Thursday, March 24, 2011

Beatrix Potter

My blog post yesterday made me start to reminisce a little bit. Most people don’t know much about Beatrix Potter. Sure, they know about Peter Rabbit. Some people know about Mrs. Tiggy Winkle. But when I mention Hunca Munca or the roly-poly pudding, I get either blank stares or “should I be concerned about your mental health?” looks.

When I was very very young, I received the Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter, and for a long time, the tales were my bedtime story of choice.

Beatrix Potter’s life was actually kind of sad though. She grew up in the early 20th century, and did not have many friends outside of her family. She and her younger brother spent ages drawing pictures of the many animals her family kept as pets, as well as wildlife on the family estate.

She was well-educated and even had private art lessons, but most of her talent was developed by her own practice. Beatrix wanted to attend school at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, but she was rejected since she was a woman. She made observations about fungi that allowed her to be considered an expert mycologist (fungus studying person). She was still, however, not allowed to attend meetings of fungus societies because of her womanliness.

She began writing stories to accompany her illustrations of animals in a letter to one of her governess’s sons. This story was The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Soon, she became engaged to her publisher, Norman Warne. Unfortunately, he was not of high enough status to meet her parents’ approval (she was from a wealthy family). Still, against her parents’ wishes, she became engaged Norman, but he died before they could marry. After her death, her estate passed to the National Trust as she requested.

She wrote a total of 23 books for children. Wikipedia says that “part of their popularity was due to the quality of her illustrations: the animal characters are full of personality, but are deeply based in natural actions” and I agree. Thank you, Wikipedia, for putting it so eloquently.

Two favourites of mine were The Tale of Two Bad Mice and the Tale of Samuel Whiskers, or The Roly-Poly Pudding.

In the Tale of Two Bad Mice, Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb break into a doll’s house and try to eat their food. It’s a very nice dollhouse, so the food looks real but it’s all plastic! They try to break the food off the plates but it all shatters. They get very frustrated and mess up the rest of the house, throwing all of the dolls’ clothes out of the window to bring back to their nest. The dolls return to their house just as Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb are running away, but Hunca Munca returns later to clean the house.

The Roly-Poly Pudding features two rats named Samuel Whiskers and his wife Anna Maria. Tom Kitten doesn’t want to hide in the cupboard (because his mom’s friends are coming over), so he escapes up the chimney, but then gets lost in the attic (or somewhere in the very large house made for a family of cats). Unfortunately, the house is overrun with rats!! Samuel Whiskers and Anna Maria discover Tom and decide that he would make a lovely dumpling for Samuel’s supper.

Anna Maria ties him up and puts dough around him, but Samuel Whiskers complains that he is too dusty. They try to roll him out with a rolling pin, which is fortunate for Tom, because his mother heard the rolling sounds and called John Joiner, the carpenter. He pulls up the floorboards, the rats run away, and dusty, pastry-y Tom is rescued.

That's it!

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