BBC Radio 7, 1 November 2009
Covering much the same biographical ground as the recent film starring
Renee Zellweger, A Life in Nature told the story of the famous children\s author, born to a life of privileged middle-class
respectability, who transcended her parents' expectations by becoming a best-selling writer, a major landowner in the Lake
District, and a staunch supporter of conservation.
Unlike the film version, however, this reading by the actress Lindsay Duncan, based
on Linda Lear's biography (originally broadcast in Radio 4's Book of the Week series) created an unsentimental
portrait of Potter - a woman so determined to succeed that no one could really stand in her way. Although her parents were
both possessive and conservative in outlook (expecting their daughter to follow a conventional path towards marriage and motherhood),
they exerted little influence over her. She went her own way and remained responsible for her own destiny. Deprived of her
first and greatest love, the youngest member of the Warne family (who also published her books), she bought a farmhouse in
the Lake District and made great efforts to contribute to the rural economy. When she eventually married the local estate
agent Heelis, she treated it as a business partnership as well as a love-match.
A Life in Nature also spent some considerable time focusing on the older
Potter, who used her royalties wisely to purchase more and more land in the Lake District. She worked tirelessly to sustain
the rural economy, not only financially but also through her own manual labour; it was not uncommon to find her tending sheep
or assisting local farmers in their daily duties.
By the 1940s Potter became less and less able to undertake such tasks, as she fell
victim to bronchitis and other illnesses. Her death in 1942 was an unsentimental affair; in her view it was something inevitable,
and she made sure that everyone was provided for in her will. Her land was left to the National Trust, which still maintains
responsibility for it to this day. Her contribution was immense, not only in terms of her writing, but also in the way she
encouraged people to think about the regional ecology and land preservation policy. These aspects of her life might not have
been interesting for the makers of Miss Potter, but they told us a lot about Potter herself.