Overview of J. M. Barrie’s Life
Born: May 9th, 1860
Died: June 19th, 1937
James Matthew Barrie was born and raised in the small village of Kirriemuir in Angus, Scotland. He lived in a crowded two-bedroom cottage with a hard-working mother and father, along with seven siblings. He was child number nine out of ten; however, two of his siblings died before he was born.
During his childhood, he developed a love of story-telling. By the time he was thirteen, he was already writing plays. After four tedious years at the University of Edinburgh, he earned his degree and became a journalist. Work was unsteady at first, but when he began writing stories about his hometown (which he renamed Thrums) a London editor hired him fulltime.
Soon, his stories became popular enough that he began writing novels. Some of his earlier books were about a young man named Tommy (Sentimental Tommy and Tommy and Grizel). In these two imaginative novels, the protagonist is desperate to hold onto his childhood, distrusting the adult world. This central theme recurred in Barrie’s most famous work, Peter Pan.
The Creation of Peter Pan
The film Finding Neverland explores the creation of J. M. Barrie’s fantasy play, Peter Pan. However, the film often stretches the truth. Barrie was friends with the Llewelyn Davies family: Arthur and Sylvia and their five boys. The movie casts Sylvia as a lonely widow and single mother. J. M. Barrie’s character (portrayed by Johnny Depp) expresses romantic interest toward her, despite being a married man. In reality, Arthur was alive during the creation of Peter Pan. He did not die until 1907, and Sylvia did not pass away until 1910. Despite this, the film accurately reveals how telling stories to the young Davies boys inspired Barrie to create the fantastical character Peter Pan.
Along with his success as a novelist, Barrie became a devoted playwright. Peter Pan became his most beloved and best remembered play. The story of “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” became a children’s book, several motion pictures, a Broadway musical, and a classic Disney cartoon.
Peter Pan – A Timeless Classic
The first performance of Peter Pan took place on December 27th, 1904. It was an immediate hit. Writers such as George Bernard Shaw praised it as “a holiday entertainment for children but really a play for grown-up people.” Adult audiences were enchanted by the way Peter Pan rekindled their sense of childlike wonder.
J. M. Barrie was famous for his generous nature. He entrusted the copyright of Peter Pan to the Great Ormand Street Hospital in London. Today, the hospital still retains the rights, even though the play is over one-hundred years old. The play is available online for reading purposes only.
Beyond Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie’s Other Plays
Of course, Barrie wrote many other plays before and after Peter Pan. Many of his dramatic works poke fun at English society. (Note: the links will take you to the complete e-text, compliments of Project Gutenberg.)
- What Every Woman Knows: A young Scottish rouge becomes a political success, all thanks to the clever wife he was originally reluctant to marry.
- The Admirable Crichton: A delightful comedy filled with many role reversals. A distinguished but ever-subservient butler caters to Lord Loam and his well-to-do family. However, when they are all tossed ashore on a desert island, the butler becomes the powerful leader, while Lord Loam is reduced to a clumsy oaf.
- Quality Street: This play achieved more success during its American run, rather than its London premiere. The romantic comedy details the misadventures of Miss Phoebe Throssel who tires of her life as an “Old Maid.” She re-invents herself as a younger, flirtatious young woman named Miss Livvy who proceeds to win the heart of Phoebe’s old flame, and cause a lot of trouble in the process.