Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear - review by Diana Athill

Diana Athill

Natural Inclinations

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature


Allen Lane / The Penguin Press 584pp £25 order from our bookshop

Describing in an American publication her puritan, nonconformist family, Beatrix Potter wrote: ‘I am descended from generations of Lancashire yeomen and weavers, hard-headed, matter of fact folk … Your Mayflower ancestors sailed to America; mine at the same date were sticking it out at home, probably rather enjoying persecution.’ And later: ‘I am a believer in “breed”; I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations. In the same way that we farmers know that certain sires – bulls – stallions – rams – have been “prepotent” in forming breeds of shorthorns, thoroughbreds, and the numerous varieties of sheep.’ There speaks the sturdy, humorous daughter of those Lancastrians, and the dedicated farmer she so proudly became. Much later she added a very significant touch to her self-portrait: ‘I have just made stories to please myself because I never grew up.’

Linda Lear's biography, after which no one in their senses, in the foreseeable future, will ever presume to pen another word about Potter, displays in full the complexity of this apparently simple woman's life. She almost let it be blighted by her parents, yet it is clear that in childhood

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