potter's journal, faithfully kept for many years, and her correspondence, enabling me to "hear" Potter through her own words. Although shy and somewhat reserved, Potter was no shrinking violet and stood her ground firmly when she felt she must. She also had an acerbic wit, which I find amusing.

And then there is her artwork. The book contains several photo and art pages, but not nearly enough, in my opinion. Lear does an admirable job of describing many of Potter's sketches and painings, but such descriptions merely whet my appetite to see them myself.

According to the Beatrix Potter page on the Visit Cumbria website, although Potter is "a household name around the world, her personal life and her other significant achievements remain largely unknown." Moreover, some of what we had thought we knew about Potter's life has recently been revealed as erroneous. Lear's book brings to light and life the Beatrix Potter we thought we knew.


  1. Which book do you recommend for kids to read for AO5? I'll certainly be getting this one for me. Sounds marvellous!

  2. That sounds like a fascinating book. A few years ago we spent a week in Perthshire, near where Beatrix Potter spent her summer holidays. There is a little museum about her in Dunkeld. I remember how utterly lovely the wildflowers by the side of the road were, and I could just imagine how she would have loved drawing and painting the natural world there. I've always wanted to go back!

  3. Thank you for this review. I am currently looking into Beatrix Potter bios for AO Year 5. I got some on hold from the library, this being one, and had pretty much ruled it out as too lengthy and in depth for our needs at this time. I saw your mention of it on the AO Group and decided to take a look at your review, though. It sounds interesting.


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