The life of Beatrix Potter as portrayed by Meg Geffken
TIVOLI – A most enlightening program was held on Weds. October 4th at the Tivoli United Methodist Church that revealed the life and works of Beatrix Potter. Portrayed by Meg Geffken of Benton, she told the life story of Beatrix and her artistic talents that remain on exhibit in her homestead in Sawrey, England.
The English writer was born into a privileged household in England on July 28, 1866. Known mostly for her writings on the tale of Peter Rabbit, Potter was educated in the home and, for the most part, isolated from other children.
Geffken re-enacted Potter’s life from childhood through the following 20 years as a well known writer and illustrator. “She loved flora and fauna and became a conservationist,” Geffken said.
Her mother only saw her once a day, usually after dinner, as she was brought up by an Irish nanny. She was then dismissed to the nursery on the third floor of their London house where Beatrix lived in her own world inspired by the little animals she saw in the gardens for her drawings.
She had numerous pets and spent holidays in Scotland. One day during one of her many walks, she found a little toad, put him in her pocket, carried him home for awhile before releasing him back to the woods.
Later she had a baby brother to share her world and Bertie became her best friend before they sent him off to boarding school. “He was her best and only friend,” related Geffken. “Bertie loved animals too.”
While Bertie was at school, Beatrix made many drawings with stories to go with them. By the time she was 17, Beatrix felt such remorse, as she did not have any friends. For the next two years, she still had a governess who gave her lessons. Being a woman she found her education was limited at the time, and she became interested in the field of mycology which eventually led her to her profitable story books. By then she had many drawings of rabbits and submitted them to a publishing company to make cards, but it wasn’t profitable.
She befriended one of the children of Annie, her governess, whose name was Noah and wrote a story for him about Peter Cotton Tail. It was accompanied by drawings and he requested more of these wonderful stories. Because Noah loved them so much, Beatrix approached another publisher to have books made, but she wanted them small enough to hold into a child’s hands.
Warne Publishing gave her a hard time about this, but she would not give in according to Geffken’s story. Norman Warne listened to her and said, “I understand.” The first book was called ‘Benjamin Bouncer’ but the publisher changed it to “Benjamin Bunny.”
Norman also proposed to her in marriage and Beatrix accepted at the disdain of her mother “because he had no social status. He was in a trade.”
Beatrix came from old money that was running low, so she accepted Norman’s proposal. Six months before the wedding, he became ill with pneumonia and died. “She was distraught and lost,” Geffken said. “She had been lonely for so long, and happy for such a short period.”
She went to Sawrey, England to live and bought a home that was called Hill Top Farm in Lancashire. Over the years she bought additional farms to preserve the landscape, and became more committed to living off the land. She owned over 1400 acres.
The animals in her books are based on her “animal neighbors.”
“She was a great observer of life.” She passed away at the age of 47 and is credited with over 40 books which continue to sell. She did marry a William Heelis at the age of 43 in 1913 and together they managed several working farms. Her country life shaped Potter’s books.
Her first book was published in 1904. She also had a book published of all the letters she wrote to children. Geffken informed the audience that she has magnificent botanical sketches that were submitted to the National Art Association.
Today Beatrix Potter has a National Trust Fund that maintains her home in Sawrey and her gardens. The fund was established in 1986 after the gardens were in disarray. Her ashes are spread over the hill looking over her Hill Top home.