What a month! Beatrix was so prolific. At times it had me feeling overwhelmed just researching it all. But I'm glad to have done it (and that it's over!) because Beatrix was such a worker! She was alway writing, always illustrating, always doing something a little bit new and different. And when no one believed in her work, she simply did it anyway.
Beatrix respected Norman Warne's comments and suggestions. Despite her mother's disapproval, Beatrix did visit the Warne family home where Norman and his sister Millie, both unmarried, lived with their widowed mother. Soon the friendship grew into something more. In July 1905 Norman asked for Beatrix's hand in marriage. Beatrix was 39 years old and happily accepted despite her parents' deep disapproval of the match. Tragically Norman passed away from undiagnosed lymphatic leukemia just one month after his proposal.
After Norman's death, Beatrix used her book royalties to purchase a small working farm called Hill Top––a 17th century farmhouse on 34 acres with outbuildings and an orchard. This was a huge act of independence from her family. Hill Top was a landscape that had fed her imagination since her first visit in 1882 and remained her home until her death. She gradually adopted the life of a countrywoman and farmer.
In 1905, Beatrix published The Pie & the Patty-Pan which of course was based on real dogs that she knew. Then in 1906, she published The Tale of Jeremy Fisher. She studied water lilies and reeds for this book and also how the frog moves. She even brought a frog in a jar to Warne & Co. to show them just how accurate her illustrations were.
Also in 1906 she published The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit and The Story of Miss Moppet. The first editions of these came in this cool, different format but were later changed to regular books because they were too delicate for little hands.
Beatrix's next several books take place at Hill Top Farms and were inspired by the animals that she cared for there. The garden is the setting for The Tale of Tom Kitten and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck while The Tale of Samuel Whiskers takes place in the house.
Beatrix also began to weave the books together and make it clear that they all take place in the same universe as in the scene below from The Tale of Ginger and Pickles which includes familiar characters Samuel Whiskers, Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and Jeremy Fisher. Beatrix seemed to have a pretty set process for each book She would use an exercise book and create simple pencil sketches opposite handwritten text like this one for The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies.
In 1910, Beatrix Potter published The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse which began as a little book for Nellie Warne. All of Beatrix's books were set in places she had visited and knew well except The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes, published in 1911. It is set in the Eastern American woodlands and features gray squirrels, chipmunks, and a black bear, all creatures not native to the United Kingdom. She relied on reference books and museum specimens. It is often considered the weakest of her books.
In 1912, she published The Tale of Mr. Tod. Beatrix was very busy with her farm and caring for her aging parents and so restrictions on her time meant this book has more pen and ink drawings (42) and fewer watercolors (16). In the original manuscript opening, she wrote: "I am quite tired of making goody goody books about nice people. I will make a story about two disagreeable people, called Tommy Brock and Mr. Tod."
Owning and managing her working farms required routine collaboration with the widely respected William Heelis. By the summer of 1912 Heelis proposed marriage and Beatrix accepted. Once again her parents disapproved because Heelis was a country solicitor. In 1913, she published The Tale of Pigling Bland which has sort of romantic ending.
Beatrix illustrated a couple of nursery rhyme books, Appley Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes and Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes. This illustration The Toad’s Tea Party was for the original manuscript of Appley Dapply and included the verse:
If acorn cups were teacups,
what should we have to drink?
Why! honeydew for sugar,
in a cuckoo pint of milk;
With pats of witches’ butter
and a tansy cake, I think,
Laid out upon a toadstool
on a cloth of cobweb silk!
Beatrix and William married on October 15th, 1913. Beatrix became keenly interested in the breeding and raising of Herdwick sheep and 1923 she bought a large sheep farm in the Troutbeck Valley. She filled it with thousands of Herdwick sheep and established herself as one of the major Herdwick sheep farmers in the county.
As Beatrix settled into married life and country life, her publishing schedule slowed. The Tale of Johnny Town Mouse was published in 1918. It’s probably the most autobiographical of all her little books. It’s a story of accepting differences and how the city is more suitable to some while the country is more suitable to others.
In 1929 she published The Fairy Caravan which is also personal and autobiographical. It’s a compilation of stories based on North Country tales interwoven with her own personal stories. One of the charaters is Tuppenny the guinea pig, again based on her own pet, this time a guinea pig. Her final little book The Tale of Litte Pig Robinson was published in 1930. Little Pig and Fairy Caravan are the only two stories organized into chapters.
Beatrix and William Heelis enjoyed a happy marriage of 30 years. Her interest in writing and illustrating waned as did her eyesight. Life shifted to caring for her sheep and farm. She enjoyed being a part of William’s large family and an aunt to several nieces. Beatrix died of complications from pneumonia and heart disease on December 22, 1943. William died 18 months later.
I don't know of any armadillos in Beatrix's books but I think she would have liked them... they already look like they are wearing a jacket and they stand up on their hind legs like her characters do.
My piece this week turned out more David Bowie-like than Beatrix Potter... twin armadillos seemed like they'd be bouncers for some sort of underground secret society... and that led to some weird symbol that looks like Star Trek and I don't even watch that show... oh well. Onward to a new month and a new artist.