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Women Of Destiny

Beatrix Potter And Beatrice Potter

Historical NPCs For Your Victorian Era Role-Playing Game

Part One of Two

by John Gannon


During the Victorian Era, many of the foundations of our modern society, be they political, social, or cultural, were first raised and organized. While the deeds of the Chamberlains, Gladstones, Edisons, and other such men of the Victorian Era are well known to us, the same cannot be said for equally notable contributions of the women of the time.

Allow me to attempt to rectify that oversight with a brief look at two of the prominent women of the Victorian Era -- Beatrix Potter, Author and Environmentalist, and Beatrice Potter Webb, Social and Political Activist.

Both ladies shared similar names, similar childhood's and lived side-by-side lives' moving in the same social circles at the same time. Both women were successful writers. Perhaps the greatest irony of all, was that both ladies would pass away in the same year, only months apart. A final similarity shared by these to remarkable ladies' is that each, in her own way, had a significant and profound impact on the times in which they lived. The impact of both ladies' is still felt today.

Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter


Beatrix Potter is perhaps best known as the creator of Peter Rabbit, one of the most beloved children's storys of all time. Beatrix was far more than simply a writer of nursery tales, however. She was also a respected farmer and stock breeder in her own right, a prominent landowner, an environmentalist, and a major supporter of the National Trust, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the British Heritage. She was a woman of intellect, determination, and influence.


Beatrix Potter was born on the 28th of July in 1866 at Number 2 Bolton Gardens, the Potter family home in the South Kensington DIstrict of London. The Potters were typical of the Victorian era a middle class family of means; able to maintain a large house with several servants. As was the custom of the day, Beatrix was cared for and raised by a nurse. She spent long hours alone, seeing her parents only at bedtime and special occasions. Her younger brother Bertram was born when she was six, and was raised in a similar manner. Both children were educated at home by a governess until Bertram was old enough to attend school. Beatrix did not attend school however, and stayed at home under the care of a Governess who encouraged her to read and write and taught her music and art. All in all, Beatrix lived a lonely life at home, having little contact with other people.

During her childhood in London, Beatrix Potter became fascinated by nature, collecting animal skeletons and other fossils to study and draw pictures of. She painted many pictures of plants and animals, often going to the Natural History Museum to learn more. During holidays to the countryside with her parents, Beatrix added first-hand experience and developed in-depth knowledge of the countryside. In 1881, when Beatrix was 16, her family rented Wray Castle near Ambleside in the Lake District. Her parents entertained many eminent guests, one of whom was Hardwicke Rawnsley, Vicar of Wray Church. Rawnsley's views on the need to preserve the natural beauty of Lakeland had a lasting effect on the young Beatrix, who had fallen in love with the unspoilt beauty surrounding the holiday home. It was a love should retain for the rest of her life.

Her Books

On September 4th, 1893, 27 year old Beatrix sat down to write a picture letter to Noel Moore, the five-year-old son of her ex-governess. Young Noel was sick and confined to bed, and Beatrix wrote to cheer and entertain the boy. Taking pen in hand, she wrote, "My dear Noel, I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits..." With those words, Beatrix Potter set in motion a chain of events that would lead to her becoming one of the more noted and respected children's authors of her day, and her works would become a mainstay in nurseries for evermore. It would be eight more years though, before "Peter Rabbit" would see the light of day.

In 1901, Beatrix attempted to publish the story as a book. She rewrote it into an exercise book and sent it to six publishers. It was rejected by every one of them. Undeterred, Beatrix had a privately published edition of 250 copies printed and distributed, then tried again a year later. This time, a publisher named Frederick Warne agreed to publish it. "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" was published in 1902, costing one shilling (the equivalent of just 5p today,) and became one of the most famous stories ever written.

In 1903, Beatrix published two more books with Frederick Warne, "The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin" and "The Tailor of Gloucester". During this time, Beatrix was a regular visitor to the Covent Garden offices of her publishers, and most of her dealings were with Norman Warne, the youngest son of the late Frederick Warne, who had passed away shortly after "Peter Rabbit" was published. Norman was the only unmarried son in the Warne family, and was a devoted uncle to his nephews and nieces. He and Beatrix quickly became friends, and Beatrix soon became a welcome, and regular, visitor to the Warne home. When Norman asked her to marry him, Beatrix accepted at once, even though her parents did not approve of the match. Unfortunately, soon after the engagement, Norman was struck down with pernicious anaemia and died a few weeks later. Beatrix was devastated and mourned him for months.

The Businesswoman

No doubt, Beatrix could have spent the rest of her life writing stories. She would eventually write 13 books in all. However, her love and knowledge of animals went far beyond merely using them as sources of inspiration for children's stories. Beatrix had other plans and ideas.

Beyond the Victorian Era, Beatrix became a major landowner in Middle England. By the time of her death in 1943, Beatrix would own over 10,000 acres in the Lakeland District. She also became prominently involved in the National Trust, the organization which cares for so much of the British heritage, eventually deeding them over 4000 acres of her lands as part of a National Heritage site. When she died on 22 December 1943, she left behind a legacy as a calculating businesswoman, a tough farmer, a forward looking environmentalist. This legacy as endearing in it's own right as the stories she had given us.

Beatrix Potter in Your Campaign

At first glance, Beatrix Potter may not seem like the most obvious, or interesting, Historical NPC for your Victorian Era Game. However, a second look at this most interesting lady will reveal some interesting possibilities. For example, in a Horror style of game, Beatrix Potter could be a Patron of the players, retaining them to clear one of her newly acquired farms or other properties of unwanted ėhaunts' or other spirits.

In a more Sceince-fiction flavoured setting, Beatrix could appear as Patron, Companion NPC, or casual acquaintance as she travels to the farthest reaches of the Empire, intent upon learning the folk tales and fables of other worlds, or studying the flora and fauna of distant planets in the company of the players.

In a Fairie or Supernatural-themed campaign world, Beatrix may be an expert not only on the plant and animal life of middle England, but would no doubt be an expert on the biology of wood sprites, fairies and other ėfay' creatures that inhabited such an enchanted environment. In such a role, Beatrix would become a fine "Expert" to be consulted. It is also in such a setting that possibly the most fun (and challenging) adventure might be presented to the players....

Adventures in the Land of "Hill Top"

In a magical/mystical campaign setting, Beatrix Potter approaches the players; having been directed to them by second and third acquaintances. Their reputations as capable and competent adventurers makes them quite desirable to Miss Potter. Her need of the players is simple - she needs them to travel to the home of Peter Rabbit and save these dear creatures! Beatrix will explain that her stories are not simply tales of her creation; rather they are anecdotes of her experiences ėthrough the looking glass' in a little known enchanted realm called "Hill Top", where the animals indeed speak English and wear human clothes. Beatrix has access to a portal that allows her to travel to this land and witness the adventures of Peter and his friends firsthand, which she presents as fictional stories upon her return. However, a great and terrible calamity has overtaken this beautiful world, and Beatrix needs bold, brave, and capable adventurers.

Through means unknown to Beatrix, a group of ruthless and cruel poachers has gained access to "Hill Top" and have begun to trap and kill the creatures living there. Beatrix needs adventurers to travel to "Hill Top" and save her animal friends. Once the players accept, Beatrix gives them access to her portal, and the players are transported to this new land. However, upon arrival, they discover to their shock -- that they have all been transformed into animals!!

The Game Master is encouraged to have as much fun with this concept as they possibly can. It would be appropriate for players to become animals suitable to their character types - for example, the sly, quick-witted thinker would become a fox; while the big brawny strongman character would transform into a Badger, and so on. It is in these animal forms (unable to manipulate weapons) that the players will have to overcome the poachers (players and Game Masters alike are encouraged to read the Grimm's Fairy Tale ėThe Bremen town Musicians' to see how this might be done). This sort of "Alternative Adventure" makes for an excellent diversion to the regular campaign, and puts the players into a position where they must use wits and guile, rather than heavy weapons, to overcome their opposition and win the day.

Whatever the setting, Game Masters are sure to find Beatrix Potter a diverting and interesting character to enliven their campaign.

Next Week: Beatice Potter-Webb

Further Reading On Beatrix Potter

Jayne Woodhouse, Beatrix Potter: Lives and Times (Des Plaines, Ill 1998 Heineman Library)

Elizabeth Battrick, The Real World of Beatrix Potter (National Trust Publishing, 1983)

Judy Taylor, Beatrix Potter: Artist, Stroyteller and Countrywoman (Penguin Books, 1997)

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:53:40 EDT

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