The Blagger's Guide To: Beatrix Potter

The rabbit who just runs and runs and runs

Saturday 07 April 2012 19:41

Peter Rabbit has his 110th birthday this year and, because he is a naughty bunny who secretly likes chocolate even better than Mr McGregor's radishes, he has chosen to celebrate it all Easter weekend.

Beatrix Potter's first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was published by Frederick Warne in 1902 and sold more than 8,000 copies in its first edition. The bones of the story and some sketches had been written by Potter in 1893, in a letter to five-year-old Noel Moore, the poorly son of her former governess. In between, Potter sent the manuscript to six publishers, and received six rejections.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit has been translated into more than 35 languages – including hieroglyphs – and sold 40 million copies. The Peter Rabbit series has sold more than 151 million books. Four Beatrix Potter books are sold every minute.

Beatrix had a pet rabbit called Benjamin Bouncer who was "extremely fond of hot buttered toast" and used to be taken for walks on a lead. She borrowed the name for Mrs Tabitha Twitchit (the mother of Moppet, Mittens and Tom Kitten) from the farm cat she met at her Lake District home, Hill Top Farm. She bought a litter of piglets for the farm, the runt of which was rejected. Pig-wig, from The Tale of Pigling Bland, was based on her. She was "very friendly" and "liked being tickled under the chin".

Not all of Potter's animal friends were so cute and fluffy. As children, Beatrix and her brother Bertram kept mice, newts, bats, frogs, lizards and snakes. As a grown-up, Beatrix painted spiders and beetles for the Natural History Museum, and initially included earwigs and centipedes in The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse until her publisher asked her to remove them. She also wrote a scientific paper on fungus for the Linnean Society, but it had to be read on her behalf by a male colleague as women were not allowed to attend meetings.

When her publisher questioned the accuracy of Mr Jeremy Fisher's colouring, Beatrix Potter brought a live frog to his office to prove that she was right.

Beatrix Potter drew herself in two of her tales – as a distant figure watching the rats steal her wheelbarrow in The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, and helping the mother pig, Aunt Pettitoes, send her sons off to market in The Tale of Pigling Bland.

Potter was an expert sheep-breeder, often judged local agricultural shows, and was elected president of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association in 1943. She would have been the first woman to hold the position, but died before she could take it up.

Peter Rabbit will be handing out Easter eggs at Heathrow airport all Easter weekend – their busiest weekend of the year. He'll be hopping round several terminals, so you'll have to be quicker than a farmer with a rake to catch him.

Frederick Warne have republished all 23 of Beatrix Potter's original tales in colourful editions, available now at £5.99 each. To celebrate the jubilee, Peter will appear in a union flag-covered edition, and in September, Warne will publish a new story by the actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson. In The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit, "Peter's adventures take him beyond the boundaries of Mr McGregor's garden all the way to Scotland ..." A new tartan has been commissioned to mark the occasion.

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