Beatrix Potter is one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time, with her characters being an integral part of many people’s childhood memories. It is no surprise, then, that publisher Jo Hanks said she and other lovers of Potter’s fiction have ‘something truly phenomenal on our hands’ upon discovering The Tale of Kitty-In-Boots, a never before seen story about a ‘young black cat, who leads a daring double life defeating vile villains’.
Jo Hanks, who works as a publisher for Penguin Random House Children’s, discovered the complete manuscript within the archives at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum after noting a reference to the work’s main character – Kitty – in a letter Potter sent to her publisher in 1914. Just over 100 years later, a new tale to love from Potter is due to be published for the first time.
The manuscript, whilst containing an entire story that even includes the famous character of Peter Rabbit, has only been illustrated with one picture from Potter’s hand. Consequently, Penguin Random House have chosen Quentin Blake to decorate the story with his distinctive drawings largely recognisable from the works of Roald Dahl.
“Critics have declared that The Tale of Kitty-In-Boots shows Potter at her darkest”
Speaking about this opportunity, Blake said that he was ‘fascinated’ and felt as if ‘it might have been waiting for me’. Whilst Hanks said that it was ‘a challenging brief’ with Potter being ‘one of the world’s most beloved authors’ she is reported as saying Blake ‘had to be the one’ to illustrate the story.
Whilst the story involves, as Hanks says, an ‘older, slower’ Peter Rabbit who possesses the same level of mischief people have come to know in Potter’s earlier stories, the tale centres around the secretive black cat named Kitty. Critics have declared that The Tale of Kitty-In-Boots shows Potter at her darkest, with Gaby Wood going on to claim that the tale is ‘sure to delight children, feminists and queer theorists’ with the female cat donning ‘a Gentleman’s Norfolk jacket and little fur-lined boots’ at night after a day being the unsuspecting cat of an elderly lady. Kitty and Peter Rabbit come into contact with one another when Kitty is off on one of her adventures, with Potter humorously commenting that Kitty spared his life ‘because he was wearing such an elegant jacket’.
However, the story wasn’t all that popular with Potter’s publishers, the Warnes, which Potter acknowledged in a March 1914 letter declaring ‘I’m afraid it’s all I can offer this Spring’. The Warnes asked the author to write a book about pigeons after her rather sinister Mr. Tod – a book from the perspective of the villains – but Potter dismissed such a notion as ‘namby-pamby’ and continued upon her more sinister trajectory.
“The Tale of Kitty-In-Boots is certainly serendipitous in its arrival, ready to delight a whole new generation of children”
In light of this, people have reacted to the story feeling that it is rather fit for this generation, where the humour combined with the dark and serious in some of Potter’s later work will be more readily absorbed by a postmodern, rather than a post-Victorian, society.
Be prepared to see the Potter people have known and loved for generations, alongside a Potter deemed somewhat unsuitable for publication. The Tale of Kitty-In-Boots is certainly serendipitous in its arrival, ready to delight a whole new generation of children.
This year marks Potter’s 150th birthday and the story will fittingly be published on September 1st by her original publishers of Frederick Warne & Co. The book can be pre-ordered now from Amazon.
Image credit: Jim Linwood via Flickr