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.


Jill ONeill said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this title. I've been dithering about picking it up; the length is indeed intimidating.

If it is any comfort, Tara, and if there's any room, it will be you and me and Beatrix eating dinner at the end of the dining table that's only barely been cleared. It's not ideal but it is the way things are...

BooksPlease said...

Yes, that sounds just like my kitchen table too. I have visited Hill Top some years ago, one wet and rainy day, worth another visit this year perhaps when we visit friends in the north west of England.

Iliana said...

Ah, her desk sounds just like my desk, my craft table, heck my whole house! I think we would have gotten along famously :)
Did you see the Renee Zellweger movie of Beatrix Potter? It looked quite cute but I never got around to it.

Nan said...

Excellent writeup, Tara. I do own it, and look forward to delving in sometime. My choice of books to read just hits me. I never plan ahead, and never know what I'm going to read next which is why I do so poorly at challenges. One of the little joys of my life is walking around the bookcases deciding which book will be my companion for the next while.

I read a biography of BP years ago with many photos, but even then people were talking about this one being in the works. I want to come back and read your post after I've read it. And I want to see the movie. Sadly, it is on a long wait at Netflix.

And I have to admit it; I'm not like that at all in terms of cluttery stuff. I can't stand a lot of things on a table or a desk. It somehow stops me from sitting down there. I think it is almost harder to tell people one is orderly. :<)

Carrie K said...

I'm a mix of a mess and orderly. I leave stuff scattered around but then it gets on my last nerve and I have to pick it up or pitch it.

The Potter books sounds quite interesting. I'm always so amazed at the lack of freedom women were under, thank heaven for emancipation.

nutmeg said...

Well done on finishing it!

I would definitely like to visit her farm. I wonder if the scenes from the recent movie were actually filmed there or not?

Cornflower said...

Do go to Hill Top if you get the chance - we loved it.
(Though my kitchen table is clear, but for the fruit bowl and some newspapers, my desk - where I am about to have lunch - is not. The sandwich will be squeezing out a pile of books, paperwork and some knitting. It is all quite orderly, but still...!)

Tara said...

Jill, you are welcome. I agree with you in regards to the length;I just had to jump in. That would be a lovely meal you've described, wouldn't it?

Booksplease, I'm glad I'm not the only one! I wonder if Hill Top will have changed at all since the last time you were there. I would love to visit.

Bookgirl, Yes I did see the film - that was the impetus for me to start this book. There was just enough information about Potter that left me wanting more, and to know what the 'truth' was. The movie was cute - there were some odd parts in which the illustrated animals came to life.

Nan, Thank you. I love how you've described walking around your bookcases deciding what to read - I do the very same thing and just love looking at and handling all my books. I also like my book choices to be more 'organic' to fit my mood. The books I read for bookclub are the only exception.

This book is quite exhaustive, so I suppose it was in the works for some time. I should look for an author interview to learn more. I look forward to 'hearing' what you think about it someday.

You know, I think it's easier to commiserate with others that are on the messier side. But to tell you the truth, when I hear that you are tidy, well that gives me a bit of envy. Because I've never been able to just find a place for everything and I don't know how to learn it.

Carrie, yes thank goodness for emancipation! It's difficult to think how many great women's minds were (well I hate to say it but) wasted on a life of maintaining one's social position and doing the 'right things' rather than exploring the possibilities.

Nutmeg, thanks! And yes, I believe the scenes were filmed at Hill Top Farm.

Karen, it will definitely be on my 'list' of places I'd really love to see. Desks have a habit of being this way, don't they?

WickedHangover said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the book. I'm Linda Lear's webmaster and picked this up on a google alert, did you see that she won Lakeland's Book of the Year award? I just got done updating the site with information if you care to read at

Lotus Reads said...

Tara thank you so much for giving us your impressions of what seems to be a very fine biography of Beatrix Potter. Yes, a month may seem like a long time to spend on a single book, but I think you gained so much by doing such a thorough reading of it. I am very happy you shared with us, thanks again!

Tara said...

Wickedhangover, thank you very much for leaving me a note. I have enjoyed discovering and recommend the site to anyone desiring to know more about Potter, Ms. Lear, or the book. Congratulation to Ms. Lear on winning the Lakeland award! It is well deserved.

Lotus, thank you so much for your lovely comments. I agree.

Anonymous said...

I'm not much of a nonfiction reader, but you've made this sounds intriguing. Or maybe I'll just read it vicariously through Nan! Have you seen the movie out now, "Miss Potter", with Renee Zellweger. I have not but wondered about it.

Tara said...

Kay, yes, I have seen the movie Miss Potter. It was the impetus for me to read this book and find out 'the truth'. I enjoyed the movie overall - there are some odd parts in which the drawn animals come to life. I would recommend it if you are interested in Potter's life.