'How amusing Aunt Harriet is, she is more like a weasel than ever.' From an early age Beatrix Potter, a pretty, if disconcertingly observant child, saw the similarities between humans and other species: the childlike bravado of rabbits, the self-interest of certain cats and the unmistakeable resemblance of a middle-aged woman in a panic to a duck in a bonnet and shawl. Her family, friends and the innumerable pets she kept all her life were the objects of her study and became, eventually, the material of her art. She published nothing until she was in her thirties and even then, though she took immense trouble over her 'little books', she was modestly dismissive of them. The year before her death in 1943, when she was world-famous, she wrote to a friend that really she had done nothing: 'I have just made stories to please myself because I never grew up.' That was not entirely true. In time she did grow up into a strong-minded, effective and happily married woman. But circumstances prolonged her childhood to the point where she could bring an adult's perception to bear on its experiences. It was this, perhaps, that enabled her to articulate the child's view of life so well.
LRB 22 February 2007 | PDF Download