J. M. Barrie and the Boy who wouldn’t grow up

1904 announcement for original play at Duke of York's Theatre, London

Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. 1904 announcement at Duke of Yorks Theatre, London

On May 9, 1860, Scotish author and playwright Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet was born. Barrie is best remembered for being the creator of Peter Pan in his novelPeter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up“, a “fairy play” about an ageless boy and an ordinary girl named Wendy who have adventures in the fantasy setting of Neverland.

James Matthew Barrie was the ninth child of ten. When he was six years old, his older brother David died in an ice-skating accident just before his 14th birthday. It is said that their mother was so devastated by the sudden death that Barrie tried to fill David’s place in his mother’s attentions. It is further believed that he even started wearing David’s clothes and acted in a similar manner. Barrie later retold that his mother probably found comfort in the believe that her dead child would remain a young boy forever and never grow up.

J. M. Barrie was first educated at The Glasgow Academy where his elder siblings Alexander and Mary Ann taught. When he was 14, he enrolled at Dumfries Academy, again under the watch of Alexander and Mary Ann. During his early school years, Barrie started reading enthusiastically and liked the works of Robert Michael Ballantyne and James Fenimore Cooper as much as Penny Dreadfuls. Barrie attended the University of Edinburgh and received his M.A. degree in 1882.

Following his education, Barrie worked as a journalist for the Nottingham Journal and began submitting pieces to the newspaper St. James’s Gazette. He became quite successful in the beginning and ended up writing a series of the stories he and his mother told when he grew up. They also  served as the basis for his first novels, Auld Licht Idylls, published in 1888, A Window in Thrums, published two years later, and the 1891 novel The Little Minister.

Later on J. M. Barrie‘s enthusiasm turned to works for the theatre. He started out with a biography of Richard Savage, which was followed by Ibsen‘s Ghost. Further, Barrie authored Jane Annie, a comic opera for Richard D’Oyly Carte which unfortunately failed. He then asked his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to revise and finish it for him.

The famous Peter Pan character first appeared in The Little White Bird (or Adventures in Kensington Gardens). The novel was published in 1902 and serialised in the US in the same year in Scribner’s Magazine. However, his most famous and enduring work Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up had its first stage performance on 27 December 1904.

The play describes the conflict between childhood and the responsibilities as an adult. As Peter had chosen not to grow up, he also tries to convince other kids to do the same. Another conflict of the play deals with the slightely romantic aspects of Peter and Wendy’s relationship. One the one hand, there is Peter’s desire for a mother figure and on the other hand, there is Wendy’s desire to kiss Peter. In general, the boy has conflicting feelings for Tiger Lily, and Tinker Bell, who each represent different female archetypes, and Captain Hook. The original stage production took place at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, on 27 December 1904. The production was a great success and a production in New York City was performed at the Empire Theatre in 1905.

At yovisto academic video search you can learn more about the Theory of Literature in a lecture by Paul Fry.

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