Questions for Andrew Birkin

Author of J.M. BARRIE AND THE LOST BOYS

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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
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Questions for Andrew Birkin

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Aug 18, 2004 8:35 am

Several of you have asked for the list of questioins that were sent to Mr. Birkin. Below is the list that was sent, but please bear in mind that he may not have time to answer all of them or feel comfortable answering all of them. Thanks everyone for your input. As Mr. Birkin said in his reply, they are "really interesting and thoughtful"!

1. What drew him to this subject and did his feelings about Barrie change as he did the research?

2. Was there material he wishes he could have included in the book but was prevented because of the length restriction?

3. Let me begin not with a question so much as a “thank you” for your approach to the book, Mr. Birkin: “a love story”/ “a documentary” letting contemporary words speak for themselves. Biographers often take a world view/ a point of view from their own times and impose it back upon the subject of their writings. Had Mr. Birkin imposed a view of Barrie as some sort of sexual cripple that would have been a book I would have not wanted to read let alone enjoy! How refreshing to discover JMB from those who knew and loved him best with their own words from that time! The reader is allowed to discover who Barrie was and not who an author thought he should be. Andrew P. age 11 wrote: “you’re old but you’re not grown up. You’re on of us!” and Nico L. Davies wrote, “He was an innocent; which is why he could write Peter Pan.” Thank you, Mr. Birkin, for your daring and honest approach to such a brilliant complex creative individual whom I only knew through his own words, through Peter Pan!

Could Mr. Birkin tell us HOW he came to present J.M. Barrie’s life in this way rather than in a more conventional way? Thank you so much for contributing to our discussion of your book in this way.

4. I know J.M. Barrie was a very private person but why do you suppose he was so against anyone writing a biography of him? “May God blast any one who writes a biography of me,” he warned. He was so talented and had such a remarkable life that anyone would be curious to read. Do you suppose he wanted to hide “deep” secrets of his life?

5. Nothing about JMB’s life seems to me to be simple or easily categorized. Yet, this man of depth, of many layers, seems to have been plagued by a series of biographers (and I do not mean you, Mr. Birkin) and critics eager to boil down the essence of the man into easily digestible, one-dimensional, simplistic and convenient (depending on the author’s particular predisposition or agenda) truisms. For instance, several of the biographies of JMB that I have read characterize JMB’s relationships with the Llewelyn-Davies boys and others (Cynthia Asquith, for instance) as obsessive, oppressive and vitality sapping. What are your thoughts?

6. I was struck by the passage from one of JMB’s notebooks which you quote on page 26 of the paperback version of your book, which relates Barrie’s truer feelings about the death of his future brother-in-law; it is, to my mind a clear eyed (if not profoundly cynical) view of God’s love, totally devoid of any of JMB’s famed sentimentality. When all is said and done, what were JMB’s religious beliefs? How did they change in the course of his life?

7. Jackie Wullschlager, in her 1995 book, Inventing Wonderland, goes to great lengths to document what she describes as an undercurrent of homosexuality and latent pedophilia, which run throughout JMB’s life and writings. She describes scenes in his books which ooze sexual fantasies and discusses in detail what she sees as sexually symbolic figures, such as Hook, (who is) characterized by phallic symbolism from the start. Her attitude toward JMB is, I think, superior and condescending, yet I daresay that in another hundred years we will still be reading JMB, but will have no idea who Jackie Wullschlager is. At any rate, what are your thoughts on the supposed undercurrent of homosexuality or latent pedophilia in JMB’s works and/or in his personal life?

8. In reading about JMB’s Last Will and Testament in the appendix to Janet Dunbar’s 1970 book, J.M. Barrie: The Man Behind the Image, I was surprised that Jack, Peter, and Nico Llewelyn-Davies received a relatively small inheritance while the bulk of his estate was left to his secretary, Cynthia Asquith. Do you know what the reason was for this? Did JMB have much contact with the three surviving boys in later years? What was the nature of his relationship with them in the later years?

9. I grew up watching the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan. Were any such musical productions of Peter Pan mounted during JMB’s lifetime? Can you speculate as to what JMB would have thought of such versions of his play?

10. On pg. 192, Peter writes in reference to the idea that JMB and Sylvia had been engaged to be married prior to her death: “But I think that to Jack…the thought was intolerable and even monstrous…To me too, I confess, the idea of such a marriage is repugnant…a marriage between Sylvia…and the strange little creature who adored her…would have been an affront, really, to any reasonable person’s sense of the fitness of things…

“Let me not be thought unmindful…of the innumerable benefits and kindnesses I have received at one time and another, from the aforesaid strange little creature, to whom, in the end, his connection with our family brought so much more sorrow than happiness.”

Intolerable, monstrous, repugnant, strange little creature, an affront to the fitness of things. These strike me as words one would reserve for one’s bitterest enemy, not a person who gave of his financial resources, time and love to the person writing those words. In reading your book, it becomes apparent that George and Michael are the two of the five boys with whom Barrie is most closely connected. Do you think that Peter feels this way toward Barrie out of some jealousy that he was not one of the “favorites” as well as having to bear the brunt of being the namesake for the “real” Peter Pan? In your opinion, does he see Barrie as an intolerable, monstrous, repugnant and strange little creature due to his personal appearance or is he commenting on Barrie’s character? If the former, can he be so shallow as that? If the latter, what is he aiming at, as he otherwise disavows any knowledge of inappropriate behavior between Barrie and his brothers? To claim to not want to be thought unmindful of the “benefits and kindnesses of the aforesaid strange little creature” seems little in return for a lifetime of love and devotion on the part of Barrie.
Had Syliva lived, do you think they would have eventually married? Was Sylvia “in love” with J.M. Barrie?

11. When Peter wrote in “the Morgue” why did he say he destroyed so many letters because they were “too much”. I think these are the ones Barrie wrote to the boys. What did he mean by “too much”?

12. Who is buried in the Llewelyn-Davies grave in Hampstead? I know Arthur, Sylvia and Michael and that George’s name is on the headstone (although he is buried in Flanders), but what of Jack, Peter and Nico? Are they also buried there?

13. The Yale University Press, and other sources, indicate that you are writing a screenplay for Peter Suskind’s (change u in Suskind to ü) book, Perfume, a book previously discussed by our book club. Is this true? Can you share with us any thoughts on the screenplay versus the novel or any indication on when filming might begin or who will star in the major roles?

14. With the movie “Finding Neverland” set to open this fall, do you have any thoughts on how JMB will be portrayed? Given the obvious physical differences between the lead actor Johnny Depp and the real JMB, how do feel about the choice of actor to portray Barrie?
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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Unread postby KYwoman » Wed Aug 18, 2004 8:52 am

Thanks DITHOT. I was one of those who just had to see the Qs before we get Birkin's responses! I was never good at waiting at Christmastime. :bounce: These are really good and I look forward to his answers. Hope he gets to them all!
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Linda B.
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Unread postby Linda B. » Wed Aug 18, 2004 6:34 pm

I am so impressed with the questions you had submitted. Bravo - all around to you who came up with them. I echo KYWoman's sentiments in wanting to know them before we see any of his answers!

I really look forward to hearing any and all offerings he has for the book club! Thanks for all the hard work involved!!
"It's OK to be different, it's good to be different, we should question ourselves before we pass judgment on someone who looks different, behaves different, talks different, is a different color."

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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Aug 18, 2004 10:14 pm

Linda., et.al., I have to tell you that I rush home from work and run to the computer to see if Mr. Birkin's reply has arrived! I believe he will do his best to answer our questions if his previous emails are any indication. It is really exciting! :bounce:
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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Unread postby JDOCD » Thu Aug 26, 2004 10:19 pm

Those were all wonderful questions! I am so late in the game but I am very impressed!!! I thought his writing and the way the book came together made it interesting and enjoyable reading. If all "history" were written as well I would have had an easier time in school!
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