Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beatrix Potter and Jane Austen's Persuasion

Helen Beatrix Potter (28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943) was an English author and illustrator, botanist, and conservationist, best known for her children's books, which featured animal characters such as Peter Rabbit.

Born into a privileged household, Beatrix Potter was educated by governesses, and grew up isolated from other children. She had numerous pets and through holidays in Scotland and the Lake District developed a love of landscape, flora and fauna, all which she closely observed and painted. As a young woman her parents discouraged intellectual development, but her study and paintings of fungi led her to be widely respected in the field of mycology. In her thirties Potter published the highly successful children's book The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Beatrix Potter eventually published 23 children's books, and having become financially independent of her parents, was able to buy a farm in the Lake District, which she extended with other purchases over time. She became a sheep breeder and farmer while continuing to write and illustrate children's books. Potter died in 1943, and left almost all of her property to The National Trust in order to preserve the beauty of the Lake District as she had known it, protecting it from developers. (Short biography from Wikipedia)

Persuasion is a story about Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Eight years before the story begins, Anne falls in love with Wentworth, who is working his way up through the navy. Her father and good friend, Mrs Russell, feel that the connection with this young naval officer is not suitable and persuade her to break off the engagement. Captain Wentworth comes back into her life but it seems there is little hope for Anne who has never stopped loving him, whilst he courts her sister-in-law. But of course, in true Jane Austen style, after a series of events where hopes almost fade entirely, Anne and Wentworth are united at last.

Beatrix Potter was secretly engaged to her publisher Norman Warne. Like Anne Elliot, Beatrix's parents disapproved of Norman, feeling that his social standing was not good enough. Tragically, he died before their wedding could take place.
It was years later, that Beatrix found love again. She must have thought, like Anne Elliot, that she would never marry and remain a spinster all her life, but in her forties, Beatrix married a local solicitor, William Heelis. Persuasion is a story of love being found again and I feel this is why it was Beatrix's favourite book.

I love Pride and Prejudice but Persuasion is a favourite Jane Austen novel too! The top illustration is a painting of Captain Wentworth regaling the party of friends with naval stories at the inn at Lyme. My second watercolour shows Anne and Captain Wentworth on the Gravel Walk in Bath, renewing their feelings and declaring their love for one another.

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