There’s Beatrix Potter and then there’s Beatrice Potter

by Anna Blanch on July 26, 2010

This post explores the parallels, similarities and differences between Beatrice and Beatrix. Similar in name and date and even social circles it can be easy to mistake them for one another.

(Martha) Beatrice Potter Webb
Born: 22 January 1858
Died: 30 April 1943

English sociologist, economist, fabian socialist (1903-1908), and reformer, usually referred to in association with her husband, Sidney Webb. Although her husband became Baron Passfield in 1929, she refused to be known as Lady Passfield.

Beatrice was an active partner in all Sidney’s political and professional activities, including the organisation of the fabians and the establishment of the London School of Economics. She co-authored books such as the History of Trade Unionism (1894), and was co-founder of the New Statesman magazine (1913). In H.G. Wells’s The New Machiavelli (1911), the Webbs, as ‘the Baileys’, are unmercifully satirized as blindered bourgeois puppeteers.

This site offers a more substantial biography including a bibliography and summary of her socialist ideas.

(Helen) Beatrix Potter Heelis
Born: 28 July 1866
Died: 22 December 1943

An English author, illustrator, mycologist and conservationist best known for her children’s books featuring anthropomorphic characters such as in The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Born into a household of some financial standing, Potter was educated by governesses and was largely isolated from other children as a result. She had numerous pets (almost a menagerie) and spent her holidays in the Lake District and Scotland, where she developed a love of landscape, flora and fauna, all of which she closely observed and painted. Her study and watercolors of fungi led to her being widely respected in the field of mycology.

In her thirties, shortly after she published The Tale of Peter Rabbit, she entered into a secret engagement with her publisher, Norman Warne. This caused a breach with her parents, who disapproved of her marrying someone of lower social status. Warne died before the wedding could take place. Potter began writing and illustrating children’s books full time. With the large proceeds from the publication of her books, she became financially independent and was eventually able to buy Hill Top Farm in the Lake District. She extended the property with other purchases over time. In her forties, she married William Heelis, a local solicitor, became a sheep breeder and farmer while continuing to write and illustrate books for children. She published twenty-three books.

Potter died in 1943, and left almost all of her property to the National Trust. Her books continue to be sold throughout the world, in many languages. Her stories have been retold in various formats including a ballet, films, and in animation. Her life was told in a recent film, Miss Potter (2006), starring Renee Zellwegger.

At one time, Walt Disney tried to purchase the rights to Potter’s works but she declined.

Images: public domain.

Anna M Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD candidate in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts, University of St Andrews. She is writing on E.Nesbit.

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