July 1, 2010

'What An Appalling Quantity Of Peter!' That's What Bea Said!


Did you know Peter Rabbit began in 1893 as a series of illustrated letters to Beatrix Potter's former governess's five-year-old son? And that after seven years, the governess, Annie Moore, encouraged Potter to publish them, but no one would do the books kid-size and cheap the way Potter wanted, so she published them herself, twice, before they got picked up?

And did you know that when the book went into its sixth printing in the first year, Potter said, "The public must be fond of rabbits! What an appalling quantity of Peter"? And that the book has since sold over 40 million copies?

Though I had a vague awareness of that last point, this was otherwise news to me. So I must be in the target demo of the Victoria & Albert Museum's small exhibition opening this weekend about the origins of the Peter Rabbit™ phenomenon. It's called, appropriately enough, Peter Rabbit™ the tale of The Tale. It is sponsored, inevitably, but somewhat problematically, by the publisher themselves.

According to the webpage linked above, there were minor tweaks along the way from personal project to publishing powerhouse--dropped illustrations and story points, substituted endpapers, altered formats, &c., &c.--that were not rectified until the books' centenary edition in 2002.

So the 40 million-odd copies you might have picked up used for a ha'penny or whatever are all incomplete, inaccurate, insufficient. I'm sure the publisher deeply regrets the error, &c., &c., and so they are prepared to offer you a complete, correct, sufficient Centenary Edition of The Tales of Peter Rabbit, et al, in a size and format approved by the author, and in a collector's case, for a highly reasonable $153 or so.

I am looking forward to seeing what happens in 2013, 70 years after Potter's death, when her works enter the public domain. That little ™ in the title could turn out to be the most important thing about this exhibition.

THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS |Peter Rabbit™: the tale of The Tale, runs through 8 Jan 2011 [vam.ac.uk via bibliodyssey]
The Original Peter Rabbit Books 1-23 Presentation Box (Peter Rabbit Centenary), new from $153 [amazon]

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