LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Boyhood in Barrie

on March 20, 2013 2:49pm

In exploration of J.M. Barrie’s life it proved impossible, for himself and the reader alike, to be able to extricate the events of Barrie’s life from that of his writing.  They are completely impossible to untangle and have undoubtedly informed and inspired one another.  I think the experiences Barrie bore throughout his life that created and manifested within him this enduring essence of ‘boyhood’ became both his downfall and his triumph.  I believe that without the childlike qualities and identification with the manners and minds of children that Barrie possessed; he would not have been able to write and weave so beautifully the imaginative stories he did.  However, it cannot go unacknowledged that his unyielding grip on childhood, which revealed itself in his novels and plays, were also a source of criticism from critics, it formed the backbone of his attachment to the Llewellyn Davies boys which ended in heartbreak, and it created in him a characteristic of asexuality that plagued his adult social life.  So the question I am posing hear is, was the boyhood in Barrie and blessing or a burden, or possibly both?

Barrie is a contradiction, he was born to working a family of nine children and the tragedy of his brother’s death devastated his mother and him, and essentially took his childhood away from him as he assumed responsibility for his mother’s happiness, essentially, he had to grow up early.  In the Introduction to our book, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy, by Peter Hollindale, Hollindale astutely observes of Barrie and his mother, “Both of them appe

ar to have felt a lasting need for an exceptionally close and equal companionship with children, and it could be argued that in trying to satisfy this need they committed innocent but harmful trespass on the lives of children – he in course of time on the Llewellyn Davies boys, and she on Barrie himself.” (Pg. xiii)

J.M. Barrie, dressed as Captain Hook, plays with Michael Lewelyn Davies in August, 1906.

Even Barrie’s physical traits were childlike, growing no taller that 5’3”, his hair not graying until unusually late in his life, and he is reported to have possessed youthful and boyish features. Barrie’s marriage that took three years to finally come to be and ultimately ended with a divorce due to his wife’s adulteration, was childless and allegedly unconsummated – it could be argued that he considered women in his life just as he wrote about them in his literature, as desexualized.  Again Hollindale writes of Barrie an encompassing description of his childlike tendencies, “For him there was no continuum from child to adult, nor yet the usual transition from conventional boys’ make-believe to conventional male adult life, but rather perhaps a no man’s land between the two.” (Pg. xiv)  Upon reading this I couldn’t help but to wander, was Barrie, just as his famous little boy Peter Pan was, caught betwixt and between?

However, if it were not for his ability to be immersed in childhood would Barrie have been able to so beautifully and accurately craft the descriptions and stories he did from the widened, innocent eyes of a child?  Would he be able to capture children’s fits to be ‘wild dog’ or ‘mary-annish’, which prove, if one knows children well, to be uncannily fitting?  How could he have known that, for a child, a stick-boat at the round pond would and will always beat the shiny yacht from your uncle if not for the boyhood that lived in him?  Would he have been able to capture the imaginations of children in his books quite so perfectly?  I think not.  I truly believe that it was the boyhood in Barrie that gave Peter Pan life, but it was also the reason for heartbreak in his own life and the lives of many others’.


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