Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Picture Letters of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter drew from an early age. She had lots of pets and took to drawing them. Beatrix was close to her governess and when she married and moved away Beatrix kept up a good relationship with her. It was Beatrix's love of drawing and storytelling that prompted her to write her former governesses (Annie Moore) children on many occasions. Often the Potter family would holiday in the country and Beatrix would gather ideas from her pets, the farms, the people and the animals.
Beatrix wrote to Annie Moores children on a regular basis. She wrote the first picture letter to Noel, Annie's first son around 1892, it was about her trip to Cornwell and the harbour. By 1899 there were six Moore children, all of whom Beatrix wrote picture letters to.Her letters were about real people, real animals and real places. Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, for instance were her own pets whom she wrote fantastic stories about.
In January of 1900 on visiting the Moores, Beatrix was encouraged by Annie to consider making the picture letters into books.
Beatrix was taken with the idea and as the children cherished their letters from Aunt Beatrix they had kept them and Beatrix asked if she may gather them up to copy them.
She selected a letter about Peter Rabbit that she had written to Noel in 1893. She added text and new illustrations to make it something more suitable for a book. She sent it off to 6 publishers who replied that they wanted colour illustrations which by 1900 were proving popular.
Beatrix however had other ideas. She wanted them in black & white to keep the cost down and therefore the purchase price as Beatrix was concerned about making a book affordable to most children. S0 she just went ahead and self published the Tale of Peter Rabbit, printing 250 copies privately, in black and white and distributing them herself. She sold out and ordered 200 more copies and they too were soon sold out. Warne & Co had expressed interest in the book but wanted it in colour. Norman Warne was finally able to convince Beatrix that colour copy would have a broader appeal and that it could be produced affordably. Even before the October of 1902
publishing date the edition of 8,000 copies was sold out. By years end 28,000 copies had been printed . By 1905 it was in it's 5th edition. It was a wholesale success.
Beatrix in effect had created a new form of animal fable, one in which anthropomorphising animals behaved as real animals, with animal instincts. In real terms Potter was successful in melding text and image in such a way that the illustrations enhanced the text.

Sources: Beatrix Potter by Linda Lear