Written by Lili la Scala


Potty about Potter

Beatrix Potter’s long-lost story, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, is already on the bestseller list eight months ahead of publication and will be illustrated by Quentin Blake. Lili la Scala is simultaneously chuffed and disappointed.

The Tale of Tom Kitten.

The Tale of Tom Kitten.

Of all my childhood memories, the discovery of Beatrix Potter must be one of the best.

My great-aunt, a formidable woman of no more than 4’11” (though with the right topic she could be every inch a bitch when she deemed it necessary), bought me a full set when I was about five.

She’d read me the story of Peter Rabbit and his goody two-shoes sisters and I was hooked from page one. I adored Miss Potter’s elegant, whimsical, storytelling combined with the prettiest illustrations. The elegant creatures attired in frock coats that accompanied the stories conjured up a time long past, a fantastical time where a goose sported a bonnet and a rabbit wore a little blue jacket.

Even now, I enjoy those glorious stories. My favourite has always been The Tale of Tom Kitten, with its touch of the macabre as the unfortunate Tom gets turned into a roly poly pudding by the villainous Samuel Whiskers.

Imagine then, if you will, my excitement when I read recently that they had discovered a finished but unpublished story with only one watercolour portrait of the heroine with which to tease us. The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, a story of a rather adventurous little madam, who strolls around the countryside sporting a gentleman’s Norfolk jacket. Intriguingly, the painting shows an insouciant black cat in a tweed jacket and a rather fetching red tie carrying a shotgun over her shoulder; a Diana of the countryside in feline form. How sportingly marvellous.

Then, I felt a crushing disappointment. They had chosen Quentin Blake to illustrate the story. “No”, my heart cried, “No.” I have also been an avid reader of the stories of Roald Dahl since I first learned to read; such a marvellous partnership of author and illustrator there has never been. They defined each other, one’s mastery highlighted and emphasised by the other. His magical, scratchy, angular style is confronting and bold but it doesn’t have the pastel beauty, the delicacy of touch of Potter.

Illustration by Quentin Blake, courtesy Frederick Warne & Co. & the V&A Museum.

Illustration by Quentin Blake, courtesy Frederick Warne & Co./the V&A Museum.

I’m a Quentin Blake fan but I just don’t want to see his drawings alongside a Potter story. I want the beauty and the style of painting so influenced by the countryside that it almost breathes out the Lake District air as a cool breeze over the reader.

There is something about Potter’s illustrations that are unashamedly feminine and there is glory in that. Could they not have sought out a female illustrator? A woman who could take on the mantle left by Beatrix? Of course, the name of Blake has cache, but why must it always be about fame? There are many wonderful painters who specialise in capturing the countryside in paint form, how I would have loved to have seen the story illustrated by one of them.

Beatrix Potter's illustration for The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co./the V&A Museum.

Beatrix Potter’s illustration for The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co./the V&A Museum.

There are some, I suppose, who will see the Tales, with their muted tones and their old-fashioned English, as outdated and twee, and due for a modern reboot. The vintage look and feel are just some of the things that keep me coming back to these wonderful stories and I’m sure I am not the only one.

As the world pushes ever onwards in pursuit of the next thing that will be down avec les enfants, I can’t help but feel like throwing up my arms and saying, “Stop!” Look backwards; discover those stories from a time long gone. Enjoy those rosily tinted binoculars that allow us to gaze on a sepia-hued world. A time of simpler things. A time without the bustle and rush of today.

As a vintage soul in a modern world, I am afforded the best of both worlds: an ability to take the bits that I love, the stories I adore, from a bygone era and mash them up with the chance to have a voice. And, more importantly, Instagram my lunch.


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Written by Lili la Scala

Lili la Scala sings a bit, writes a bit and spends more time than is probably necessary discussing the toilet habits of her son. Bona fide vintage addict, though she is sure she sounds less tragic when described as a 'collector'.