J. M. Barrie

gigatos | May 23, 2022


James Matthew Barrie, known as J. M. Barrie (Kirriemuir, May 9, 1860-London, June 19, 1937), was a Scottish novelist and playwright. His fame is especially due to the creation of the character Peter Pan, largely inspired by his friends the Llewelyn Davies children. When the children”s parents died, Barrie took care of them, although he did not legally adopt them.

He completed his primary and secondary studies at Glasgow Academy and Edinburgh University. He practiced journalism in Nottingham and then in London. He wrote novels and plays that were successful, but were overshadowed by his masterpiece Peter Pan and Wendy.

In 1913 George V awarded him the title of baronet, and in 1922 the Order of Merit “in recognition of his services to literature and the theater”. Before his death he ceded the rights to the works of Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, which continues to benefit from them.

James Matthew Barrie was the ninth of ten children born to a working-class Scottish couple. His father David Barrie, a relatively prosperous hand weaver, and his mother Margaret Ogilvy, managed to provide their children with a good education. Alexander, the eldest of the brothers, had graduated with honors from Aberdeen University. David, the second son, showed conditions that made his mother foresee even greater achievements. David died shortly before his fourteenth birthday from a fall while ice skating.

The effects of David”s death on his mother were described at length by J. M. Barrie himself years later. In the novelized biography Margaret Ogilvy: By Her Son, dedicated to his sister Jane Ann, he deals in detail with the feelings and emotions of the boy James, his strategies to improve the state of deep depression into which his mother had fallen, and his attempts to offer himself as a sort of replacement for the dead young man. As the weeks went by, James and his mother strengthened their bond through the exchange of stories and tales, partly imaginary in the case of the boy and referring to the past of the town and the family, in the case of Margaret.

Reading constituted another link between the two; Robinson Crusoe and The Pilgrim”s Progress were some of the texts that accompanied that stage. Eventually, Margaret suggested to her son that he write down the stories she told him.

He attended Dumfries Academy for five years during his adolescence, between 1873 and 1878. He continued his education at the University of Edinburgh, where he contributed to the Edinburgh Evening Courant newspaper, until completing his studies in 1882.

Barrie moved in literary circles and was friends with writers such as George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy and George Meredith, among many others. With Robert Louis Stevenson, who was in Samoa, he maintained an extensive correspondence but they never met personally.

In 1894 he married the English actress Mary Ansell. The marriage ended in divorce in 1909.

James Matthew Barrie”s first works were linked to journalism. At the age of twenty-two he worked for a time for the Nottingham Journal, until moving to London, where he continued to write notes and articles for various newspapers. Simultaneously with his journalistic work, he wrote fiction and drama. Around 1892, when he had already published six books, he began to abandon his collaboration with the press.

James Matthew Barrie set his early novels in the fictional village Thrums, inspired by the village of his birth Kirriemuir. His Thrums novels were successful. The series began with Auld Licht Idylls (1888), followed by A Window in Thrums (1889) and The little minister (1891), dramatized in 1897 and made into films in 1913, 1922 and 1934.

His two novels with Tommy as the main character were also successful: The Sentimental Tommy (1896) and Tommy and Grizel (1902). In his novel of the previous year, 1901, Peter Pan makes his first appearance in The Little White Bird (El pajarito blanco, in its Spanish version).

From 1890 he wrote plays: in 1891, Ibsen”s Ghost, a parody of Henrik Ibsen”s Wraith. At the beginning of the 20th century, his main plays were staged: Quality Street (1901), The Admirable Crichton (1902) and What Every Woman Knows (1908). His last play, The boy David (1936), dramatized the biblical story of King Saul and the young David. Like the role of Peter Pan, played by Nina Boucicault, the role of David was played by a woman, Elisabeth Bergner.

Peter Pan was performed for the first time on December 27, 1904. This play popularized the name Wendy, which was not invented by Barrie as is often believed, since in previous centuries it had been applied to boys, even used as a surname, and in the mid-nineteenth century in girls. It is possible that, in Barrie”s case, the name came to him because of Margaret Henley, a girl who died at the age of five years and five months on February 11, 1894. Margaret had difficulty pronouncing the ”r” and when calling Barrie Friendy, she pronounced “Fwendy”.

The play has been performed on many occasions and in many languages. Barrie turned it into a novel in 1911: Peter Pan and Wendy, and it has been made into films since 1924, both in versions with actors and in cartoons. It originated musical comedies and comic strips.

The Bloomsbury scenes depict the social constraints of late Victorian middle-class domestic reality, in contrast to Neverland, a world where morality is ambivalent. George Bernard Shaw”s description of the play as “ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children but really a play for grown-up people” suggests deep social allegories in Peter Pan. In 1929 he specified that royalties from the play should be dedicated to the nation”s leading children”s hospital, the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. The current status of these copyrights is complex (see Peter Pan copyright status).

Barrie, along with other playwrights, was involved in the 1909 and 1911 attempts to defy Lord Chamberlain”s censorship of London”s theatrical output.

The Llewelyn Davies family consisted of parents Arthur (1863-1907) and Sylvia (1866-1910), daughter of George du Maurier, sister of Gerald du Maurier and aunt of future famous writers Angela du Maurier and Daphne du Maurier, and their five children: George (1893-1915), John or Jack (1894-1959), Peter (1897-1960), Michael (1900-1921) and Nicholas or Nico (1903-1980).

Barrie came into contact with the family in 1897 or 1898 when he met George and Jack with their nanny Mary Hodgson in London”s Kensington Gardens, where he used to go while walking his dog Porthos. He met Sylvia some time later, in a chance encounter at a dinner party. He became a close friend of the family and, upon Arthur”s death in 1907, he took financial responsibility for the family. He maintained a very close relationship with Sylvia and was like a second father to the children. When Sylvia died of breast cancer in 1910, he became custodian of the boys. In her will, Sylvia stated her wish that her children be left in the shared care of Barrie, her mother Emma du Maurier and her brother Guy de Maurier. In the will, Sylvia stipulated that Mary Hodgson should continue to be the nanny, assisted by her sister Jenny Hodgson. Barrie who was on bad terms with Mary Hodgson, forged or misinterpreted this part, taking the name Jenny for Jimmy, as the LLewellyn Davies family called him. Thus, setting Jenny aside, he and the nanny took daily charge of the children.

Years later, Barrie suffered intensely from the death of two of his protégés: George, who died in service in 1915 during World War I, and Michael, with whom he corresponded daily, who drowned in Oxford in 1921. Upon Barrie”s death, Peter Davies, already working as a publisher, wrote his book Morgue, including much family information and commentary on Barrie. At the age of 63 Peter committed suicide by jumping onto the tracks of the London Underground.

Barrie”s relationship with the Llewellyn Davies children has raised serious suspicions about his pedophilia. This has been denied by most English biographers arguing that there is no evidence to support such a claim. However, paragraphs from his novel The Little White Bird show him, according to the current definition of pedophilia, as a possible pedophile.

The statue of Peter Pan located in Kensington Gardens was secretly installed at night (possibly because it was not allowed to use that area of the gardens) for the May Day Festival of 1912. Barrie commissioned the work to the prominent sculptor George Frampton, who was to take as a model some photos that Barrie took of Michael LLewellyn Davis dressed as Peter Pan, in 1906. Frampton decided to change the model and Barrie was disappointed to see the finished work. The statue has seven copies distributed in different parts of the world.

The BBC produced an award-winning 1978 miniseries by Andrew Birkin, The Lost Boys (also titled J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys), starring Ian Holm as Barrie and Ann Bell as Sylvia.

Finding Neverland is a 2004 film directed by Marc Forster and starring Johnny Depp as Barrie and Kate Winslet as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. It starred Johnny Depp as Barrie and Kate Winslet as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. The film is an adaptation of the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee.



  1. James Matthew Barrie
  2. J. M. Barrie
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