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Beatrix Potter - Part 1: The Story to Now

Beatrix Potter was born to wealth and privilege in 1866, the only daughter of a Nonconformist family from the north who renounced their roots in trade for a place in London society. Number 2 Bolton Gardens, Potters' home in South Kensington, was managed according to the regimens of Victorian propriety. Isolated as Unitarians, the Potters' activities centred around family and friends, visits to art galleries and leisurely holidays, first in the Scottish countryside and later in the Lake District. Beatrix's talent in drawing and painting was evident early. Intellectually restless and keenly observant of both nature and society, she absorbed from her family tradition a desire to do something useful with her life.

Childhood forays into the countryside nurtured her imagination and inspired her art. Soon her London school room was home to an eclectic menagerie of insects, butterflies, and small animals, especially mice and rabbits all of which she drew with endless fascination. She endured art lessons as unhappy attacks upon her self-taught techniques. Her pet rabbits, especially Benjamin Bouncer, were the models for early place-cards, and a set of greeting cards and illustrations that she sold commercially in 1890.

Family holidays to the country provided material for illustrated picture letters to the children of her former governess and to young cousins. These cleverly drawn and imaginative letters displayed Potter's intuitive sense of what would interest a child and offered an appealing view of the natural world .

Her artistic skills and imagination drew her to a fascination with fungi. Encouraged in her efforts at scientific illustration by a reclusive Scottish naturalist, Beatrix accurately painted hundreds of specimens, and drew many under the microscope. In advance of her time, and flaunting the prohibitions against women in science, she proposed a theory of germination in 1897 and argued in vain for the existence of cellular symbiosis.

Determined to derive a measure of financial independence from her art, Beatrix turned from the theoretical to the fanciful. She found a publisher for her tale of a naughty rabbit based upon a picture letter to a young Noel Moore when Norman Warne of Frederick Warne & Co. bravely risked publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. Four more best-selling little books followed, including her own favourite, The Tailor of Gloucester. By the summer of 1905, the successful writer and her publisher had fallen in love. Despite parental opposition to someone in trade, Beatrix accepted Norman's proposal. But their story ended in tragedy when Norman Warne died suddenly a month later. Grief stricken and solitary, Beatrix fled to Near Sawrey, a tiny village in the Lake District, and to a farm called Hill Top.