Beatrix Potter Accused of Stealing ‘Peter Rabbit’ Stories from ‘Enslaved Africans Working on American Plantations’

Author Judy Taylor who is editing works by Beatrix Potter. Author Judy Taylor who is editi
Peter John Moxham/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

The late British author Beatrix Potter is being accused of stealing the stories for her Peter Rabbit books from slaves in America, with a woke literature professor saying Potter is guilty of the “appropriation” of black culture.

In a recent essay, Emily Zobel Marshall, who teaches postcolonial literature at Leeds Beckett university in England, claimed Beatrix Potter ripped off the oral “Br’er Rabbit” folk tales told by slaves working on southern plantations. In addition, she accuses Potter of deliberately hiding the “sources” of her literary inspiration.

“Her tales owe a debt to the Brer Rabbit stories told by enslaved Africans working on American plantations that needs to be fully acknowledged,” Marshall wrote in her essay, which was published this month in The Conversation.

Zobel Marshall alleges Potter’s early contact with the “Brer Rabbit” tales was a result of her family’s roots in the cotton industry, which she describes as “exploitative.” She also alleges Potter learned of “Brer Rabbit” tales through the books of American journalist and folklorist Joel Chandler Harris, who created the “Uncle Remus” character.

She claims Potter tried to “steer readers away from her sources” and that her actions were “problematic,” adding that the Peter Rabbit books are really about the “resistance and survival tactics of the plantation life of enslaved people in the Americas.”

Zobel Marshall conclude, “Potter’s actions in shielding the reading public from her sources have fed into a damaging and reoccurring appropriation of Black cultural forms that continues today.”

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