Sunday, April 2, 2017

Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter's "little books" are much beloved, and her paintings of little animals in human clothing are universally known.

Matthew Dennison's book Over the Hills and Far Away is not a typical biography; its focus is on how Potter's life is revealed through her stories and illustrations. Some aspects of her life are just hinted at, such as her endeavor to publish her study of fungi. Dennison identifies the inspiration for Potter's characters and landscapes. She was a stickler for realism, painting from life.

Potter was born on July 28, 1866, to a gentile, conformist, Unitarian London family. She hated London but adored the countryside visits to her grandparents and the family's summer homes.

Beatrix grew up lonely and found solace in reading and in the companionship of the small, wild animals who inspired her early art. An intelligent girl, she was often bored in London and came alive when roaming the countryside with her brother.

Her parents were content for Beatrix to remain a child. They did nothing to promote her marriageability nor did they support her interests and talents. She became nervous and unhappy and was often ill, which suited her mother. Her claustrophobic, limited life is a sad example of how fettered women were in the late 19thc. She remained a dependent, lonely, and unhappy child well into adulthood.

Publishing her books offered Potter a sense of accomplishment, identity, and independence. At age thirty-eight she was still living at home with her mice and walking her rabbit on a leash. But she had improved in health, had a personal income, and even fell in love with her publisher. Sadly, he died of lymphatic leukemia before they married.

Potter bought Hill Top farm three months later. She had no experience farming or gardening or in home ownership but loved the challenge. She still had to care for her aging parents and did not live at the farm full time. The cottage served as backgrounds to some of her tales.

In 1913 she did marry; William Heelis shared her interests in sheep breeding and farming. Potter was now wealthy and happily married. Her eyesight was poor and she kept finding excuses to write another book.  Potter died in 1943, and William in 1945. She left over 4,000 acres to the National Trust including 15 farms and 5,000 pounds.

Over the Hills and Far Away style is cozy and conversational, offering stories as they are related as opposed to following a strict timeline. The book offers an understanding of Potter's emotional life and how her life influenced her art.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Learn more about Beatrix Potter at

Read about a new quilt and project book, Stitching with Beatrix Potter by Michele Hill, here

Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter
Mathew Dennison
Publication April 4, 2017

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