Classic Children's Literature

Beatrix Potter Tales, Part 1

April 9 2016 - Unfortunately

This was the sight to which I woke yesterday. Not funny, April. I don’t miss the irony that I moved the Classic Children’s Literature event from January to April to be past the winter weather…! (Forecast is improving.)

Fortunately, the weather inside has been much more cheerful – and spring-like! As this year’s button hinted at, I decided that 2016 would be the perfect time to revisit my old Beatrix Potter books. I’ve had the entire collection as long as I can remember, but sadly, I only remembered the plots for two of the stories, The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tailor of Gloucester. Since the month began, I’ve been making my way slowly through these gentle stories, and I will post about them in groups as I finish.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit - Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902)

I’m not sure that Potter’s stories, adorable as they are, should be turned to for sound moral guidance–at least not by anyone as mischievous as myself, for I’m quite certain that the lesson of her most famous tale is that while it may be better to listen to your mother, not eat yourself sick, get chased for rabbit pie, catch a cold in a watering tin, and only have chamomile tea for dinner while your sisters have a lovely meal of berries and bread and milk, but your day is far more interesting than theirs. Or, disobedience is a better story.

The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin - Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903)

While I haven’t had much opportunity to closely observe the behavior of rabbits (besides–they’re fast!), squirrels are a regular feature of the back yard. I must say, Potter captures very well the attitude of squirrels! Or at least some…Nutkin is of a similar strain as Peter, but rather than following the whims of his stomach, he seems determined to only play and taunt Old Brown, the owl–and really, he should know better. (And what about Nutkin’s store of food for the winter–I feel like I need a sequel to find out if the other squirrels make him pay for not participating in winter preparations?)

Here, even more than in the first tale, I started to notice how lovely Potter’s painting is. She had a keen eye for the world around her, and I don’t need to know about her mycological illustrations to recognize her excellent observation skills.

The Tailor of Gloucester - Beatrix Potter
The Tailor of Gloucester (1903)

Of course, if I thought the detail was impressive in The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, the textiles of The Tailor of Gloucester are equally incredible. How does one do that in watercolor?

This story stands in contrast to the others in this first group in that is it much more of a fairy tale (and described by the author as such in her dedication). There is still a bit of mischief–Simpkins the cat, angered over a lost mouse dinner, hides an important bit of silk twist from the tailor–but in the end it is the tailor’s good deed, saving the mice from Simpkins, that brings about our fairy tale ending.

I especially liked Potter’s use of language in this one, such as the “…snippeting of scissors and snappeting of thread…” Her words aren’t always “real,” but they always convey just the right mood and tone and sound. Indeed, there is at times something poetic about her writing.

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny - Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904)

We return to the world of Peter Rabbit. It’s only just the day after his adventures in Mr. McGregor’s garden, when along comes his cousin, Benjamin, who boldly encourages the now timid and easily spooked Peter back into the garden to retrieve his jacket and shoes from off the scarecrow. I didn’t find this story as charming as the first three, perhaps because it is so reminiscent of Peter Rabbit. But where Peter seemed to be willfully disobedient, Benjamin is overconfident, a cockiness that is well paid for.

The Tale of Two Bad Mice - Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Two Bad Mice (1904)

What an imaginative tale of a doll’s house through the eyes of two hungry little mice–albeit, anthropomorphized mice. For a real mouse would surely not steal clothes for the wearing… And while these two mice, facing the disappointment of plaster food! proceed to make a mess of the house before finally taking what they want, perhaps it would be better to call them “Bad-Tempered” mice–what a tantrum is thrown!

A note here on the illustrations: in my own personal collection, this is the first of my set (acquired at different times and in random order during my early years) to have the “new colour reproductions,” and my, what a difference they make! The line-work is so incredibly detailed. These books are certainly well worth it for the illustrations alone…

The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle - Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (1905)

Perhaps my least favorite of this first group. But that might just be my antipathy towards laundry coming through. Like The Tailor of Gloucester, we have a more prominent human character in Lucie, but here she is even more interactive with the animal characters, especially laundry-woman Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, than the tailor ever is. In the end, the author teasingly suggests that it was just a dream, while denying it entirely, “…but then how could she have found three clean pocket-handkins and a pinny, pinned with a silver safety-pin?”

 

Outside of my own reading, it’s been a nicely active Classic Children’s Literature Event so far, with quite a few posts shared on the main event page. I’ve even found a book or two to add to my list already. Hopefully plenty more – for others and myself – in the weeks to come. Happy reading!

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6 thoughts on “Beatrix Potter Tales, Part 1

  1. Beatrix Potter is yet another book I missed in my childhood! I have a lot of reading to do.
    Lovely review of a children’s classic. It is harder to write a fine enduring children’s book than a fine and enduring novel. Weather in April? I’m guessing snow in upstate New England…..

    1. Or perhaps you read and have forgotten them–I’m sure I my past have read/been read all of these sweet little stories, but I really don’t remember much at all. Either way, they are a delight to read even as an adult, so I hope you have the chance to read them sometime.

  2. A wonderful review! I love Potter’s stories!!! Sigh! And I can’t believe that I don’t own any of them.

    I’m struggling along with income tax preparation and haven’t read one children’s book yet. Argh! I need to finish my final Ovid post and then start one. For sanity’s sake, most of them are going to be short and sweet. I can’t wait to begin!

    1. Cleo, Potter’s stories are wonderful, aren’t they? I’m so glad my mom made sure I owned a complete set.

      Ugh, income tax prep! I made sure to get that done before April this year, because of the event. At least children’s books tend to be shorter…and should prove a nice breather before you start on the monster The Fairie Queene!

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