Whenever I've read Beatrix Potter I remember a story my mother tells. She did her BA at the same 1970's-student-politics-branch-stacking-socialism-good-place-to-buy-an-ounce- university that I did mine a few years later. In a Eng Lit tutorial, one of her fellow students railed against Jane Austen, lambasting the poor gal and asking that important question, "where are the workers??"
In the last 25 years I've poured Guinness, beer, cider and sold wine by the glass, bottle and flagon; I've worked in a foundry, a factory, and a warehouse; washed supermarket floors; poured cocktails; argued environmentalism, planning, transport and the role of government, and never, ever once wondered where the workers are. They are us. We are them. All of us. (Oh except you mate, and you know who you are.)
But nothing brings out my junior radicalism quite like Beatrix Potter. What a fucking loony.
"..."but it would never do to eat our customers; they would leave us and go to Tabitha Twitchit's."Is this the death of capitalism or just the Darwinian nature of mercantilism? Hmmm.... let me try and summarise the plot:
"On the contrary, they would go nowhere," replied Ginger gloomily. (Tabatha Twitchit kept the only other shop in the village. She did not give credit)...
"But there is no money in what is called the "till"."
Cat (Ginger) and dog (Pickles) have a shop. They give unlimited credit. No one pays; they have to eat their own stock. Pickles can't afford his own dog licence and has paranoid delusions about the police. They get a rates notice from the Council and decide to call it a day.
Ginger now lives in a rabbit warren and looks suspiciously stout. Pickles is a gamekeeper. Tabatha Twitchit jacks up her prices. The Dormouse family enter the candle market but fail to make an impression. Henny-penny opens a shop and does quite well. She is an idiot.
"Sally Henny-penny gets rather flustered when she tries to count out change, and she insists on being paid cash; but she is quite harmless."Meanwhile in The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies;
"When Benjamin Bunny grew up, he married his Cousin Flopsy. They had a large family, and they were very improvident and cheerful."Milord, the prosecution rests.
Putting aside failed shopkeepers and enough inbreeding for a volume of royal family jokes, the stories go nowhere. The plots make even less sense than real life. I mean, I never expect real life to follow a convenient narrative with a clear lesson to be learned (other than with experience, regret and occasionally some pain) but Beatrix Potter has even less narrative than real life. What is the point of these stories? What is the fucking point?? Surrealism with bunnies, perhaps? It seems unlikely.
It's funny, in the last few years I've often been annoyed at the ham-fisted attempts by children's books to teach important lessons (like sustainability) in a flurry of PC goodness. I'm pretty sure you can't teach science with fables; indeed, there's something not only hypocritical about it, it's a contradiction in terms. So when Captain Fucking Planet and the Green Gabled Warriors save the ozone layer using nothing but the love of trees and recycled toilet paper, they can go fuck themselves as far as I'm concerned.
I don't know what Beatrix Potter is trying to say; I honestly don't. But that doesn't stop Will from asking for me to read it. And I shall smile and read it some more. And then when he's old enough, we'll read PG Wodehouse. Then he'll learn who the real workers are...