Although he was born into a family of Victorian British high society, his childhood was not very happy. The creator of Peter Pan, James Matthew Barrie, when he was 6 years old, his brother David, 13, died when he fell with his skates in a frozen lake. He was his mother’s favorite (there were 10 siblings in all) and he never recovered from this tragic loss.
When the woman was in her room and James or any of the other kids came in, she always thought it was David. When he realized that this was not true, he treated them very badly. Furthermore, the father had no contact with his children.
“Life is a long lesson in humility.”
-James Matthew Barrie-
A child who became an adult too soon
James always wanted to please his mother and take the place his brother had left. She educated him and instilled in him a love of books and study. He always treated him like he was older than his age (thinking maybe he was talking to David). In this way, he did not take into account the real age of James, so the influence of his education would have consequences both on a psychological and emotional level.
James grew into a child with adult thinking and behavior. He was very sickly, he was afraid of growing up, he did not interact with other children, he was obsessed with the idea that getting married was a disgrace and he was very melancholic.
The only joys he had in his childhood are related to Robert L. Stevenson’s adventure books and spending very brief periods with his younger siblings, neighbors, and friends. Another problem he had to face was that his height did not increase in relation to the years he was serving, reaching one and a half meters tall in his adulthood.
Youth, London and their marriage
The life of the creator of Peter Pan will change completely when he travels to the English capital and settles there, where he will open his mind and be able to develop and write better. His friends from the University include Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert L. Stevenson, who in turn worked on the college newspaper.
He also forged a friendship with Charles Frohman, producer of his works and victim of the Lusitania ship that was sunk in World War I, a fact that marked James considerably.
As for his personal life, in 1894 he married the British actress Mary Ansell but they divorced after a few years. There are various theories regarding the end of her marriage, one of the strongest is that she contracted a bond with him because of his social position and the fame he could offer her. Another hypothesis speaks of the fact that the marriage was never consummated because he was not looking for a sexual partner but a mother. At the time of separation, Mary was dating another man.
The Peter Pan creator’s belief that love was a misfortune could lead to the end of their marriage.
Following the divorce, James sought solace in friendship with brothers he met on a walk through Kensington. These children were named George, Jack, Nico, Peter, and Michael. When his parents died he adopted them and from there was inspired to later write the most important novel of his career, “The Adventures of Peter Pan” , which was published at the beginning of the 20th century.
But there is also tragedy in this story, as George died in the War, Michael committed suicide by drowning in a lake with his lover (he was homosexual) and Peter threw himself under a subway car some years later.
The literary career of the creator of Peter Pan
Several of his works were set in his years in Kirriemuir, Scotland, and it was common for some dialogue in the stories to be written in Scottish. Then he wrote plays such as “Calle Quality” (1901), “What all women know” (1908) and “The admirable Crichton” (1932). The last of this style was called “David” and he made it in 1936.
He also specialized in novels, which were very successful in his day. Some of them are “Auid Licht Idylls” (1888), “A window in Thrums” (1889), “the little minister” (1891) and “The sentimental Tommy” (1896) with “Tommy and Grizel” (1902), related to what would later become the character of Peter Pan.
This was undoubtedly his best known work, which was performed for the first time in December 1904 but had the name ” Wendy “, inspired by a girl who had died at the age of five in 1894, who he knew.
However, Peter Pan as a character had appeared before, in a storybook called “Little White Bird.” In this work, completed in 1904, she deals with her favorite themes: the feminine instinct of motherhood and the preservation of childhood innocence.
The eternal adolescent was the protagonist of the story, who left the family home to avoid becoming an adult. In Kensington Gardens, London, you can see the statue of this character. The same place where Barrie met the Llewalyn Davies brothers, on whom he relied to write the story.
“Never say goodbye, because goodbye means going away, and going far means forgetting . “
-James Matthew Barrie (Peter Pan) –
James Matthew Barrie died in June 1937 of pneumonia and was buried in his Scottish hometown, Kirriemuir, along with his parents and two of his 9 siblings. The creator of Peter Pan left his entire estate (except for what Peter Pan earned which went to Great Ormond Street Hospital) to his secretary Cynthia Asquith.
Life and literature
James Matthew Barrie has not been the only author with a complicated life and famous work. Edgar Allan Poe, Emile Cioran, Charles Bukowski, even Oscar Wilde himself persecuted for his homosexuality, have been tormented writers in one or more moments of his life. Some even from birth to death. In some way, James reflects the way to take advantage of a difficult life to translate it into stories that would go down in history, like that of “Peter Pan.”
Despite being shaken by misfortune, he knew how to channel his creativity through literature and leave his mark over time. Would his work have been the same without having lived all that he lived? Could we enjoy “Peter Pan” today without a life full of sad events? What the story of James Matthew Barrei reflects is that misfortune can be channeled and not only in the form of anger, but of art. An art that can remain immortalized by great stories.