Thursday, June 1, 2023

Cancelling Peter Rabbit?

Another classic cancelled?
.... Welcome, please, a new Potter for the 21st century: exploitative, colonialist, dishonest. Potter’s concealment, claims Dr Emily Zobel Marshall, ‘[feeds] into a damaging and recurring appropriation of Black cultural forms that continues today’.

Blimey. Zobel Marshall’s hypothesis rests on a comparative reading of several of Potter’s children’s books and the Brer Rabbit stories published by American folklorist Joel Chandler Harris, beginning in the 1880s, which celebrate the cunning of a trickster rabbit whose misdemeanours, like those of Peter Rabbit, include stealing food. ....

For Zobel Marshall, it’s too good a coincidence to ignore. Correctly she points out that Chandler Harris’s stories had not been published when Potter, born in 1866, was a child. She concludes that Potter’s knowledge of the Brer Rabbit tales ‘was a result of her family roots in the cotton industry’. So easily in 2023 is a reputation scuppered. ....

Writers’ work is, and must be, susceptible to scrutiny, evaluation, interpretation. The quality and enduring popularity of Potter’s work keeps her in modern sight lines. Does she deserve castigation for cultural appropriation? The answer is the same as it must be for any artist or storyteller: not when that criticism has any foundation in supposition.
Matthew Dennison, "Don’t cancel Beatrix Potter," The Spectator, June 3, 2023.

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