Sunday, April 4, 2010

Beatrix Potter

I saw the movie "Miss Potter" with my mom tonight. A sweet period romance. People don't think of Peter Rabbit as a fairy tale, but we consider other classic Victorian imaginative children's books to be fairy tales, like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, so there's no reason to exclude Peter Rabbit.

Renee Zelwegger as Beatrix Potter

But in addition to that, there were several fairy tale references in the movie I noted: a story about a changeling, "Fairy-beasts" as an example of adults using supernatural creatures to frighten children into obedience, a reference to Vlad the Impaler (the figure behind the legend of Dracula). Also some themes that come up in fairy tale studies: oppression of women in the Victorian period, and a Freudian good father/bad mother relationship (Sidenote: the Chicago Tribune had an article a while back about how many movies we see now have this strong father-daughter relationship, from The Lovely Bones to the Hannah Montana movie. The writer's conclusion suggested the examples our last three Presidents have had of being fathers to daughters and not the Electra complex, but the father/daughter relationship has been prevalent in tales and folklore long before modern media.)

I wondered how accurate the movie was, and was surprised to learn it was pretty faithful to the facts, with a few minor omissions. Not only did Beatrix Potter become a famous author/artist, but previously she had been well-respected in the field of mycology (having to do with fungi, I guess-science is NOT my forte). Despite her respected work, because she was a woman, she was denied entrance to school or having any papers published. Quote from wikipedia:"When Potter came of age, her parents appointed her as their housekeeper and discouraged any intellectual development, instead requiring her to supervise the household." How sad. (By the way, wikipedia didn't suggest any special relationship with her father as opposed to her mother, as the movie suggests.)

As far as her literary career is concerned, it was a former governess who encouraged her to publish, and her first books were self-published. Her fiancee was, in fact, her publisher, like in the movie. And also as the movie states, she spent her royalties preserving the countryside and left her fortune to the National Trust. What a perfect role model for the modern audience-a strong-willed, single female (well, for most of the movie) who makes a name for herself despite many obstacles, and she was Green way before that became fashionable.
Interestingly, Walt Disney tried to get the rights to Potter's works and she declined. Also, she kept her journals in code-and so do I!

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