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Beatrix Potter

A Life in Nature

Linda Lear

St. Martin's Griffin

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ISBN10: 0312377967
ISBN13: 9780312377960


608 Pages


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Beatrix Potter created books that will forever conjure nature for millions. Though she is a household name around the world, her personal life and her other significant achievements remain largely unknown.

Potter's was, Linda Lear reveals, a life inspired and enriched by nature. Even as a child and a young woman growing up in a wealthy, conventional London family, her imagination and artistic talent were fed by visits to the countryside. She found personal and financial freedom through nature, first as an artist and scientific illustrator, and then as the creator of the overnight bestseller Peter Rabbit—which also revealed her to be a far-sighted marketer and merchandiser. It was the "little books" that led Beatrix to her first great love: her editor and publisher Norman Warne, who died tragically just a month after he proposed to her.

But Beatrix Potter was one of those rare individuals who is given a second chance at happiness. Her purchase of Hill Top Farm in the Lake District just after Warne's death led to her reinvention as a successful landowner and country farmer, and eventually to a happy marriage to William Heelis. She became a conservationist in order to preserve the landscape that had inspired her art, and, through the lands she bequeathed to the National Trust on her death, she saved whole areas of the Lake District for posterity.

At a time when plunder was more popular than preservation, she had brought nature back into the imagination. Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature reveals a strong, humorous, and independent woman, whose art was timeless, and whose generosity left an indelible imprint on the countryside.


Praise for Beatrix Potter

"The matters on which Lear chooses to focus her work are so genuinely interesting . . . Indeed, Potter's biography comes close to being the opposite of a familiar writer's life. In the standard model, a ton of irrelevant detail adds hardly anything to our understanding of the writer's work and (usually) leaves us with a deep sense of her personal unsatisfactoriness. In Potter's case, it comes to seem that those extraliterary details—the years from 1911 to 1943—were her real life, and the books were, to her, a kind of footnote. I am struggling to think of a writer who comes across as more humanly admirable than the energetic, blunt, determined, and always truthful Beatrix Potter."—The New York Review of Books

"Lear, a former professor of environmental history and author of a well-regarded biography of Rachel Carson, brings a valuable new perspective to a much-debated life . . . Lear presents enough historical context and documentation to transform Potter's life story from one of sad limitation to a roster of fine accomplishments, crowned with a happy thirty-three year marriage . . . Potter's entire life is presented in as much detail as her last thirty happy years are, beginning with significant ancestors and their intellectual and financial heritage as well as the Unitarianism that curtailed the Potters' social circle in London. Lear's account of the shy young woman's early botanical drawings and research is fascinating, not least for its revelation of character . . . Beatrix Potter covers the genesis of the children's books with extensive reference to their actual settings, liking stories with the people, creatures, and events that inspired them and describing the books themselves with cogent appreciation . . . Beatrix herself is most generously revealed via Lear's excellent descriptions and abundance of telling quotes . . . Lear seems to have consulted nearly all of the vast number of available primary sources with diligence and intelligence. Her book is splendidly documented: virtually every paragraph has its endnote, often with several citations. Lear is not only an impeccable historian but a grand storyteller, worthy of her subject; her writing is a pleasure—a suitable companion to Potter's own marvelously succinct and ironical style. Lear's point of view as a naturalist is a perfect match for Potter's own lifelong dedication to natural history and the preservation of land, landscape, and community . . . Altogether, this is a magisterial and definitive biography, a delight in every way."—Joanna Rudge Long, Horn Book

"As an appreciation of a life well-lived and a talent almost accidentally nurtured, Beatrix Potter tells an absorbing story well worth reading."—The Christian Science Monitor

"Lear paints an appealing, revealing picture of an independent, accomplished and loving woman who used her art and research to educate herself and a host of readers."—BookPage

"The great achievement of this book is the way it knits together Potter's lifelong activities in art and science and shows how they are all part of an extraordinarily integrated life: how her feeling for plants and animals and her finely detailed observations of the natural world were the foundation stones of her children's books as well as her land management skills and environmental awareness."—The Australian

"An in-depth biography of Beatrix Potter is long overdue and here Linda Lear fills that gap with a thoroughly well-researched and compelling book."—Judy Taylor, author of Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman

"Potter was a famously close observer of the world around her, and Lear is an equally close observer of her subject. The result is a meticulously researched and brilliantly re-created life that, despite its length and accretion of detail, is endlessly fascinating and often illuminating. It is altogether a remarkable achievement."—Booklist (starred review)

"In this remarkable biography . . . the author's meticulous attention to detail is obvious throughout, not to mention her elegant writing and exceptional scholarship. Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"Potter's witty journals, with their close observations of people, animals, objects and places, serve as the basis for Lear's engrossing account, which will appeal to ecologists, historians, child lit buffs and those who want to know the real Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Benjamin Bunny."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature

Beatrix Potter's Lakeland 1892-1943
BEATRIX POTTER. Copyright © 2007 by Linda Lear. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written...

About the author

Linda Lear

An environmental historian and biographer, Linda Lear is the author of the prize-winning study, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. A natural history enthusiast and a collector of botanical art, she and her husband tend gardens in Bethesda, MD and Charleston, SC.

Jack Alterman

Linda Lear

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