Of all Beatrix Potter’s many tales, she often said it was The Tailor of Gloucester that proved to be her favorite. She even wrote it right around Christmastime of 1901, especially for the daughter of her former governess (oh the Brits with their governesses). In 1902, she was circulating the story “privately” to friends and, by 1903, it was off to the presses for the masses to gobble up with its tidings of altruism perfectly tailored to the season.
With its overt Cinderella a.k.a. The Little Glass Slipper tones (in terms of talking mice being key to the story and a lowly worker being forced to toil in bootleg conditions), it has the sort of “woe is me” aura followed by a miraculous resolution that fits in most seamlessly with the Christmastime narrative. A genre unto itself that has existed for centuries–but seemed to be born in its modern iteration with Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, A Christmas Carol. For it seems the Brits have the monopoly on painting a bleak portrait of poverty for the end of the year as a means to cheesily insist, “But look, just because you’re broke doesn’t mean you can’t still be kind.” “Gee, thanks Government-Issued Injustice, I’ll be sure to remember that when I’m freezing my tits off and hungrier than a goddamn horse.”
The eponymous tailor is one for buying into that “chin up” attitude as he works against an impossible deadline with nary a sou to his name. Being accordingly short on time and energy to do it himself, this tailor of meager earnings foolishly enlists his cat, Simpkin, to go pick up some twist (cherry-colored, to be precise), an essential required for him to finish making a coat. All of this, naturally, is leading up to some very unanticipated fuckery on the part of Simpkin.
On a side note, Potter did ground the story somewhat in reality, basing it on John Prichard, a real life tailor in Gloucester whose assistants had finished his coat for him in the middle of the night and left the same note featured at the end of Potter’s story. Rather than giving them credit, he kept prattling on that fairies did it as a means to perpetuate some lore–so yeah, as usual the “invisible workforce” was treated invisibly and essentially written off for their efforts in the name of, ostensibly, making the town believe in “magic.”
At least it spawned an instant classic from Potter, one supposes–complete with the expectedly trite message about the particular importance of goodwill during Christmas (as though to say, Be nice for two days, and you can go back to being your usual dick self afterward). In that spirit, Potter lays the groundwork for such a theme with her reminder, “But it is in the old story that all the beasts can talk, in the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning (though there are very few folk that can hear them, or know what it is that they say).”
It’s likely that those who cannot hear them are the affluent, a sect that prefers to keep mice out of their perfectly manicured mansions. And exotic pets like ocelots aren’t generally much for gabbing. To that end, the usual British class implications are at play, with Potter pointing out the overtly cruel irony, “…although he sewed fine silk for his neighbours, he himself was very, very poor—a little old man in spectacles, with a pinched face, old crooked fingers, and a suit of thread-bare clothes.” And he is expected to do as much for the mayor of Gloucester, who has commissioned him to create his waistcoat for his wedding on Christmas Day (because selfish rich pricks would choose Christmas Day to get married, not considering most people have other shit to do).
With his deadline being Saturday and this being Tuesday evening, the tailor is understandably freaking the fuck out, muttering in his sleep, “No more twist! No more twist!” in a feverish state of panic. For you see, cats being the cunts that they are, Simpkin was not one to give up the goods upon arriving back at the house to find all his mice had been released. The tailor, noble soul that he is, was even worried about the effect his impetuous charity toward the mice would have on Simpkin as he noted, “Was it right to let loose those mice, undoubtedly the property of Simpkin?” Then, like a broken record, he adds, “Alack, I am undone, for I have no more twist!” Okay, okay–we fucking get it.
In this sense, Potter perhaps unintentionally highlights that to tamper with the balance in a food chain inevitably upsets a natural order. This, too, plays into the Christmastime hooey, when people are prone to bathing in swathes of sentimentality for the sake of telling themselves that humanity isn’t all knaves and dictators, the oppressor and the oppressed. No, no, humanity has some warm and fuzzy cachet as well. Like being trapped inside of a snow globe, the brief, frozen-in-time haze of Christmas lets us pretend that the entire crux of existence isn’t very literally founded upon the notion: eat or be eaten. Lets us pretend that utopian ideals like, “Love is all you need” are enough. That the world would be willing to function on such principles. The type of principles inferring a cat would “suddenly” “come to his senses” and decide it was wrong to eat mice.
So yes, within the schmaltzy Christmas story lens of The Tailor of Gloucester, as a means to show gratitude for the tailor’s unwittingly so kind act of freeing the mice from the teacups under which Simpkin had trapped them, they see fit (no tailor pun intended) to repay the sickly old man with the favor of finishing the waistcoat for him while he recovers from his bout of illness. Proving the point that one good turn deserves another, and that one never knows when being generous might pay off unexpectedly–for this is the only way a moral of the sort can be instilled within people: if they’re led to believe it might pay off. It’s sort of tantamount to perpetually playing the lottery and never winning. If random acts of kindness were showcased in Christmas tales in order to show that it’s important to do them solely for the sake of doing them and not secretly expecting something back from the universe in return, then yeah, it would be a lovely parable. Or at least not such a patently smarmy one.
If beasts really could talk between the hours of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they would likely tell humans to stop being so full of shit with their false messages of “goodwill” and “Peace on Earth.” They know and have seen how we truly feel.