Good Article on J.M. Barrie

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Good Article on J.M. Barrie

Unread postby Liz » Sat Oct 23, 2004 5:39 pm

Below is an interesting article on J.M. Barrie. Thanks, DeepInDepp, for sending this to me.

JM Barrie - The little boy who never grew up

Peter Pan flew from the imagination of a middle-aged man who wanted to remain a boy forever. So was he really the author’s alter ego?
By Alan Taylor

A new play by JM Barrie was always an event, but there was an uncommon air of expectancy at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London when, at Christmas a century ago, the audience waited for the curtain to go up on the Scottish writer’s latest production. Originally called The Great White Father, it was now billed in the programme as Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, a play in three acts.
Barrie, the West End’s favourite playwright, waited anxiously in the wings. He had already rewritten the script six times during rehearsals to accommodate technical problems. But when he had read the original play aloud to Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the eminent actor-manager was convinced that Barrie had gone mad. Indeed, he’d warned Charles Frohman, the American producer who was underwriting it, that his partner was a lunatic.

Frohman, however, begged to differ. Modestly, Barrie had warned him his play was merely a “dream-child” and completely uncommercial, but when Frohman read it, he was enchanted, button-holing people in the street to act out whole scenes and investing Cameron Mackintosh-esque capital in it. It would be presented without compromise, with children gliding through the air, talking dogs and pirate ships. During rehearsals, a stage-hand offered Barrie a cup of tea and whispered in his ear: “The boys in the gallery’ll never stand for it.” The actress playing Wendy – the first use of the name – was advised to take out life insurance, and her first appointment was not for a read-through but for flying lessons. There had been nothing like it since A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The house lights dimmed and the audience fell silent. Duncan MacRae, Scottish stalwart of the stage, standing with his back to it, gave the signal for the curtain to rise. First impressions did not disturb Edwardian sensibilities. The set was a middle-class nursery, comfortably cluttered. Nothing unusual about that. Then, though, a huge dog appeared and started to tidy up and run a bath for a little boy. Disbelief ran through the house like a virus but it was soon suspended when it was realised that the dog was really Nana, the child’s nurse.

From then on, Barrie, a dramatic alchemist, had the audience in the palm of his hand. At the end, the applause seemed endless. Barrie, however, who could be painfully shy and reticent, refused to take a bow.

“Well,” remarked one leading music-hall impresario, “if that’s the kind of thing the public want, I suppose we’ll have to give it to them.”

The Times’s critic reported: “There has always been much of the frank simplicity of the child in Mr Barrie’s work, of the child for whom romance is the true reality. Peter Pan is, from beginning to end, a thing of pure delight. Peter Pan is as delightful a fantasy of childhood as we ever remember to have seen on the stage.”

Even the critic William Archer, a champion of Ibsen’s bleak Norwegian realism, was charmed. “Peter Pan,” he wrote, “eludes analysis as a dream does … it is certain to be a great success.”

And it was, running for 150 performances until the beginning of April the following year. Every year thereafter Frohman revived it at Christmas. In 1911, Barrie novelised it, ensuring that its popularity was portable. Neverland entered the lexicon, a place of dream and magic where children, some as old as Michael Jackson, remain children – “gay and innocent and heartless” – forever. Captain Scott of Antarctic fame named his son Peter and asked Barrie to be his godfather.

The latest movie based on the story, Finding Neverland, stars Johnny Depp as Barrie, as unlikely a piece of casting as the idea of the play seemed to be when it was first performed. By all accounts, it, too, is a triumph with, according to Empire magazine, “a sense of soaring wonder throughout”. Its appeal, it seems, is ageless.

BARRIE was 44 years old when Peter Pan flew into his life. For the two decades previously he had been in London carving out a career as a writer. He began in journalism and moved on to contributing stories, mainly humourous, to the numerous magazines then on the news-stands. His first glimpse of fame came in 1888 with Auld Licht Idylls, sketches of Scottish life, which had the dubious honour of initiating the kailyard school of Scottish literature. The following year he wrote A Window In The Thrums. Three years later, Barrie published The Little Minister, his first novel. From then on, rarely a year went by without him adding a new book or play to his oeuvre.

“Barrie was certainly the biggest cabbage in the kailyard,” noted the late Alan Bold, author of Modern Scottish Literature. “His ability to assess and exploit the public taste is as celebrated as his emotional immaturity; yet his sentimentality was sincere, and while he was occasionally an acutely embarrassing example of a Scotsman on the make he was also capable of great kindness.”

The origins of Peter Pan are traceable to Barrie’s earlier books. For instance, there is an echo of him in Sentimental Tommy, published in 1896, in which the eponymous hero imagines the story “about a little boy who was lost. His parents find him in a wood sitting joyfully by himself because he thinks he can now be a boy for ever.” In 1902, in The Little White God, Barrie first introduced Peter Pan, puckishly named after the Greek god who symbolised nature, paganism and the amoral world. In it, a crusty London bachelor secretly befriends a penniless couple and their little boy David. The narrator takes David for walks in Kensington Gardens and tells him about the mysterious Peter Pan, whose kingdom is the Gardens at night when the gates are closed.

By then, Barrie had become acquainted with the Llewelyn Davies family and their brood of boys, George, Jack, Peter and Michael. Nico, the youngest, was not born until 1903. In Peter Pan, Barrie was to model the Darling family on the Llewelyn Davies menage. He first met George and Jack in 1898, when they were five and four respectively, out walking with their nurse in Kensington Gardens, where Barrie also took his giant St Bernard, Porthos.

George was the most precocious of the siblings and went out of his way to cultivate Barrie. Not that he knew who he was. To him, he was not a famous writer but a wee man with a tickly cough who smoked a pipe, could wiggle his ears comically and do magic tricks with his eyebrows.

To Barrie, George represented a boyhood ideal: pretty, cocky, capricious. Was George the prototype for Peter Pan? Barrie insisted he was not, at least not entirely. In 1928, in dedicating the play to the five Llewelyn Davies boys, he wrote: “I suppose I always knew that I made Peter by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame. I am sometimes asked who and what Peter is, but that is all he is, the spark I got from you.”

In these less innocent times, Barrie’s relationship with the boys, whose guardian he became on the deaths of their parents, has come under suspicion. But no evidence has been presented of impropriety. Quite the contrary. When towards the end of his life Nico was asked if Barrie had been platonically in love with George and Michael, he replied: “I’m 200% certain there was never a desire to kiss (other than the cheek!), though things obviously went through his mind – often producing magic – which never go through the more ordinary minds of such as myself … All I can say for certain is that I … never heard one word or saw one glimmer of anything approaching homosexuality or paedophilia: had he had either of these leanings in however slight a symptom I would have been aware. He was an innocent – which is why he could write Peter Pan.”

Was Peter Pan an alter ego of Barrie, then? The idea of a boy who did not grow up to experience the pains and disappointments of adulthood obviously appealed to him from an early age. For him, childhood was nirvana, a state of bliss. As a child growing up during the 1860s in Kirriemuir, he knew many children who did not grow up because they died young, including his elder brother David, who was killed in a skating accident. David’s death so unhinged his mother that he tried to console her by wearing his clothes.

The bond between Barrie and his mother bordered on the obsessive. When she died, he wrote a book about her, Margaret Ogilivy. It was another attempt by Barrie to reclaim and freeze the past, when you could always play games and clown about. “The horror of my childhood was that I knew a time would come when I also must give up the games, and how it was to be done I saw not (this agony still returns to me in dreams, when I catch myself playing marbles, and look on with cold displeasure); I felt that I must continue playing in secret.”

However Barrie idealised childhood in print, his own was unhappy. At 17, he was barely five foot and had stopped growing. Nor had he yet begun to shave. Girls ignored him and he became introverted. He was a loner, already prone to the silences into which he would often fall in company. When eventually he became a well-known writer in London, he told HG Wells: “It is all very well to be able to write books, but can you waggle your ears?” The child was never far from the surface. But George Bernard Shaw was not convinced of Barrie as Peter Pan. Barrie struck him as having been born a thousand years old. “He gave you the impression that for all his playfulness he had hell in his soul,” Shaw recalled.

What lay at the root of Barrie’s angst? Shaw was convinced it was because he had no children of his own. In July 1894, he married Mary Anstell, an actress. Two days before the wedding he wrote in a notebook, “Our love has brought me nothing but misery.” The honeymoon in Switzerland was not a success. Mary later told a friend that it had been a shock to her. She did not specify why. The marriage ended in divorce 15 years later as a result of Mary’s adultery, since when there have been rumours that Barrie was impotent. If he was, it might explain a lot.

When Barrie died in 1937, two of the three surviving “lost boys” were at his bedside. “He was tired,” said Nico. “He wanted to go.” Ten years earlier, Barrie had gifted the royalties from Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London. When the copyright expired in 1987, an act of parliament extended the British rights in perpetuity. How apt.

Finding Neverland is released on Friday.

Alan Taylor is very grateful to Roderick Graham, who is working on a new biography of JM Barrie, for help with this article

24 October 2004
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Great Article

Unread postby Mindy » Sat Oct 23, 2004 6:54 pm

Thanks for sharing the J.M. Barrie article with us here at the zone.
It was very interesting. I didn't know a lot of the information that was in the article about Barrie. Knowing this information makes me think even more than before, that Johnny was the perfect actor to portray him. :cool:
Johnny is "just about the nicest guy on the [...] planet. He's generous, considerate, modest, brave, intelligent, good-hearted, creative, funny, gentle, wise, loving, loyal, hard-working, and almost unbearably cool." Gregory David Roberts - Shantaram

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Unread postby fansmom » Sat Oct 23, 2004 9:18 pm

"the biggest cabbage in the kailyard"

What? Does he mean "kale"? :-?

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Unread postby lumineuse » Sat Oct 23, 2004 11:04 pm

Thanks Liz and DeepInDepp. That was an interesting article. Barrie is such a fascinating figure that the more you know, the more you want to know.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Sun Oct 24, 2004 10:07 am

fansmom wrote: "the biggest cabbage in the kailyard"

What? Does he mean "kale"?

Kale is a leafy vegetable similar to cabbage. Here is a visual of a kaleyard:

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!

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Re: Great Article

Unread postby Liz » Sun Oct 24, 2004 12:59 pm

Mindy wrote:Thanks for sharing the J.M. Barrie article with us here at the zone.
It was very interesting. I didn't know a lot of the information that was in the article about Barrie. Knowing this information makes me think even more than before, that Johnny was the perfect actor to portray him. :cool:

I couldn't agree more, Mindy.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Unread postby Angora » Sat Oct 30, 2004 3:18 pm

Oh, thanks for that! I will be seeing the movie this evening and am looking forward to his interpretation of Barrie. Apparantly one of them never wanted to grow up, and the other, who never seems to age :cloud9:

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