Date of Award

2008

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

English (M.A.)

Department

English

Abstract

The fantasy works of Beatrix Potter have entertained children of all ages for decades. Many children are familiar with the stories of Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten, The Flopsy Bunnies, and the dreamy prints of fuzzy little animals in jackets and aprons that accompany them. The characters of Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s stories have transcended the written page and been marketed on infant layettes, children’s dinnerware, stationary, bedroom linens, and even on cartons of infant formula. However, beneath these cheery stories, which seem to imply that children should perhaps heed their parents’ advice concerning socially accepted conduct. Potter’s tales suggest something darker. Themes of morality are overshadowed by images of physical bondage, parental domination, and near death experiences.

Potter was notoriously private during her adult life, even at the height of her literary career, and it was not until after her death that we have discovered how her Victorian childhood had influenced her children’s tales. The emotionally restrictive nature of Potter’s childhood trickles down into the physically restrictive quandaries in which her animal characters find themselves. The parental characters in Potter’s works often use physical force to control and admonish their children; the child characters of the tales are constantly attempting to escape from the confines of clothing and smothering spaces.

In order to understand the restriction and escape found in Potter’s tales, it is essential to consider Potter’s own life. From an early age, it was clear that she was a talented child. By age nine, she was drawing and sketching with the precision of an advanced artist. She spent most of her young life separated from her parents in the third-floor nursery of their home in London. Potter had little interaction with other children, and her only escape from the confines of her nursery were family holidays to Scotland and the Lake District. It is clear that Potter had an immediate connection with the natural surroundings she found during these rural holidays. Later in her life. Potter would make the Lake District her permanent residence and use the royalties earned from her publishing career to preserve the use of the Lake District properties in a National Trust.

Using Potter’s life—including her childhood, adulthood, and her legacy—as the basis for her children’s stories, I have examined the forms of restriction, confinement, and escape in five of her tales, ranging from the most famous to some of the lesser-known titles: The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of Tom Kitten, The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, and The Tale of Pigling Bland.

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