The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse by Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse cover

Which house are you? Fight, flight, freeze or appease? Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910) is inclined to appease, as perhaps you must, if you are small and vulnerable.

Except every mouse I have ever met are bolshy, ‘sit on this and swivel’ types. In winter they hang out behind the dishwasher and will hurtle their brown little bodies across the kitchen, even with me, the rightful inhabitant, standing right there. Contrary to literary depictions, mice are definitely not the appeasing type. A realistic personification of mice would render them stunt doubles and heist criminals.

But what of Mrs. Tittlemouse? Mrs. Tittlemouse is the 1910 epitome of the perfect, uncomplaining housewife. She is also the epitome of a partner violence victim.

“Just as rapport-building has a good reputation, explicitness applied by women in this culture has a terrible reputation. A woman who is clear and precise is viewed as cold, or a bitch, or both. A woman is expected, first and foremost, to respond to every communication from a man. And the response is expected to be one of willingness and attentiveness. It is considered attractive if she is a bit uncertain (the opposite of explicit). Women are expected to be warm and open, and in the context of approaches from male strangers, warmth lengthens the encounter, raises his expectations, increases his investment, and, at best, wastes time. At worst, it serves the man who has sinister intent by providing much of the information he will need to evaluate and then control his prospective victim.”
― Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

So do I approach this story like it’s 1910 or like it’s 2019? Well, let’s not be boring. Let’s see how this story from the First Golden Age of Children’s Literature has fared. Continue reading “The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse by Beatrix Potter”

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter was originally called The Roly-Poly Pudding and written as a Christmas present to a child. Potter’s image of the cat rolled up in dough is one of those resonant illustrations which, once seen, can never be unseen. Perhaps this image scarred you, too, as a child.

Perhaps it scars you now.

What makes an image resonant? I’ve explored that question elsewhere. In any case, I’m not surprised Potter originally used the story’s most scarring imagery as the original title, and I’m also not surprised that the title was changed. It wasn’t exactly in keeping with the rest of the Beatrix Potter books. Continue reading “The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter”

The Tale of Johnny Town-mouse by Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Johnny Town-mouse cover

Leading up to 1918, Beatrix Potter’s publishers were asking her for a new story. This was wartime. Austerity all around. Frederick Warne and Co. were affected alongside everyone else and required something new from their bestselling children’s author. But Beatrix had moved to the country and the country was keeping her very busy. Rather than come up with something wholly original, she chose to rewrite an Aesop fable: The Town Mouse & The Country Mouse. Potter personalised the mouse by giving him a name: The Tale of Johnny Town-mouse.

Is it ironic that Beatrix Potter glorified the country even while country life made her so busy she barely had time to write and illustrate anymore? Probably not ironic, given how post-purchase rationalisation works. Beatrix had moved the country and she’d enjoy every minute, dammit. And if she couldn’t convince herself on a daily basis, she’d write a book about it. Continue reading “The Tale of Johnny Town-mouse by Beatrix Potter”