Peter Rabbit on His 100th Birthday

An appreciation of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit (from the Los Angeles Times Book Review)

Jerry Griswold
7 min readMar 22, 2016

Sep 4th 1893
My dear Noel,

I don’t know what to write you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were–Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.

So began a letter, 100 years ago, from Beatrix Potter to Noel Moore, the 5-year-old son of her former governess. It would later become “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” perhaps the most famous work of children’s literature and what Graham Greene called “the finest story in the English language.”

“I never tire of Beatrix Potter,” Marianne Moore said, and over the years, others have agreed, among them British writers W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood and George Orwell. Potter herself, however, always insisted that her American readers understood her best.

What is there to understand? First of all, her style. Potter had a gift for understatement. When, for example, Peter’s mother warns him not to go into Mr. McGregor’s garden, she says simply: “Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”

That is a fine line, though not so fine, perhaps, as the one in Potter’s “The Tale of Ginger and Pickles” where Ginger (a cat) and Pickles (a…

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Jerry Griswold

Writer/critic/professor/journalist: children’s literature, culture, film, travel. Seven books, 100's of essays in NY&LA Times.