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  • Writer's pictureTenley Sablatzky

Beatrix Potter's Codebreaker and the Incredible Work of Catalogers

I don't recall the first time I read, or was read-to, the story of Peter Rabbit. I imagine I was pretty young, and there's a pretty good chance my mom was the one reading. But that could also describe any of the other times that I read Peter Rabbit as a kid, because I do remember that it was a popular bedtime request. Which made today's presentation at Blythe House all the more special, because it was all about Beatrix Potter.

Despite being a fan of her writing, I've never known much about Potter as a person. Turns out, she is an incredibly fascinating woman. I don't wanna' say more fascinating that Peter Rabbit, because who could possibly meet that unrealistic standard, but still... Pretty cool.

One of the, many, interesting things we learned was about Potter's writing style. She wrote in a code that she made up by herself.

Today we went to Blythe House where we learned fascinating facts about the life and writings of Beatrix Potter. Most notably, is the fact that she wrote her books in code; she often wouldn't use paragraphs or punctuation in a very tight, almost indistinguishable cursive. For a long time, many of her writings were undecipherable because her code contains over 200,000 unique words! The thought of a writer coming up with such an intense code to keep their work private is mind-blowing, but what's also incredible is the story of how the code was broken.

Beatrix Potter's original artwork

Leslie Linder was the first to decipher her writings by working word-by-word using a traditional card catalog system. During our tour today we got to learn about him and how went about the tedious process of decoding Potter's journals. Later, still being fascinated about this incredible feet, I did some more reading online about Linder's work. Specifically, I found this article that talks all about Potter's journals and how Linder went about deciphering the code. Then of course the article recommends the biography of Linder's work which I haven't gotten... yet, but probably will because it sounds incredible.

** Beatrix Potter's original artworks

The experience made me think a lot about the important work of cataloging librarians and archivists. It is incredibly time consuming, and often tedious work that many people - including myself - often overlook. But it's important work that often results in mind-blowing stories and creations like the one's we heard today.

** Blythe House entrance-way display of antique toys and games.

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