- Home of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s archival stores
- World’s largest collection of Beatrix Potter’s drawings, manuscripts, and correspondences
- Collection was given by Leslie Linder who was an avid collector of Potter’s works
At the start of our time at Blythe House, archivist Emma Laws explained to us what it was like to work with the collection. Her job was part academic–focusing on her areas of expertise, writing, teaching, etc–and part practical–creating exhibitions, cataloging, and maintaining the collection. The collection was in a very interesting position at present as it came out of copyright in 2014, and the copyrights on original drawings cannot be renewed.
Though Beatrix Potter is often portrayed as having had a rather sad childhood, Laws brought up a rather interesting point, “You can’t believe everything people say in a journal because when people write in journals it can be a load of nonsense.” As a young girl who kept journals of her own, I have to say I believe her! Emotions do not translate well to paper and the things we right in their midst are often absurdly one-sided. Laws went on to explain a bit about Potter’s life. She had a very fortunate and rather typical middle-class upbringing, holidaying in Scotland every summer. Potter did not move away from London until she was 47 years old. As a child, she was not overly sentimental and often drew dead things. She was very fascinated by the natural world around her. As her artistic talents grew, so did her imagination it seems. Her stories of Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin, et al. started as letters to her governess’ children. As you can see from the pictures below, they grew very organically. She had a natural ability to just know where to insert pictures. There were very little changes between the letters and the actual stories themselves.
I gushed over this collection. While Potter is best known for her Peter Rabbit stories, I have always been far more drawn to the antics of Squirrel Nutkin! A darker tale left out of many children’s collections, it will always hold a special place in my heart. This was quite the treat!
One of the most fascinating stories that Emma shared was that of Potter’s views on marriage. She fell in love and became secretly engaged to her publisher Norman Warne. Her parents did not approve of the engagement, but their disapproval was not long lived. A month after becoming engaged, Warne died of leukemia. Emma pointed out to us that due to her parent’s disapproval, Beatrix would have suffered her grief in silence after his death. As an unmarried woman, you were essentially considered a non-entity in society as a woman. And so she remained until you were married–which didn’t happen for her until she was 47. This explains why she described marriage as, “the crown of a woman’s life.” With marriage came a new found freedom, and Potter’s motivation for writing and illustrating had essentially come to an end.