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A Secret Diary!

My dear Planksters,

How are you all? I hope that 2023 is being kind to you thus far!

I’m here today to sing the praises of a book that I haven’t actually finished – I’m dipping into it every so often and then taking time to mull over what I have read.

Beatrix Potter was already a great heroine of mine, I love her books, her strength of character, her active preservation of the Lake District and its way of life, and her farming achievements are to be admired.

I’ve watched a few films about her, including the superb documentary with Dame Patricia Routledge (patron of the Beatrix Potter Society) which can be found on YouTube as well as the lesser-known 1983 BBC series; 'The Tale of Beatrix Potter'.

Beatrix is a fascinating woman and whilst devouring documentaries and books about her is wonderful, you’re always left wondering, “What did she really think?” – Imagine then, my delight on discovering that she had kept a secret diary, written in code (is there no end to this lady’s talents?!) that had eventually been cracked (after seven years) by the very dedicated, Leslie Linder, and then published! Planksters, I’m reading it now and I can barely describe my joy as my eyes scan Beatrix’s own thoughts and observations.

The diary was written between the ages of fifteen and thirty, and besides sharing her feelings on what was going on around her, it gives an amazing insight into life in England in the latter half of the 19th century.

There’s one fascinating entry where Beatrix is commenting on some road works going on outside the house opposite her and mentions ‘wooden pavements’ – after consulting Dr Google, I was intrigued to find that they were once a thing! - Who’d have thought?

Beatrix is a tough art critic and I love reading her summaries of the great exhibitions that she regularly visited, she was “disappointed” by Michelangelo and thought Turner’s three pictures; “nothing particular” – It’s brilliant that she was able to record her true opinions about these great artists in code and without fear of being judged. Incidentally, when she did like a piece of artwork, she was very fair and complimentary; “Titian’s ‘Queen of Cyprus’ is I should think perfect in its style, the finest picture in the Exhibition, but not the most beautiful. I was better pleased with Rembrandt, less with Snyders, whose painting was not so rich in parts as I had thought. Rubens on the other hand is as rich and animated as before, and the Dutch sea painters as calm and peaceful.”

I’m enjoying too, reading the day-to-day details of Beatrix’s life, from the weather; “We are having the hottest summer there has been for several years. Today 4th. of July [1884], the temperature is 86 degrees in the coolest shade, 120 degrees in the sun. Great quantities of half rotten strawberries are being sold in the streets. The weather is sultry at night and very unhealthy.” …to the politics of the day; “They say Lord Salisbury has a good chance of getting his windows smashed if the government can collect a sufficient number of ragamuffins for the Park Meeting; what times!”

There is a small selection of photographs and paintings in the centre of the book, the paintings of which, show Beatrix’s undeniable talent as an artist.

Judy the lizard, painted in February 1884

The ‘strange little red fish’ Beatrix found and painted at Weymouth in 1895

Beatrix with her father, Rupert, and brother, Bertram, at Lennel, Coldstream, October 1894

This book is an utter delight and anyone craving more insights into the life of Beatrix Potter should invest in or borrow a copy with haste.

My dream now is that one of my favourite historical novelists, Franny Moyle, will decide that Beatrix Potter is the ideal subject for her next book! (Please, please, please!!!)

With a wry, crooked smile on my face and a knife, loaded with bitter marmalade, poised over a slice of ‘burnty toast’,

Sincerely, Thalamus Plank

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