The Tale of Tom Kitten - Background


Helen Beatrix Potter was born on 28 July 1866 to barrister Rupert William Potter and his wife Helen (Leech) Potter in London. She was educated by governesses and tutors, and passed a quiet childhood reading, painting, drawing, visiting museums and art exhibitions, and tending a nursery menagerie of small animals. Her interests in the natural world and country life were nurtured with holidays in Scotland, the Lake District, and Camfield Place, the Hertfordshire home of her paternal grandparents.

Potter's adolescence was as quiet as her childhood. She grew into a spinsterish young woman whose parents groomed her to be a permanent resident and housekeeper in their home. She continued to paint and draw, and experienced her first professional artistic success in 1890 when she sold six designs of humanized animals to a greeting card publisher. She hoped to lead a useful life independent of her parents, and tentatively considered a career in mycology, but the all-male scientific community regarded her as an amateur and she abandoned fungi.

Potter had maintained contact with her last governess Annie Carter Moore and had grown fond of her children. Through the 1890s, she wrote the children story and picture letters. Mrs. Moore recognized the literary and artistic value of the letters and urged her former charge to publish. Potter liked the suggestion, and, in 1900, revised a tale she had written for five-year-old Noel Moore in 1893, and fashioned a dummy book of it in imitation of Helen Bannerman's 1899 bestseller The Story of Little Black Sambo. Unable to find a buyer for the tale, she published it for family and friends at her own expense in December 1901.

Frederick Warne & Co. had once rejected the tale but, eager to compete in the booming small format children's book market, reconsidered and accepted the "bunny book" (as the firm called it) following the recommendation of their prominent children's book artist L. Leslie Brooke. Potter agreed to colour her pen and ink illustrations, chose the then-new Hentschel three-colour process for reproducing her watercolours, and on 2 October 1902 The Tale of Peter Rabbit was released.

Potter continued to publish with Warnes. Early in July 1905 she bought Hill Top, a working farm of 34 acres (14 ha) at Sawrey in the Lake District with profits from her books and a small legacy from an aunt. On 25 August 1905 Potter's editor and fiancé, Norman Warne died suddenly and unexpectedly. Potter became deeply depressed and was ill for many weeks, but rallied to complete the last few tales she had planned and discussed with Warne.

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