‘Total race-baiting garbage’: ‘Peter Rabbit’ is now problematic because it’s 2023

Eighty years after her death in 1943, beloved author Beatrix Potter is under fire for allegedly stealing her children’s stories, including “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” from African slave tales.

No, not even Peter Rabbit can escape the need by liberals to make everything about race.

“As a scholar of folktales and postcolonial literature … I spend a lot of time tracing the roots of stories and examining the impact of colonial legacies on them,” Dr. Emily Zobel Marshall, a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and an expert in Postcolonial theory, recently wrote for an article in The Conversation. “While rereading another collection of children’s stories featuring the ‘trickster hero’ Brer Rabbit – for my own book on how these folktales were introduced to North America by enslaved Africans – it became clear to me that the similarities between Beatrix Potter’s tales and the Brer Rabbit stories demand further consideration.”

This, Marshall notes, is in contrast to the accepted Peter Rabbit origin story.

“It is popularly held that Potter conceived of her tales in 1893, while writing to the sickly son of her friend and former governess, Annie Moore,” Marshall explained. “In these letters she wrote and illustrated stories featuring her pet rabbit, Peter Piper.”

But the history of Brer Rabbit tells a different story.

“The tales of Brer Rabbit can be traced back to pre-colonial Africa, from where they were transported to the plantations of America by enslaved people,” Marshall wrote. “The stories were first adapted for a white audience in the late 19th century by the American journalist and folklorist Joel Chandler Harris.”

“Harris created a fictional African American narrator for his stories, Uncle Remus, whose name became the popular title for his collections,” she stated.

Though there are a number of “similarities” between Peter and Brer (Potter’s “work was strongly influenced by Harris – ‘whose Brer Rabbit stories she had loved as a child,'” according to Marshall), there are some marked differences.

“Brer Rabbit is a cunning trickster who lives in a briar (bramble) patch and outwits larger animals using his brains rather than his brawn,” Marshall explained, while Peter Rabbit is a “cute and wily bunny who wears a bright blue jacket.”

“And yet, I was amazed to realise how little comment there has been over the years about the many similarities between Potter’s tales and the Africa-originated Brer Rabbit folktales,” the author said.

According to Marshall, this makes Peter Rabbit “problematic.”

“The steps Potter took to steer readers away from her sources are problematic. She appears to have been keen to claim the stories as her own, while ensuring that readers didn’t make the connection between Peter Rabbit and the stories narrated by Uncle Remus,” she wrote. “Potter used the introductions to some of her tales to emphasise her authorship, using phrases such as ‘I remember’ and ‘I can tell you’ as if taking the place of Harris’s fictional narrator.”

Far from being about British culture, Harris’s stories “came to embody the tactics of resistance that enslaved people implemented to survive the brutality of plantation life.”

“Harris adapted them while living on the Turnwold cotton plantation in the southern US state of Georgia in the late 19th century,” Marshall wrote. “He would spend his evenings in the quarters of the enslaved workers, listening to them share these stories.”

“[A]bove all, Peter Rabbit and the rest of Potter’s tales are viewed as quintessentially English stories about characters conjured from Potter’s brilliant mind and inspired by her life in rural England,” she said. “Yet her tales are, at heart, folktales that originated in Africa before being adapted to expose and reflect the violence, resistance and survival tactics of the plantation life of enslaved people in the Americas.”

Online, Marshall’s deep dive down the literary rabbit hole was met by many with exasperation.

Meanwhile, Dr. Marshall has shut down the online “conversation.”

Her Twitter account is locked, and her tweets are protected.



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