James M. Barrie
About the Author
Scottish journalist, playwright, and children's book writer. Barrie became world famous with his play and story about Peter Pan (1904), the boy who lived in Never Land, had a war with Captain Hook, and would not grow up. The first name of Peter Pan was almost certainly taken from Peter Llewellyn Davies (1897-1960), one of the several Davies brothers that Barrie knew.
James Matthew Barrie was born in the Lowland village of Kirriemuir, in Forfashire. His father, David Barrie was a handloom weaver, and mother, Margaret Ogilvy, the daughter of a stonemason. They had ten children, Barrie was the ninth. Jamie, as he was called, heard tales of pirates from his mother, who read her children R.L. Stevenson's adventure stories in the evenings. When Barrie was seven, his brother David died in a skating accident. David had been the mother's favorite child, and she fell into depression. Barrie tried to gain her affection by dressing up in the dead boy's clothes. The obsessive relationship that grew between mother and son was to mark the whole of his life. After her death Barrie published in 1896 an adoring biography of his mother.
At the age of 13, Barrie left his home village. At school he became interested in theatre and devoured works by such authors as Jules Verne, Mayne Reid, and James Fenimore Cooper. His classmates Barrie observed like an outsider, they were tall, interested in girls, while he remained small and apparently he never had a girl friend. Barrie studied at Dumfries Academy at the University of Edinburgh, receiving his M.A. in 1882. After working as a journalist for the Nottingham Journal, he moved in 1885 with empty pockets to London as a freelance writer. He sold his writings, mostly humorous, to fashionable magazine, such as The Pall Mall Gazette. In his mystery novel, Better Dead (1888), Barrie made jokes of well-known people. Barrie knew such great figures of literature as G.B. Shaw, who did not like his pipe smoking, and H.G. Wells, and could surprise them with his remarks. Once he said to Wells: "It is all very well to be able to write books, but can you waggle your ears?" When a friend noticed that he ordered Brussels sprouts every day, he explained: "I cannot resists ordering them. The words are so lovely to say." With his friends, Jerome K. Jerome, Arthur Conan Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse and others, Barrie founded a cricket club, called Allahakbarries. Doyle was the only member who could actually play cricket. During World War I Barrie made a western film with his literary friends, starring Shaw, William Archer, G.K. Chesterton, etc.
In 1888 Barie gained his first fame with Auld Licht Idylls, sketches of Scottish life. Critics praised its originality. His melodramatic novel, The Little Minister (1891), became a huge success, and was filmed later three times. After its dramatization Barrie wrote mostly for the theater. In 1894 he married Mary Ansell, who had appeared in his play Walker, London. According to Janet Dunbar's biography (1970), Barrie was impotent. "Boys can't love", was Barrie's explanation to her.
The Little Minister was a popular stage production in 1897 both in England and in the Unites States, where Barrie began his collaboration with the impresario Charles Frohman and his star Maude Adams. Two of Barrie's best plays, Quality Street, about two sisters who start a school "for genteel children", and The Admirable Crichton, in which a butler saves a family after a shipwreck, were produced in London in 1902, and also later filmed. In the same year, Peter Pan appeared by name in Barrie's adult novel The Little White Bird. It was a first-person narrative about a wealthy bachelor clubman's attachment to a little boy, David. Taking this boy for walks in Kensington Gardens, the narrator tells him of Peter Pan, who can be found in the Gardens at night. Peter Pan was produced for the stage in 1904 but the play had to wait several years for a definitive printed version and it did not appear as a narrative story until 1911. The book was titled Peter and Wendy. In the novel's epilogue Peter visits a grown-up Wendy.
Peter Pan evolved gradually from the stories that Barrie told to Sylvia Llewelyn Davies's five young sons. She was the daughter of the novelist George du Maurier, and a motherly figure, with whom Barrie formed a long friendship. Arthur, her husband, was not happy about Barrie's invasion of the family. In 1909 Mary Barrie began an affair with the writer Gilbert Cannan and Barrie's marriage ended. When Sylvia Llwelyn Davies and her husband died, Barrie was the unofficial guardian of their sons, but in reality he was perhaps more a sixth child than an adoptive father. George, one of the sons, died in World War I, Michael drowned himself with his boy friend in Oxford. Michael's death was a deep blow to Barrie. Peter, who become a publisher, committed suicide in 1960.
Barrie wrote two more fantasy plays. Dear Brutus (1917) described a group of people who enter a magic wood where they are transformed into the people they might have become had they made different choices. Mary Rose (1920) was a story of a mother, who is searching for her lost child. Eventually she becomes a ghost. What Every Woman Knows (1908) portrayed a determined woman, Maggie, whose husband eventually realizes that he owes his success to her. "It's sort of bloom on a woman. If you have it, you don't need to have anything else, and if you don't have it, it doesn't much matter what else you have. Some woman, the few, have charm for all; and most have charm for one. But some have charm for none." (from What Every Woman Knows, 1908) In 1913 Barrie became a baronet and in 1922 he received the Order of Merit. Barrie's penthouse at Adelphi Terrace was visited by ministers, duchesses, movie stars, such as Charlie Chaplin, and a number of admirers, whom he occasionally helped with money or advises. Even at his old age, Barrie could play enthusiastically Captain Hook and Peter Pan with the son of his secretary, Lady Cynthia Asquith. Barrie was elected lord rector of St. Andrew's University and in 1930 chancellor of Edinburgh University. Barrie died on June 3, 1937.
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