Posts Tagged ‘Beatrice Potter’

Alistair Sim as Scrooge dancing with his nephew’s wife at the close of the 1951 film of A Christmas Carol

“A Poem for winter Solstice”

The dead are always with us
The dead never cease to be with us
We need not imagine they have consciousness
No they are literally gone
But our minds and memories are strong
And take them with us everywhere
We want to bring back the past
Make it alive again
Let it wash over you, wash into you, become you
But we need not
We may turn to
The sublimity of historical romance
the ghosts of time-traveling

— by me, written in 2017

A parable looked coolly at improbable. Language today won’t do. Lonely old man finally sees the mess he’s made of life, but so needed, harmless, forgiven, taken in I teared up from longing for lights, gaiety, kindness, company — the 1951 Scrooge.

Dear friends and readers,

I truly meant to lead off my near Christmas diary blog with pictures of this year’s tree, of Colin, my beloved glittering penguin once again, which pictures should include our new presence or Christmas stuffed or pottery animal, Rudolph, but before blogging tonight, I decided I would give in to the time of year and watch the first of a series of Christmas movies I own. Where to begin? my oldest favorite, one that used to terrify me when I was not yet adolescent, the 1951 Scrooge (only recently have I realized it’s not titled A Christmas Carol).  Not totally to my surprise I found that as soon as the ghosts began the going back in the past, I began to cry, and then on and off I just cried, and cried, and cried, and when I was not crying, my face became suffused with tears.

I have so many favorite moments; to echo Amanda Price in Lost in Austen about Pride and Prejudice, this movie contains for me places I know intimately, that I recognize so many now still, the words and pictures are old friends. It’s like, with Scrooge, I’ve walked in, feeling there with Alistair  Sim. I watched other movies on Channel 9, Metromedia, in NYC in the 1950s, over and over (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Public Enemy No 1, with James Cagney, Talk of the Town, with Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, and Cary Grant, and at least 10 more) but this one has stayed more in my mind, perhaps because it was repeated year after year. It is a refuge movie because Christmas time is for me so hard to get through.

In then looking for a few stills online to share, I discovered the ones I wanted to show were those of Scrooge delirious with joy, suddenly released and half-hysterical from years of self-flagellation turned against others — with his char-woman, with the boy sent to buy a big turkey, most of all with Cratchit and Tiny Tim, who “lived” … I had to many. I also begin to cry when I remember Jim reciting the final lines one Christmas Eve when my parents were here, with a drink in his hand, “God bless us everyone.”

And yet those moments of trembling with fear and joy don’t make any sense unless you’ve seen the embittering ones in the first sequence (the last part of “the past”), the harrowing and scathing ones in the second (this boy is ignorance, this girl want), and the fearful scenes of Death in the last — of which my favorite is Alice grown up and old, oblivious of Scrooge, serving people in a workhouse. What has her life been?  So here is the whole on YouTube, which I urge you to watch if you’ve never seen it, or re-watch if you haven’t watched it in a long time:

The poem serving as epigraph is one that face-book sent me as a memory from 2017. At first I could not recall who wrote it, and it took a bit of time for me to realize it was by me. I don’t recall writing it — and the use of the verb “wash” is not satisfying. I should have a stronger verb there. But the sentiment is mine. I am explaining why I am so addicted to historical romance, historical fiction films, film adaptations of older books or books set in the past, and still at this time, Outlander:

I see Gabaldon’s books and Roger Moore’s serial (I name him as the central guiding presence, the “showrunner”) as at their deepest when they touch upon how Claire is beating death by going back and forth from the 20th to the 18th century. She is living among ghosts become real when she time-travels and then choses to remain among those people and places our daytime reality would look for in graveyards and find out about in old books. I’m told Gabaldon has yet to explain the appearance of the Scotsman Highlander in the first episode of the first season (and early in the first book):

is it Jamie come to claim Claire? in some mix of non-parallel years (the series use the conceit of near precise 200 odd years apart for the two time zones we experience)? for if it’s years after marrying her, it would be say in the mid-1770s in the UK and US while it is 1947 in Scotland.

Jamie (?) (Sam Heughan?) glimpsed in the darkness, a dark shade

Frank (Tobias Menzies) under an umbrella in the rainy night, unnerved

I was much moved today when I came to the end of Iris Origo’s deeply felt autobiography, Images and Shadows, a book vivid with viscerally experienced life, precise as reality gets, but born out of memory, and about herself as a descendent of two families of people, product of several different worlds, groups of friends, the history thrust upon her of the early to later middle 20th century, mostly in England and Italy. She ends also saying that her dead are with her, that

“I have never lost them. They have been to me, at all times, as real as the people I see every day … “

Maybe that’s why she excels at biographies of people who lived in the past. She quotes Edmund Burke to assert that “society” or “life itself” is “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”

So here is this year’s tree decorated: our eighth since Jim died — or entered his deathtime, kept with us in our memories, and as long as this house exists in its present embodiment with me living the rest of my life out in it.

Here is Colin once again waving to passersby (a present bought for me by my neighbor, Michelle, now, sad to say, gone from the neighborhood, having separated herself from her long-time partner):

He stands on a ladder I place in front of a window facing our front yard so he can be level with the window and be seen

And here is a beautiful Christmas card sent me by my long-time friend, Martin, from England, picture by Annie Soudain, called “Winter Glow: in the photo it’s sitting on my woodblock kitchen table whose true color is a dark honey brown (not yellow) in front of the above tree:

Because of this gift, I was in the post office (now, as you will recall, run by a criminal-type businessman determined to destroy it as a public service, and fire most of the workers who are not white) by 9 am this morning and sent it off and bought 5 sheets of ordinary stamps and 10 stamps said to be good for anywhere “overseas” (so Europe if I get any more paper cards from friends there). I had intended to send electronic cards to everyone but those few relatives and friends I have who are not on the Net, but have found that I have more than a few, and some of the Net friends are still sending paper cards. All placed around the piano (first my father’s, then Jim’s, now Izzy’s). I reciprocate Christmas cards.


So what have I been doing and thinking since my birthday? I have been reading away towards my course on Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Four Essays and Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia by reading other books by and about them, immersing myself once more in the later 17th and early 18th century worlds of Anne Finch for my review (and myself), and Hugo’s Les Miserables (stunning masterpiece but enormous) in a superb translation by Christine Donougher.

I’m reading towards a revision, a Victorianization so more thoughtful and thought-out and widened version of that paper, A Woman and her Boxes (Jane Austen).  It’ll also be about how much a woman could claim for real she owned personal property, how much personal property meant to women, and space.  These are issues in George Eliot and Henry James.

They are enacting people posing for a picture: Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, Anthony Howell

I am mesmerized and in love with Foyle’s War (actors, scripts, programs, everything about them — I bought the 8 sets in a box, with lovely pamphlets as accompaniment beyond the features on the DVDs) – I love it for the ethical POV that shapes it, Michael Kitchen is my new hero, and I am drawn into learning about World War Two yet more. I read as a Trollope sequel, Joanna Trollope’s The Choir, which now I have the DVD set of, and will soon be watching at night.

I’ve gone to two museums with my new OLLI at AU friend, Betty. I attended two fine zooms, one from the Smithsonian on Dylan Thomas’s life and poetry, and one from OLLI at AU on Frederick Law Olmstead, the author, Dennis Drabelle, of a new good book on him, The Power of Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Origin of National Parks, the kind of book one can buy for a Christmas present. I told in the comments about how Jim and I had been to the Olmsted park in Montreal; they spoke of Olmstead’s fat acccurate book on the cultural realities of life in the south in a slave society (very bad for most people), which I own and know Jim read.

Two wonderful zoom lectures from Cambridge: one on Virginia Woolf’s diaries, and the other on her first novel (one I love), The Voyage Out, as a result of which I bought two more books on Woolf that I hope to read before I die — years before that I hope. And a new image by Beatrix Potter, one I never saw before: a mouse at work threading a needle, which I am told comes from The Tailor of Gloucester. Is it not exquisitely because and full of love for animals and art:

Did I say I got excellent reviews from the people in my class on The Prime Minister for this past spring? well, I did. The best I’ve ever had. The class predominantly men. I got myself to write the blog I knew I should comparing PM to The American Senator.

Some troubles: paying bills online, fake emails from cheats trying to lure me into giving away financial data; now my ipad won’t recharge, and alas it looks like my multi-regional DVD player has died (I shall try to find someone to come and to fix or to replace it). A few zooms with Aspergers friends have helped me endure the aloneness more readily (sharing our experiences, talking and getting some intelligent advice). Worrying about Omicron covid: should I go teach in person in the spring after all? I have two serious co-morbidities.

So what does one write diary entries for? be they on face-book and what came into my mind that morning or I did the day before presented succinctly, or be they this kind of wider survey. A need to testify? A need to make my life more real to myself, to write it down so as to make sense of it, to remember (Jane Austen’s birthday) and record and thus be able to look back?

An interesting talk in London Trollope Society zoom last Monday. Out of a site called Reading Like a Victorian, an American professor, Robyn Warhol, showed how it was possible for 19th century readers (with time & money on their hands) to read synchronically several Victorian masterpieces at a time. I doubt many ever did that, and from experience know it’s hard to get a college student to read in an installment pattern.

For me for today the way she opened her talk was intriguing: what has happened to TV serial watching since people no longer have to watch a series week-by-week but can receive all episodes at once. She suggested something is lost. I know when I taught Phineas Finn (and also Winston Graham’s Poldark) we talked a lot about instalment watching. In watching Foyle’s War for the first time, I make myself wait 4 nights before watching another episode. They are not meant to be watched night after night or back-to-back (shover-dosing it used to be called). Through instalment reading, the diurnal happenings of one’s life get involved with the serial.

Izzy tells me recently DisneyPlus has been putting one episode a week on of its new serials, and then the viewer can see them in a row or however. I think people appreciate the series, remember it better and more by doing it apart in time, in patterns. How many people here when a new series “comes out,” watch the episodes over a couple of nights or stretch it out to feel like instalments? How many when you are reading, find yourself putting the books in dialogue? I am doing that with Christa Wolf and Iris Origo and Elena Ferrante. Ferrante is Anita Raja, the translator of Christa Wolf into Italian, and to read The Quest for Christa T is to read one of the sources of the main transgressive character, angry and hurt, Raffaelle Cercullo, aka Lila, in the Neapolitan Quartet.

A cat bewildered by snow

Also to learn what I am thinking and feeling. To reach out to others? Why do I want to do this? why explore my consciousness insofar as I can bear to tell truths about myself to myself — and others (thus self-censoring or judicious veiled language required). Why did Woolf, Burney, Wolf (One Day a Year, 1960-2000), Origo, and many male writers do this? Henry James and Virginia Woolf were getting up material for their novels. I am getting up material for essays. To invent a life you are not quite living (Burney fictionalizing away) or put it together in what seems an attractive experience ….

Enough. I hope for my readers they will have a cheerful and good winter holiday over the next few days, not too fraught if you are with relatives, don’t ask too much of yourself, stick to routines or a series of habits you’ve invented for yourself over the years, keep to low expectations, and oh yes remember not to blame yourself and that whatever happens is not to be taken as a punishment (however religions have set up & supposedly made sense of reality that way).

Scrooge on Christmas morning, delighted to find he’s in time



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Beatrix Potter squirrel

Photo of Potter in her mid-thirties with a rabbit (1866-1943)

‘In affectionate remembrance of poor old Peter Rabbit, who died on the 26th of January 1901 at the end of his 9th year … whatever the limitations of his intellect or outward shortcomings of his fur, and his ears and toes, his disposition was uniformly amiable and his temper unfailingly sweet. An affectionate companion and a quiet friend.’ — in privately printed early copy of Peter the Rabbit

homebody — a person who enjoys the warmth and simple pleasure of being at home

Dear friends and readers,

I carrying on my homebody life of reading and writing during the day and watching movies in the evening. I’ve not been able to go to the gym, swim or walk — as I wrote last time I hurt my big toe badly, it was all the wrong colors as Austen might say, with a trauma from blood under the nail. But I have hobbled about to less directly physical activities, including a mild dance session. Last Saturday Izzy and I went to a JASNA meeting where we heard a lecture on The Way People Really those Quadrilles in Regency England (see Dancing Austen style with a touch of extra historical accuracy), and then with the other people there danced three dances ourselves. I wore ballet slippers.

How Hogarth perceived an assembly dance

I carried on my feeble gardening — I can’t dig very deeply since my right side and arm has become so weak — but I’ve a third patch of bell-like flowers and pretty-leaf plants, three silver.


I’ve begun the summer Film Club at the Cinema Art (every three weeks and then once a month) and we saw a mildly comic fairy tale-like story centering on the plight of old people in the US (no or little money, not care for in their illnesses, prevented from living a comfortable enjoyable life of their own): The Last Man Club. This Wednesday I start teaching again: Trollope’s Small House at Allington.


I write to record more at length just some of what I heard in an informative lecture (an hour and a half) which turned into a lively and insightful question-and-answer period (another hour) by Linda Lear about Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) at the Smithsonian Associates this morning. Lear revealed a woman whose work comprised more than her curiously memorable and phenomenally successful “small books” about small domestic and wild animals. Potter became a strong conservationist, an environmentalist avante la lettre, and used the money she made from her art and writing to set up working Herdwick sheep farms in the Lake District, Hill Top and Castle Cottage. She was such a good farmer, and breeder, that she eventually owned huge tracks of the Lake District and left the land to the National Trust. She had a strong social conscience and acted on it to back up social programs improving the life of people around her too.

The 2006 film presenting Potter so positively (featuring Renee Zellweger) was not an exaggeration

One of Potter’s earliest sketches

Lear told of a life where Potter had to break away from an unsympathetic pair of parents to find herself: they were themselves amateur landscape artists, and as wealthy elite people in Britain, who were themselves dissenters (unitarians) whose money came from industry in Manchester, brought their daughter and son, Bertram (six years younger) up among a literate, artistic and free-thinking scientific group, and they provided governesses and plenty of time (especially in long summer vacations in Scotland) for her to lose herself in the natural world. (Lear has written academic-style papers on these summers and Potter in Scotland.) But they imposed on her a stifling routine, and expected her not to marry but remain at home, obedient to them, with her duty to them and local society her first consideration, and caring for them in their old age her final goal. She fulfilled her talents slowly, beginning in her twenties drawing because she was looking for something to do, and sending exquisitely accurate and touching sketches of rabbits and other animals in letters to the children of her ex-governess, Annie Moore.

Realistic sketches

Peter Rabbit

As she was told by friends, family, and local people she was close to (one Charlie McKintosh who was missing an arm and became a mailman) that her talent, artistic ability, powers of observation and drawing were superb, she tried to publish her art as children’s books. She was turned down by a commercial publisher, so she began to publish the the books herself and hand them out to people she knew for their children. As this was noticed, an editor, Norman Warne (at Frederick Warne & Co) took her work on. The books became a stunning success.


I suggest her fantasy pictures are filled with kindly warmth she felt towards her subjects. She sees small animals as tenderly affectionate creatures with no harm in them. The colors are exquisitely delicate, and (to some extent like Kliban cats), these creatures are pictured doing homebody daily acts together a small child might see in a sheltering home and local neighborhood. It’s no surprise that Potter liked Edward Lear’s lyrics.

She and Warne, fell in love but could not marry because her parents did not approve of him as a husband (too low a status). They finally disobeyed (she was in her thirties) and were engaged but he contracted leukemia before they could marry. She enacted a similar trajectory with the man she eventually married and spent 30 contented years with, William Heelis (this time the man was a solicitor, also not acceptable). Here her brother helped her break away by finally telling his parents around that time he had been secretly married for 11 years to a barmaid. Lear did not tell us her name (!); Lear showed a residue of snobbery I fear when she assured us the couple were happy together. (She herself is part of an American elite I could tell; she managed to publish her two superb books out of her relationships with people in national biographical societies and universities.) Bertram was also an artist; he died relatively young: stress had led him to become alcoholic.

Benjamin Bunny

In Potter’s later independent life, an attempt was made by friends to introduce her to a a man actually named Thistle Dyer who managed Kew (the famous gardens) with the idea she could provide fruitful ideas: he dismissed her as a woman and amateur. She had interesting friendships with people like the Roscoes, Liverpool merchants by trade, they provided important centers of cultural life (my note: Maria Roscoe was the first English writer to translate Vittoria Colonna and try to write her life). Lear told of further books by Potter for adults, her life-writing, about her work as a landowner: Fairy Caravan. She recommended a book by a Potter friend and associate of Potter’s: James Weavis, A Shepherd’s Life, about the conservationist and farming movement, and an attempt to declare the Lake District a UNESCO site. Potter’s later years were spent with much activity preserving farming in the Lake District, and Lear said far more people visits Hill Top and Castle Cottage than they do the Wordsworth shrines. Lear spoke of the beauty of this natural sanctuary: the fells are mystic in feel (she said), the lakes mirroring the sky, the high mountainous terrain. Potter herself was also a landscape artist.

Turner, Buttermere Lake with Park (Cromackwater)

Potter studied fungi especially (it doesn’t sound thrilling but she was fascinated by plant life) and introduced kinder and more productive methods for animal husbandry and sheep shearing, and did much landscape art. Herdwick sheep are small, black when young, turning white when older. Their fleece are good for carpets, and in the war (WW2) were used for warm blankets. They are hardy creatures whom Potter spent years trying to protect, went to shows for and so on. Recently the national Trust did sell off a farm with many Herdwick sheep on it; a protest was mounted that was strong, and much ill-will created, and Lear thought the National Trust would not do that for money again. Potter adumbrated the an understanding of symbiosis. She was in effect a scientist and a Temple Grandin roled into one. A paper she wrote was “tabled” at the Linnean Society (put there for others to read, the custom) but as a woman she could not be a member, attend meetings much less give a paper. Her paper was probably thrown away.

Hill Top Farm today

I wanted to tell about this lecture because Jim had some favorite passages from Beatix Potter books, which he had read as a boy, quotations he would recite. We took out from the library and bought in bookstores too, a number of Beatrix Potter books which I remember Laura and Izzy could read by themselves. Perhaps children like these books so since they are readable on their own. Independence. Sadly, I can’t remember Jim’s favorite quotations any more. I did not myself read or have Beatrix Potter books in my house when I was young and maybe that’s why I can’t remember what he’d allude to. But allude he did. A favorite image was that of

Jemima Puddleduck

and I know he liked to recite parts of this poem of the runcible spoon:

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
— Edward Lear

I saw Miss Potter, alone since Izzy didn’t want to come, and connected its warmth and a radiant kind of humanity to Zellweger’s Nurse Betty with Martin Freeman. I remembered the film ever after because of a sudden moment of startle: where we meet Potter’s grandmother and she turns out to be Barbara Murray in a wheelchair, once Madame Max in the Pallisers. I recognized her instantly and to see her so aged took my breath away.



I will soon watch again, with a DVD from Netflix.

Miss Drake

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