Deborah's Reviews > Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature

Beatrix Potter by Linda Lear
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Jan 20, 2008

it was ok
Read in August, 2007

Linda Lear's biography of Helen Beatrix Potter reveals the life of a woman whose passions, pursuits, and legacies extend far beyond the tidy realm of her fame as an author and illustrator of children's books. Potter was also a talented landscape painter and an award-winning sheep breeder. She was an accomplished amateur mycologist; she is thought to be the first person to successfully reproduce fungi from spores. Her scientific drawings of fungi and insects are so accurate, they're still referenced today in texts on those subjects. An early champion of nature conservation and the preservation of fell farms, she accumulated significant property holdings in England's Lake District and bequeathed them to the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest and Natural Beauty.

I enjoyed learning about the real pets and people and places behind the charming tales of critters like Peter Rabbit and Jeremy Fisher. I had to laugh when I read that she settled a dispute with her publisher about the color she'd used in an illustration of Jeremy by bringing the frog to the publisher's office. I was also intrigued to learn that when the various Potter pets (mice, snakes, lizards, rabbits, hedgehogs, to name a few) died, they weren't buried; some were stuffed, but most were boiled, and their skeletons were then cleaned, measured, and displayed in the children's nursery!

While Potter's character shines through as fascinating, I wasn't satisfied with Lear's narrative. As a biographer, she took no liberties of speculation and expressed few opinions of her own. The book has about 300 pages of text and 100 pages of end notes, which made it heavy reading--both in the academic sense and in the physical sense. (I hated lugging that thing around with me!)

I also found the structure of the book irritating. It's roughly chronological, but Lear attempted to chronicle Potter's life in terms of milestones, naming chapters after them: Roots, Exposures, Transitions, Experiments, etc. Real life, however, doesn't follow such contrived chapters, so there's quite a bit of overlap--and hence redundancy--among the chapters of the book.
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