Monday, June 25, 2007
I finally finished it.....and I'm so glad I did.
I've been feeling a bit quiet lately and one of the reasons, I think, is that I just needed to finish something. That something turned out to be Linda Lear's Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature. This biography is exceedingly thorough, and for me, the reading of it took a long time. I went slowly, absorbing bits at a time, not wanting to rush and skim over parts. Thus I'd been with this book for about a month, a long time for me. I will admit I was somewhat relieved to put this book aside and move on to something else.
Potter is a fascinating subject and the book feels very personal since the author uses Potter's journal entries and personal letters as primary sources. This book details her rigid Victorian upbringing and describes the contacts she had as an upper class child. The Reverend Gaskell was a good friend of the family. Yes, that Gaskell. Potter spend much of her youth alone or with her brother or other adults and was really able to focus on her interests during this time - animals and the observations of their habits, other wildlife, drawing and painting. Beatrix spent a lot of time as a young woman studying and painting fungi and the author discusses this part of her life at great length. The fact that Lear was able to make this section quite readable instead of tedious, I think is to her credit. A portion of the book deals with Potter's life as an author and the rest with her 'second career' as a wife, landowner, and farmer.
The last portion of the book, regarding farm life felt a bit long to me. The details about farm life are quite lengthy. There is discussion about Potter's relationship and qualms with the National Trust. As I am not a resident of the UK, I was unable to read this with the broader view of public knowledge. The last chapters deal with the end of Potter's life and the aftermath of her art and land holdings which was very interesting.
I found myself wondering at various times, what would her life have been like at a different time or if her family had a a different financial situation? Potter struggled, as probably many women did with personal desires and familial duty. It seemed her parents were particularly strict and demanding of her time, even as a 40-something woman making marriage plans. It probably didn't help that she was considered rather eccentric.
Would I recommend this book? If you are a big fan of Potter's work, definitely. I would recommend reading it alongside Potter's own works. I so enjoyed learning the 'story behind the story' and then reading her books and looking for certain details in the landscape, in interior scenes and in the animals and people themselves.
I suspect that when I am able to travel to the UK, a visit to Hill Top Farm will be on the agenda.
edited to add:
I almost forgot! Here is a passage that tells me Mrs Heelis (Beatrix) was not unlike myself in certain ways.
'At 70, Beatrix had given up, if indeed she had every seriously tried, keeping either a tidy house or her muddles of papers in order. .....the large table in the centre of the hearth room at Castle Cottage was primarily her working desk - though it was used for all sorts of other purposes as well. It was perpetually strewn with letters, maps,....etc.......waiting to be sorted. If a visitor called, a place was created by pushing the piles to another spot. Quite often supper was served on a cleared end.'
Now I fear you know too much about my own housekeeping.