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

Pegasus. Apr. 2017. 272p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781681773506. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681773964. LIT
In exploring the life of Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), Dennison (Behind the Mask) combines literary criticism with biography, focusing on Potter's interest in writing and painting as an outlet for an isolated childhood. The oldest child and only daughter of apathetic parents, Potter developed a love for animals, notably mice and rabbits, maintaining a makeshift menagerie with her brother Bertram. Utilizing Potter's copious correspondence and diaries, Dennison describes how a lack of autonomy led the reserved Potter to treat "art as an occupation and a preoccupation" while experiencing bouts of illness throughout her life. The author examines recurring themes in Potter's works such as incomplete families, flawed parenting, and self-containment. After privately publishing Peter Rabbit in 1901, Potter found success and a commercial publisher in 1902. The narrative continues with her ill-fated engagement to Norman Warne and later marriage to William Heelis, despite the disapproval of their families. Final chapters cover Potter's dedication to farming and conservation in her later years.
VERDICT Dennison writes a concise summary of Potter's inspirations and legacy; fans already familiar with her life and works may want a more comprehensive retelling.

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