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for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

J. M. Barrie (1860-1937) - in full Sir James Matthew, Baronet Barrie


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.

"When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies." (from Peter Pan)

James Matthew Barrie was born in the Lowland village of Kirriemuir, in Forfarshire (now Angus). His father, David Barrie was a handloom weaver, and mother, Margaret Ogilvy, the daughter of a stonemason. They had ten children, and Barrie was the ninth. Jamie, as he was called, heard tales of pirates from his mother, who read her children adventure stories in the evenings. Before her marriage Margaret Ogilvy belonged to a religious sect called the Auld Lichts, or Old Lights, and many the stories concerning it inspired later Barrie's work. His father Barrie seldom mentions in his autobiographical works.

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 on her.

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 never had a girlfriend. His first play, Bandolero, the Bandit, was performed at Dumfries Amateur Dramatic Club when he was seventeen. Barrie also appeared on the stage.  

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 resist ordering them. The words are so lovely to say." Barrie was forced to quit smoking by his fiancée. His dependence on tobacco Barrie described in My Lady Nicotine: A Study of Smoke (1890): "I gave up my most delightful solace, as I regarded it, for no other reason that that the lady who was willing to fling herself away on me said that I must choose between it and her. This deferred our marriage for six months."

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 Barrie 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.

"Every time a child says 'I don't believe in fairies' there is a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead." (from Peter Pan)

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, while Michael drowned himself with his boy friend in Oxford. Michael's death was a deep blow to Barrie. A third son Peter, who became a publisher, committed suicide in 1960.

Peter Pan was first performed at the Duke of York's Theatre, London, in 1904. The fantastic world of Peter Pan had previously been presented in Barrie's The Little White Bird (1902). All children, except one, grow up.  The story begins in the Bloomsbury flat of the Darlings, which is visited by Peter Pan. He is a boy who has run away from his home to avoid growing up. Like his attendant fairy Tinker Bell, he can fly and teaches the skill to the three Darling children. Wendy Darling with her brothers accompany Peter Pan to Never Land where he lives with the Lost Boys, protected by a tribe of Red Indians. Wendy becomes mother to the boys. When Peter is away, she is captured with all her 'family' by the pirate Captain Hook. They are saved from the walk on the plank by Peter's bravery. Hook is eaten by his nemesis, the crocodile who had swallowed a ticking clock. Peter takes Wendy and her brothers back home but he declines an offer of adoption from Mrs. Darling. Wendy promises visit him every year to do the spring cleaning.

Peter Pan has been seen as an Oedipal character and Barrie himself has been considered by Freudians a suitable target for analysis. The author had stopped growing when he reached five feet in height, suffered from migraines and rarely smiled. Wendy, Peter's girl friend, borrowed her name from Barrie – it was his nickname. W.E. Henley's daughter Margaret called Barrie Friendly-Wendy. The portrait of Wendy owes much to Barrie's mother, an orphaned "little mother" who had to raise her younger brother.

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, including Charlie Chaplin, and a number of admirers, whom he occasionally helped with money or advice. 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 of pneumonia on June 19, 1937, in London. A doctor told he must try to sleep and Barrie said: "I can't sleep." Those were his last words allegedly. The London opening The Boy David, which he had written especially for a young German actress Elizabeth Bergner after falling in love with her, was postponed. The play was complemented by music from the young William Walton (1902-1983); the music has not survived. Barrie had had a hand in the composer's score for the film adaptation of As You Like It (1936), in which Bergner was cast as Rosalind, opposite Laurence Olivier's Orlando. The Boy David was damned by London critics and was closed after a few weeks. Barrie left a legacy to Elizabeth in his will. There was some speculation in the press at his neglet of the leading ladies who had played Peter Pan.

For further reading: Barrie: The Story of a Genius by J.A. Hammerton (1929); The Story of J.M.B. (Sir James Barrie) by Denis Mackail (1941); Fifty Years of Peter Pan by R.L. Green (1954); Portrait of Barrie by Cynthia Asquith (1954); J.M. Barrie by R.L. Green (1961); J.M. Barrie: The Man Behind the Image by Janet Dunbar (1970); J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys by Andrew Birkin (1979) The Case of Peter Pan by J. Rose (1984); J.M. Barrie by Leonée Ormond (1987); The Peter Pan Chronicles by Bruce K.Hanson (1993); J.M. Barrie: The Magic Behind Peter Pan by Susan Bivin Aller (1994); Peter Pan: The Story of Lost Childhood by Kathleen Kelley-Laine (1997) J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Real Story Behind Peter Pan by Andrew Birkin (2003); Hide-and-Seek with Angels: A Life of J. M. Barrie by Lisa Chaney (2006); Neverland: J. M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon (2011)

Selected works:

  • Bandolero, the Bandit, 1877 (play, prod. 1877)
  • Caught Napping: A Commedietta, 1883 (privately printed)
  • The New Amphion, 1886
  • Auld Licht Idylls, 1888
  • Better Dead, 1888
  • When a Man's Single, 1888
  • A Window in Thrums, 1889
  • An Edinburgh Eleven; Pencil Portraits from College Life, 1889 
  • My Lady Nicotine: A Study in Smoke, 1890
    - Neiti Nikotiini: tutkielma tupakoinnista (suom. Ville-Juhani Sutinen, 2013)
  • The Little Minister, 1891
  • Ibsen's Ghost, 1891 (play, prod. 1891, privately printed 1931)
  • Richard Savage, 1891 (play, with H.B. Marriot-Watson)
  • A Holiday in Bed and Other Sketches, 1982 (also: Life in a Counrtry Manse, 1899)
  • Walker London, 1892 (play, prod. 1892)
  • Professor's Love Story, 1892 (play, prod. 1892)
  • Tillyloss Scandal, 1893
  • Two of Them, 1893
  • Becky Sharp, 1893 (adaptation of the novel Vanity Fair by W.M. Thackeray)
  • An Auld Licht Manse and Other Sketches, 1893
  • Scotland's Lament: A Poem on the Death of Robert Louis Stevenson, December 3rd, 1894, 1895 (privately printed)
  • Jane Annie, or the Good Conduct Prize Comic Opera, 1893 (with A. Conan Doyle)
  • Margaret Ogilvy, 1896
  • Tommy and Grizel, 1896
  • Novels, Tales, Sketches, 1896
  • Sentimental Tommy: The Story of His Boyhood, 1896 (film adapatation 1921)
  • A Platonic Friendship, 1898 (play, prod. in London 1898)
  • The Wedding Guest: A Comedy in Four Acts, 1900
  • Maude Adams in Quality Street: A Comedy in Four Acts, 1901
  • Quality Street, 1902 (film adaptations: 1927, dir. by Sidney Franklin, starring Marion Davies and Conrad Nagel; 1937, dir. by George Stevens, starring Katherine Hepburn, Franchot Tone, Fay Bainter, Eric Blore)
  • The Little White Bird, 1902 (note: Peter Pan appeared first time)
  • The Admirable Crichton, 1902 (play, prod. in London 1902, film adaptations: 1918, and 1957, dir. by Lewis Gilbert, starring Kenneth More, Diane Cilento, Cecil Parker)
  • Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Would Nor Grow Up, 1904 (play) - films: first movie version in 1924; Disney's animated movie in 1954; TV movie in 1976; Steven Spielberg's Hook in 1991, starring Dante Basco, Caroline Goodall, Dustin Hoffman, Bob Hoskins, Julia Roberts, Maggie Smith, Robin Williams; Peter Pan (2003), dir. by P.J. Hogan, starring Jeremy Sumpter, Jason Isaacs, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Ludvine Sagnier
  • Pantaloon, 1905 (play, prod. in London and New York 1905)
  • Alice Sit-sit-the-Fire, 1905 (play, prod. in London and New York 1905)
  • Josephine, 1906 (play)
  • Punch, 1906 (play)
  • Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, 1906 (with drawings by Arthur Rackham) - Peter Pan Kensingtonin puistossa (suom. Mikko Vuorinen, 2008)
  • Walker, London: A Farcial Comedy in Three Acts, 1907
  • What Every Woman Knows, 1908 (play)
  • When Wendy Grew Up: An Afterthought, 1908
  • George Meredith, 1909, 1909
  • Old Friends, 1910 (play)
  • A Slice of Life, 1910 (play)
  • The Twelve-Pound Look, 1910 (play)
  • Peter and Wendy, 1911 (illustrated by F.D. Bedford; later published as Peter Pan and Wendy) - Pekka Poikanen (suom. Tyyni Haapanen-Tallgren, 1922) / Peter Pan (suom. Tyyni Tuulio, illustrated by Björn Landström, 1954; Martta Eskelinen, 1978; Ilkka Rekiaro, 1992; Sari Karhulahti, 2002)
  • Rosalind, 1912 (play)
  • The Dramatist Get What They Want, 1912 (play)
  • The Will, 1913 (play)
  • The Adored One, 1913 (play)
  • Half Hours, 1914 (four one act plays: Pantaloon, The Twelve-Pound Look, Rosalind, The Will)
  • "Der Tag;" or, The Tragic Man, 1914 (play)
  • Rosy Rapture, the Bride of the Beauty Chorus, 1915 (play)
  • The Fatal Typist, 1915 (play)
  • The New Word, 1915 (play)
  • The Little Minister, 1915 (screenplay, film adaptations: 1915, 1921, and 1934, dir. by Richard Wallace, starring Catherine Hepburn, Joen Beal)
  • A Kiss for Cinderella, 1916 (film adaptation 1925)
  • The Real Thinf at Last, 1916 (play, also screenplay)
  • Irene Vanbrugh's Pantomime, 1916 (play)
  • Shakespeare's Legacy, 1916 (play, privately printed)
  • A Kiss for Cinderella, 1916 (play)
  • Who Was Sarah Findlay? By Mark Twain With a Suggested Solution of the Mystery, 1917 (privately printed)
  • The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, 1917 (play)
  • Reconstructing the Crime, 1917 (play)
  • Dear Brutus, 1917 (play)
  • What Every Woman Knows: A Comedy, 1917 (film adaptations: 1917, 1921, and 1934, dir. by Gregory La Cava, starring Helena Hayes, Brian Aherne, Madge Evans, Lucile Watson)
  • A Well-Remembered Voice, 1918 (play)
  • Echoes of the War, 1918
  • The Truth about the Russian Dancers, 1920 (play)
  • Mary Rose: A Play in Three Acts, 1920 (play)
  • Shall We Join the Ladies?, 1921 (play, with L.E. Jones)
  • Courage, 1922 (the rectorial address delivered at St. Andrews university, May 3, 1922)
  • Neil and Tintinnabulum (An Interlude for Parents), 1925 (play, privately printed)
  • Representative Plays, 1926 (with an introduction by William Lyon Phelps)
  • Barbara's Wedding, 1927
  • Selections from the Prose Works of J M Barrie, 1929
  • The Plays of J. M. Barrie; in One Volume, 1929
  • The Works of J. M. Barrie, 1929-41 (18 vols.)
  • The Entrancing Life, 1930
  • Farewell, Miss Julie Logan: A Wintry Tale, 1931 (a Christmas supplement to the Times in memory of Charles Dickens's Christmas Book)
  • The Boy David, 1936 (play)
  • As You Like It, 1936 (script, by J.M. Barrie and Robert Cullen based on Film adaptation: William Shakespeare's play, film dir. by Paul Czinner, starring Elisabeth Berger, Laurence Olivier, Sophie Stewart. "There are far too many dull middle-length shots from a fixed camera, so that we might just as well be seated in the circle above the deep wide stage at Drury Lane." Graham Greene)
  • Uniform Edition of the Works and Plays, 1913-1937
  • The Greenwood Hat, Being a Memoir of James Anon, 1885-1887, 1937 (with a preface by the Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, k. G.)
  • The Boy David, 1938
  • M'Connachie and J.M.B.: Speeches, 1938
  • Letters of J. M. Barrie, 1942 (edited by Viola Meynell)
  • The Plays of J.M. Barrie, 1942 (edited by A. E. Wilson; rev. 1947)
  •  J M Barrie's Allahakbarries C C 1899, 1950 (foreword by Don Bradman)
  • Fifty Years of Peter Pan, 1954
  • Whe Wendy Grew Up, an Afterthought, 1957 (with a foreword by Sydney Blow)
  • Peter Pan; the Story of the Play, 1962 (presented by Eleanor Graham and Edward Ardizzone)
  • Mary Rose, and Other Plays, 1975
  • The Annotated Peter Pan, 2011 (edited with an introduction and notes by Maria Tatar)

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