J. M. Barrie
(Full name Sir James Matthew Barrie) Scottish playwright, novelist, short-story writer, biographer, and author of juvenile fiction.
The following entry presents criticism on Barrie's play Peter Pan through 2004. For further information on Barrie's life and works, see CLR, Volume 16.
Although he wrote more than forty plays and dozens of short stories, novels, and magazine articles, Barrie is best known today for a single creation: the tale of Peter Pan, which he told in various forms in stories, novels, and most notably the play Peter Pan (1904). The play has been staged throughout the Western world, particularly in Britain and America, where it has been nearly continuously performed since its first production. Part fantasy, fairy tale, adventure story, and pantomime, Peter Pan has been described as a modern myth in its archetypal treatment of childhood innocence, separation, and death, and Barrie has been compared favorably to Lewis Carroll and Hans Christian Andersen for his creation of one of the most popular children's works ever written.
Barrie was born on May 9, 1860, in Kirriemuir, Forfarshire, Scotland. As a child, he was an avid reader, enjoying such adventure tales as Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and R. M. Ballantyne's Coral Island. When Barrie was six years old, his older brother, David, suffered a fatal accident while skating. He attended Glasgow Academy for primary school and was later accepted to Dumfries Academy for secondary school. It was at Dumfries Academy that Barrie was first exposed to theatre; his first play, Bandelero, the Bandit (1877), was staged in the academy's theater. After completing his courses at Dumfries, Barrie was sent to Edinburgh University. He received his M.A. in Literature in 1882, and after briefly pursuing a career in journalism, he began to focus on playwriting. Barrie relocated to London, and one day, while walking through Kensington Park, he met three boys: George, Jack and Peter Llewelyn Davies. It was to entertain these boys, along with their mother Sylvia and brothers Michael and Nicholas, that Barrie created tales of the magical Peter Pan. Barrie complied the adventures of Pan and first staged Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up in 1904. Barrie adopted all five boys after the premature deaths of both Sylvia and her husband, Arthur, and supported them financially. The last three decades of Barrie's life were filled with continued literary success and even greater public recognition, as well as personal setbacks. In 1911 he published the novel Peter and Wendy, an adaptation of Peter Pan, to positive reviews and a receptive audience. In fact, the novel version of the Peter Pan story for a time supplanted the play in terms of popularity. Barrie received a number of public honors during this period: he was elected rector of Saint Andrews in 1919 and chancellor of Edinburgh in 1930; he received honorary doctorate degrees from Oxford University in 1926 and Cambridge University in 1930; he was bestowed with a baronetcy by King George V in 1913; and he was presented with the Order of Merit in 1922. But these years were also filled with emotional hardships. Barrie saw his popularity decline after World War I, and two of the Davies children passed away at a young age. Barrie died on June 19, 1937, in London.
The textual history of Peter Pan is one of the most complex in modern children's literature. The origins of the text begins with The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island (1901)—a book of photographs taken by Barrie of the three eldest Davies children and Barrie's large dog Porthos, engaged in adventures with imaginary pirates and Indians. The only text in The Boy Castaways is allegedly written by a then four-year-old Peter Llewelyn Davies and consists of elaborate chapter headings detailing the excitement. The character of Peter Pan first appeared in print in several chapters of Barrie's adult novel, The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens (1902). While strolling through London's Kensington Gardens with a little boy named David, the narrator discusses the elusive Peter Pan, who escapes from being human when he is seven days old, wins the hearts of all the female fairies, and lives in the garden at night. A young girl stays behind after the gates are closed one evening and befriends Peter Pan. She helps Pan care for other lost and unwanted children. The chapters concerning Pan were later reprinted as a separate book, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906). Barrie penned a sequel to Peter Pan in 1908 titled "When Wendy Grew Up (An Afterthought)," featuring Peter Pan's sad surprise at finding an adult Wendy. This sequel, which was performed on stage only once, was included as part of Barrie's novelization of Peter Pan titled Peter and Wendy. Barrie finally published the complete text of his play version of Peter Pan in 1928 as part of his collection of dramas.
PLOT AND MAJOR CHARACTERS
With the dramatization of Peter Pan in 1904, Barrie produced "that terrible masterpiece" as Peter Llewelyn Davies later termed it. Joining the charismatic hero in the play are Wendy, John, and Michael Darling; their parents, the loving Mrs. Darling and her befuddled and somewhat childish husband; Nana, the Newfoundland dog who acts as the family's nanny; assorted fairies, most notably Peter's devoted companion Tinker Bell; the Lost Boys; Indians and pirates; and Peter's nemesis, the villainous Captain Hook. Peter Pan enters the Darling nursery looking for his lost shadow. Wendy offers to sew his shadow back on and, in return, Pan offers to fly Wendy and her two brothers to Never Land. Once there, Wendy assumes the role of mother/wife to Peter and the Lost Boys, and the Darling children become immersed in a series of thrilling adventures. Captain Hook becomes jealous of Wendy's attentions toward Peter and kidnaps her to be his mother. Peter rescues Wendy and vanquishes Hook. The children return home to London, but Peter chooses to remain in Never Land and remain forever young.
Infused throughout Peter Pan is the concept of clinging to youth and innocence at the cost of human contact and love. Peter Pan remains perpetually youthful but foregoes personal attachments in order to keep his happy-go-lucky personality and innocent immaturity. When Wendy tries to console Peter, he jumps back and says, "You mustn't touch me. No one must ever touch me," reinforcing the idea that close personal contact leads to responsibility and maturity—ideas contrary to an eternal, carefree childhood. In Peter Pan, Barrie also explores gender roles. Mr. Darling is presented at the beginning of the play as an insecure man who is confused about his place in the Darling family; he is the breadwinner, yet socially cannot define his role. In the early productions of Peter Pan, the actor who played Mr. Darling was also used to portray Captain Hook. Hook, though dressed in frilly and billowy clothing, was a strong determined male character. Hook, as one of the few adults in Never Land, is constantly chased by the specter of "Time," in the form of a crocodile that has swallowed a loudly ticking clock. The ticking always unnerves Hook—the crocodile ate the hand that the Captain later replaced with a hook—and he eventually succumbs to the beast after being vanquished by Pan. Peter, as a perpetual youth, confounds Wendy and Tinker Bell's expectations of standard gender roles. Peter takes Wendy to Never Land, and the two set up house as the parents to the Lost Boys. Although Peter relishes the idea of being father to the boys, he does not want Wendy as spouse, instead he wants her to be his mother. Tinker Bell, Peter's temperamental fairy friend, becomes sexually frustrated by Peter's platonic stance towards their relationship. Tinker Bell becomes resentful of the tenuous bond between Peter and Wendy and unsuccessfully attempts to kill Wendy—metaphorically attempting to sever the ties with Peter's mother. At the end of the play, when Peter returns the Darling children to their nursery and the Lost Boys have found homes, Peter decides to return to Never Land, realizing that his desire to be a child forever is stronger than his need to have a mother.
Over the years, the play Peter Pan and its related works have been the focus of much critical commentary, especially in the area of Freudian interpretation. When first released, much of the commentary about Peter Pan focused on the concept of perpetual youth and the desire to stay young forever. Critics have often viewed Peter Pan as a light-hearted, adventure. After Freudian theories and psychoanalysis became mainstream concepts, reviewers began to explore Peter's relationship to the women characters in the play, and more importantly, began to examine Barrie's re-lationship with his mother and with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. These new interpretations have cast a darker light on Peter Pan's refusal to grow-up and mature. Some observers have purported that Peter Pan is not an exuberant fantasy for children but rather a study in repression and denial for adults. Though critics have disagreed as to whether Peter Pan is intended for the young or the old, Peter Pan's popularity over the past century is undeniable. Barrie has been consistently praised for his perceptive characterizations, adventurous and exciting plot, and his exceptional understanding of the child's imagination and psyche. Many print, stage, and movie adaptations have been made of Peter Pan, and although interpretations differ from adaptation to adaptation, the central tragic/magic figure of the lone boy who refuses to grow-up has remained constant.
Auld Licht Idylls (short stories) 1888
Better Dead (novel) 1888
*When a Man's Single: A Tale of Literary Life (novel) 1888
A Window in Thrums (short stories) 1889
The Little Minister (novel) 1891
Richard Savage [with H. B. Marriott Watson] (play) 1891
Walker, London (play) 1892
Margaret Ogilvy. By Her Son (biography) 1896
†Sentimental Tommy: The Story of His Boyhood (novel) 1896
‡The Little Minister (play) 1897
§Tommy and Grizel (novel) 1900
Quality Street (play) 1901
The Admirable Crichton (play) 1902
The Little White Bird; or, Adventures in Kensington Garden (novel) 1902
Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (play) 1904
Alice Sit-by-the-Fire: A Page from a Daughter's Diary (play) 1905
Pantaloon; or, A Plea for an Ancient Family (play) 1905
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (juvenile fiction) 1906
What Every Woman Knows (play) 1908
The Twelve-Pound Look (play) 1910
ǁPeter and Wendy (juvenile fiction) 1911
Der Tag; or, The Tragic Man (play) 1914
A Kiss for Cinderella (play) 1916
Dear Brutus (play) 1917
The Old Lady Shows Her Medals (play) 1917
Mary Rose (play) 1920
The Plays of J. M. Barrie (plays) 1928; revised edition, 1942
The Works of J. M. Barrie. 16 vols. (novels, sketches, biography, and plays) 1929–1940
Farewell, Miss Julie Logan: A Wintry Tale (novel) 1932
The Boy David (play) 1936
The Letters of J. M. Barrie [edited by Viola Meynell] (letters) 1942
*This novel first appeared serially in The British Weekly, 1887–1888.
†This novel first appeared serially in Scribner's Magazine, 1896.
‡This play is an adaptation of the novel by the same name.
§This novel first appeared serially in Scribner's Magazine, 1900.
ǁThis juvenile novel is an adaptation of the play Peter Pan.
Martin Green (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: Green, Martin. "The Charm of Peter Pan." Children's Literature 9 (1981): 19-27.
[In the following essay, Green draws parallels between Barrie's original play Peter Pan and the 1953 Walt Disney animated film adaptation. Green characterizes Barrie's text as trite and class-conscious, while finding the Disney film to be a gross oversimplification and parody of reality.]
Family circumstances led me to visit both Disneyland and Disneyworld last summer, experiences I found less rewarding than I'd been promised. I took the Peter Pan Ride in both places, and since the same circumstances had led me to see the Disney movie Peter Pan during the spring, I naturally began to think about the conjunction of Disney and Barrie.
One's first thought must be how very badly Disney handles such stories, how crudely and clumsily he draws such figures and renders their charms. Of course, Disney is crude and clumsy in his handling of so many subjects; what can one say but "obscene" even to his drawing of animals and his photographing of flowers—those speeded-up blossomings which turn all of nature into a florist's shop stocked with prize blooms, fresh every morning from the cosmetician? But there is a peculiar wrongness in his choosing Barrie to work on.
Disney's humor is naturalist and primitive and seems to derive from the Southwest humorists of nineteenth-century America. He has their love of exaggeration, particularly of size and speed, and their obsession with aggression and violence—everything gets smashed into a pulp, everyone skids at top speed into a wall or over a cliff, or gets scalped or flayed or dropped into wet concrete. Like them, he also takes a sadistic interest in domestic animals, delighting to reverse the movement, the personality, even the physique of a vigorous animal like a cat or a bulldog with that of a feeble one, like a canary or a mouse. (His treatment of cats is especially unpleasant.) Allied to these traits is a Gothic strain I think of as more German—an interest in dwarfs and witches and castled crags and (as their correlative) dewy damsels.
Barrie is not interested in any of those. He treats animals with exaggerated respect—for instance, Nana in Peter Pan. Moreover, the fantasy of the children is far from naturalist or primitive. In Peter Pan it is firmly limited and located within a highly civilized social setting and is motivated by the parents' life, full of stresses and strains, and Wendy's incipient adolescence. This is conscious fantasy, designed by an adult who has a truly remarkable sympathy with children, quite exquisitely shot through with the ironies of a game both sides consciously are playing, though from different points of view. The island is made up out of a dozen books which the children know about, and is treated ironically—not, of course, satirically—by all concerned. The children are treated with great regard for their dignity, and there is a clear distinction between their reality and the fantasy of the island and its inhabitants—though of course we and they play at obliterating that distinction. But in his Peter Pan, Disney caricatures—and then sentimentalizes—everything equally. Nana, the dognurserymaid, is made to skid and smash just like every Disney animal, though it is essential to Barrie's scheme of ideas that she should be allowed her dignity. The point of Barrie's conception—in its way a brilliant conceit about the situation of employing servants—is that beneath the fond playfulness of a-dog-just-like-a-person lies the forbidden wickedness of a-person-just-like-a-dog. And Tinker Bell, that Cockney Ariel, a drop of waspish venom in the sweetness of faery, is dressed by Disney like a sex symbol and is given a Marilyn Monroe bosom and bottom and Marilyn Monroe problems in squeezing through keyholes.
Not that I feel any indignation on Barrie's behalf against Disney. What I feel is glee. Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment; let the two great seducers of English-speaking childhood hold hands and simper at each other. Barrie is in his way an artist, but he is none the less disgusting for that. Probably he is more responsible than anyone else for the English disease of charm.
About 1900, it seems, the English began to cultivate charm—above all, the charm of childhood—with sinister intensity. Before then, as far as I know, it was not a quality anyone had attributed to John Bull. But suddenly we had Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear and Puck of Pook's Hill, and Christopher Robin was Saying his Prayers. We had whimsy and fantasy and well-bred infantilism. Stories of adventure and action were replaced by stories of fairies and flowers. Men were replaced—in children's minds—by women. Culture became playful.
The deleterious effects of this on the arts have been pointed out by W. H. Auden; the writers of England have preferred playing family games with their audiences to creating works of art.1 And that is what Brideshead Revisited is about, the ruin of a gifted painter by his preference for English charm over artistic seriousness. Auden's and Waugh's whole generation was blighted by charm.
One sees that charm incarnate in Mrs. Darling. "She is the loveliest lady in Bloomsbury, with a sweet mocking mouth," Barrie tells us in the stage directions. "Her evening gown is a delicious confection made by herself out of nothing and other people's mistakes." But however seductive, she is purely and untouchably a mother, a priestess of childhood. She made her nursery into the hub of the universe, Barrie says, by her certainty that such it was. While her children slept, she sat beside their beds, "tidying up their minds…. When they wake … on the top, beautifully aired, are their prettier thoughts, ready for the new day."2
What makes one feel that Disney and Barrie are made for each other is that the single effective scene in the movie (effective in making one's hair stand on end) portrays Wendy in a role just like this. (Wendy is Mrs. Darling in an earlier phase.) Her brothers have been getting out of hand, playing at Indians, and not wanting to go back home, not wanting to be children. They have forgotten what a mother is. So Wendy sings them a celebration of that idea. And as they listen, the boys begin to droop and to snivel, to rub off their war-paint, to break their arrows, and to cuddle up to the virgin mother. And we are asked to do the same. A strongly ambivalent scene is packaged for us with a single name-tag.
And that is very true to Barrie. Of course, he would never have written anything so blatant, but he does mean us to see Wendy as poised nervously on the edge of motherhood, or on the edge of the abyss of sexuality, beyond which is motherhood. She has to learn to fly. She is already a woman in every other way. She is a perfectly formed adult (that is her charm and her odiousness), but she has somehow to get through the unpleasant business of sex in order to get her license to operate as a woman—to exercise her talents as a mother. By falling in love with a boy who has refused to grow up, by dealing in fancy with the emotions of competition, possession, jealousy, alliance in responsibility, Wendy prepares herself for that difficult rite of passage.
But what makes Barrie's Mrs. Darling so powerful a figure is the sisterhood of her motherhood. The loveliest lady in Bloomsbury—doesn't that title suggest other women of that time and place, for instance, Mrs. Ramsay of To the Lighthouse? And aren't they both essentially the same figure, sweetly mocking virgin mothers, managing the exigent husbands? Mr. Darling, Barrie tells us, is "really a good man, as breadwinners go" (exit the male principle, to universal laughter); and it is "hard luck" for him that Barrie has to introduce him "as a tornado … brandishing a recalcitrant white tie" (p. 21). Like Mr. Ramsay, Mr. Darling is full of bluster—"Am I the master in this house or is she [Nana]?"—and always disrupting the sweet playfulness of his wife and children (p. 28). But Mrs. Darling uncomplainingly manages him. Besides Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Ramsay, there were Shaw's Candida, Waugh's Lady Marchmain, and many others. The imagination of England was in the charm business—nursery charm—and Barrie was ahead of the industry. I really wonder how Virginia Woolf could for shame repeat the formula seriously when he had worked it out playfully beforehand.
All these fictional ladies had their real-life originals; in Barrie's case it was Sylvia Llewellyn Davies. She was the daughter of George du Maurier (author of the bestselling Trilby) but the wife of a rather unsuccessful barrister. Barrie "adopted" first her five children and then Sylvia herself, to the dismay of Arthur Llewellyn Davies, who found himself excluded from the inner circle of his own family. Barrie told the Davies boys the stories which he later published, to great applause, and which he adapted in Peter Pan. The play's intimation that this is a small-group fantasy, a shared joke, cunningly adapted to a large-group participation, is no illusion; that complexity of intent is one source of its vitality—one which Disney of course misses.
Sylvia Llewellyn Davies was adored by other men and other writers besides Barrie, for instance, A. E. W. Mason, the bestselling author of The Four Feathers. She can be recognized in some of his heroines, the lovely women of London to whom the men of empire humbly return from their various frontiers—the ladies for whom the empire was built. Mason and Barrie and Sylvia went to Paris for a holiday together, but there was no question of sexual misconduct. Mason "put all beautiful women on a pedestal," we are told, while Barrie saw Sylvia's seductions as the graces of maternity.
The Davieses were at the center of a good deal of semiartistic and semiliterary activity of the type that spread the cult of charm. They were friendly with the Mackails, whose daughter Angela became a popular novelist—very popular after World War II—writing under the name of Angela Thirkell. Sylvia's brother, Gerald, was an actor (he played Captain Hook in Peter Pan ) and a matinée idol. Her niece, Daphne du Maurier, became the bestselling author of Rebecca and other such books. Her son, Peter, after whom Peter Pan was named, founded the publishing firm of Peter Davies, Ltd. So the story Barrie told, and the cult of boy-charm to which it belongs, was deeply interwoven with the imaginative life of England for the next couple of generations.
Barrie became literal godfather to a lot of English boys and metaphorical patron saint to the cult. A certain range of upper-class males began to hit their peaks—the phase when they were proudest to be themselves, because that was when other people were fondest of them—at age eight. After the early deaths of both Arthur and Sylvia Llewellyn Davies, Barrie formally adopted their five boys and incidentally steered them away from poetry, ballet, and opera, towards healthy outdoor sports and competitive games. (He didn't want any little Oscar Wildes around the house; in fact, he wanted little Kiplings.) He became godfather to the sons of heroes. He was asked by Captain Scott (Scott of the Antarctic) to look after his wife and son when Scott departed for his explorations in 1913. And many gifted mothers brought him their sons for a consecration in charm. One such case was the actress Carmel Haden Guest, whose little boy David told Barrie at this first meeting that he too did not want to grow up.
David was indeed a Peter Pan in real life, and as a child wrote a Barrie-esque poem about himself.
"My poetical self3
Is just like an elf,
Capricious and shy;
He is certain to fly,
If placed on a shelf."
Many such whimsies were written by gifted and privileged children in the 1920s. But David, who had brains, pulled himself out of the charm-marsh. His only publication is entitled A Textbook of Dialectical Materialism. Politicized by a visit to Germany in 1930–31, he helped to found the Cambridge University Communist Party and went to fight in Spain. He had made the transition, as Harry Pollitt said when he died, from elf to comrade. Pollitt was the boss of the Communist Party of Great Britain, whose ranks included quite a few ex-Peter Pans in the 1930s.
Why was this? Well, Barrie represented the end of a line—the line of adventure-tale tellers, selling values designed for administrative class trainees but disguised as humanist to please the mothers and uncles, the playful and poetical cohorts of that class. He was at the end of the line in infantilism: we have come a long way from Robinson Crusoe, via Coral Island, to end up with Peter Pan. He was at the end of the line in indirection: the allusiveness, the whimsy, the paradox, the sprightliness almost completely obscure the basic message, of loyalty to throne and flag, to school and church and regiment. He was at the end of the line in sweetness: the high good humor of Defoe, Scott, Borrow, Kingsley has crystallized in the preserve into lumps of sugar.
Once one had seen Peter Pan, or once all London had seen it, from the pit to the gallery, there was nothing to do but change one's life, start from scratch on another principle. Boys like David Guest had to wash that sugar out of their mouths. They could either become perverse parodists like Ronald Firbank, archly self-conscious Peter Pans sporting the gilded horns of diabolism, or else Communist comrades, making clear and simple affirmations, re-entering manhood and adventure without irony or whimsy, made new. (Or, of course, like Auden and Isherwood, become both at the same time.)
The reaction against Disney is likely to be different, because the concentration of allegiance to him is not to be found among the most privileged in wealth and power, taste and education. Rather the reverse is true. But Disney surely represents the end of the line in American pop taste. The reaction against him is likely to take the form of pop diabolism; surely Disney-world and Disneyland offer themselves to the imagination as a setting for Hell's Angels' exploits. They are the reality that seems ever about to burst through those sugar-candy faÇades; they are the denial that echoes behind the Voice's cheerfulness. The Merry Pranksters of Ken Kesey (as related by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) stand to Disney as Firbank and the Twenties' dandies stood to Barrie. And the American equivalents of David Guest are no doubt to be found in ecological communes, baking their own bread and refusing to go to the movies.
The question really is—the question I pondered as I took the Peter Pan Ride—why should the sick fancies of London in 1900 return to corrupt the imagination of America in the 1970s? Dreams that were natural in a world of nannies and nurseries and those very literary storybooks are not natural here and now. Two shaping drives of Barrie's imagination derive from sexual repression—not just his own but the cultural convention of the time—and a plethora of servants, neither of which can be there for the world of Disney's audience. And yet it is Barrie and Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland and so on that he keeps serving up. (The merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh, now in the hands of Sears Roebuck, are worth from two to five million dollars a year.) Can it be that Disney's audience demands this fare? It is true that a lot of girls at Disneyland wore badges saying "I am Wendy," and I have heard children coming out of that appalling movie, which portrays Wendy as a monster of priggishness, enthusiastically identifying with her.
But I think that is consequence, not cause, of Disney's use of this material. What draws him to Barrie is an instinct for the debasing and demoralizing. He knows another great liar when he sees one. And they are both lying in the same cause. The cult of nationalist complacency which is blatant and brash in Disney is indirect and oblique in Barrie—full of qualms and queasiness, implicitly—but it adds up to the same thing.
When it grew dark in Disneyland, after the parades of plastic "characters" and barely distinguishable starlets singing "Freedom! America! Freedom!" passed by, the Voice of the place played patriotic songs; thousands of people more or less stood to attention, and the man in front of me took off his hat, while the blurry music and blurrier words bounced off the plaster turrets and the papier maché gargoyles. It seemed only fitting that the senile whimsy of English Imperial culture at the end of its tether should blend in with the rest.
1. W. H. Auden, "One of the Family," Forewords and Afterwords (New York: Random House, 1973), pp. 367-83.
2. J. M. Barrie, The Plays of J. M. Barrie (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929), pp. 19-20. Subsequent references will appear in the text.
3. Carmel H. Guest, David Guest: A Scientist Fights (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1939).
Michael Egan (essay date 1982)
SOURCE: Egan, Michael. "The Neverland of Id: Barrie, Peter Pan, and Freud." Children's Literature 10 (1982): 37-55.
[In the following essay, Egan provides a psychoanalytical interpretation of Barrie's Peter Pan, utilizing Sigmund Freud's theories of id, ego, and superego.]
The serious study of children's literature may be said to have begun with Freud, who found in folk and fairy tales evidence supporting his theory of the unconscious. More recently Bruno Bettelheim, taking his cue from The Interpretation of Dreams and other texts, has argued persuasively that the enduring appeal of many of the ancient classics of children's literature derives from their ability to resolve satisfactorily the symbolized confusions in their audiences' psyche.1 The great tales, he says, depict sibling rivalry, as in Cinderella and Goldilocks; they touch on incestuous love-feelings between children, as in Brother and Sister; they deal with separation anxieties, for instance in Hansel and Gretel; many of them, such as Snow White and Rapunzel, explore the sexual rivalry between mothers and daughters or, as in Jack and the Beanstalk, between fathers and sons; and still others dramatize, in rich, symbolic images, the theme of adolescent sexual awakening. The most striking examples of this latter type are Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince, and, although Bettelheim does not discuss it, Beauty and the Beast.
The reading of Peter Pan undertaken here accepts the broad outlines of Bettelheim's Freudian approach. I shall argue, first, that in his story Barrie unconsciously created a vast, symbolic metaphor—the Neverland—of the child's id; and that, secondly, he populated it with figures of an almost archetypal resonance. For example, the confrontation between Peter and his rival, Captain Hook, is, as we shall see, sharply Oedipal both in its nature and its resolution. Finally, I shall suggest that a Freudian analysis not only is the key to the fundamental meaning of Barrie's greatest work but is also indispensable in understanding its enormous popular success. Like the classics of the genre, Peter Pan successfully works through some of the important psychic tensions struggling for resolution in the child's developing mind, and this is the basis of its captivating charm.
Andrew Birkin's J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys is a recent study which has updated and brought together in a masterly way the biographical and literary evidence bearing on the genesis of Peter Pan. 2 What Birkin suggests is that in his work Barrie dramatized, to an unusual degree, the most distressing conflicts at war in his unconscious mind. Further, it appears that Barrie himself was only partially aware of the profound nexus between his inner psychic tensions and his art, and even then only towards the end of his creative life. Not until 1922, for example, when he was in his sixties, was he able to record in his literary notebooks following a particularly upsetting personal dream: "It is as if long after writing 'P. Pan' its true meaning came to me—Desperate attempt to grow up but can't."3
Birkin's conclusions, while by far the best-supported in terms of evidence and scholarship, are nevertheless—as he would be the first to agree—neither original nor unique. Cynthia Asquith, among others, made a similar point in her Portrait of Barrie (1955):
Besides, I know that, whatever his views about reticence, once Barrie took a pen into his hand something unpremeditated nearly always ran out of it. His subconscious was more than a collaborator. It could, too often did, take control. He might make a myriad notes before he began to write, but he never quite knew what would emerge.4
Asquith's observations are more than merely anecdotal; they are borne out in every way by Barrie's own revelations about his mode of composition. In 1928, for instance, he wrote a prefatory dedication to the playscript of Peter Pan, some twenty-four years after the first production. In it he remarked how "suspicious" it was that, despite his customary ability to "haul back to mind the writing of every other essay of mine, however forgotten by the pretty public," he had no recollection of having composed his most famous work.5 There seems to have been nothing tongue-in-cheek about this remark. It suggests either that he repressed what was in his thoughts at the time of composition, or that he wrote Peter Pan directly from his preconscious. As we shall see, a close reading supports both possibilities.
It is also relevant to recall that Barrie often spoke of himself as a divided personality, identifying what he called his "writing half" with an uncontrollable, "un-ruly" self. His sense of psychic fracture seems to have run deep. In December 1915, for instance, he had a nightmare which he subsequently drew on for a play, The Fight for Mr. Lapraik, the story of a schizophrenic. According to Cynthia Asquith the dream recurred—a significant emphasis. It was of "some vaguely apprehended interloper who was, and yet somehow was not, himself," attempting to thrust him from his bed. In Barrie's own words the struggle came to this terrifying climax:
At last I rushed from darkness to my mother's room (she has been dead many years) & cried to her abt my degenerate self—thing I have evolved into was trying to push me out of bed and take my place. Till that moment of telling I had no idea what the thing was.6
The unpublished play Barrie based on this experience described the struggle between two personalities, one good and one evil, for the possession of an ordinary man. Asquith later spoke of the "unforgettably eerie" experience of listening to Barrie read scenes from it, so persuasively was he able to enter into both roles. "I can't describe the disquieting tricks he played with face and voice," she wrote, "now how visibly and audibly he split himself into the two Mr. Lapraiks."7
We may note additionally that in 1920, when Barrie was working on Mary Rose, a play about a dead mother who returns as a ghost to search for her son, he developed what appears to have been a psychologically determined cramp in his right hand and was forced for the rest of his life to continue writing with his left. (Barrie was naturally left-handed but had been compelled as a child to learn to use his right.) Again the schizoid note is struck: his left side, he said, directly recalling the odd disclaimer published in the Preface to Peter Pan, "doesn't even know the names of my works." It seemed, he continued, to have "a darker and more sinister outlook on life," and was at that time "trying to egg me on" to make a woman knife her son. He warned his friends that "anything curious or uncomfortable" in his plays of this period should be attributed to the fact that they were "the products of my left hand."8 Later, again in that curiously revealing Preface, he noted his own preoccupation with islands as settings for his dramas and observed that over the years they had grown significantly "more sinister." The reason, he said, was that he had now begun to write "with the left hand, the right having given out; evidently one thinks more darkly down the left arm" (Play, p. xv). He might have added, "and more clearly, too," for his notoriously illegible scrawl had suddenly become sharper and more readable.
The evidence then supports the view that as a writer Barrie had unusual access to his own unconscious. An analysis of Peter Pan will bear this out. For in both versions of the story—play and novel—he appears to have successfully developed a complex set of metaphors and images which, as we shall see, agrees remarkably with Freud's tripartite theory of the human personality (id, ego, superego). And since Barrie cannot have been familiar with psychoanalytic thinking, given the exigencies of place and time, we must conclude that he achieved all this by scooping unwittingly, as it were, into the bubbling turmoil of his own half-formulated wishes and ambitions.
Peter Pan is evidently a childish dream, a psychodrama of the unconscious. We are plunged at the outset without warning into the surreal universe of a child's uncertain psyche as Nana, a St. Bernard, is shown turning down the beds, tidying the nursery, and preparing Michael's bath. Yet these opening sequences, together with the story's almost equally Beckett-like conclusion (a man lives and works in a dog kennel) are nevertheless the most daylit of the play. What transpires on the island is the real dream, the fulfillment of a range of childish wishes, including Oedipal sex, lust, flight, murder, and the capacity to transcend both Death and Time. The primitive nature of these gratifications and their resolution are among the reasons Peter Pan is a children's book.
The movement of the story, then, is from the recognizably everyday world of a middle-class household in Victorian London to the unconscious universe of the Neverland, and then back again to the waking reality of the closing scenes. By the time we and the Darling children return safely to the nursery, all the conflicting psychic tensions presented on the island have been pleasantly resolved—at least for now. Like Freud, however, Barrie emphasizes that each new generation of children must undertake the pilgrimage afresh, an essential condition for maturity. He looks ahead four generations and comments: "and thus it will go on, as long as children are gay and innocent and heartless."9
The bathetic climax of this verbal sequence—it is also the conclusion of the novel—sends us back in search of Barrie's meaning. What he seems to have in mind is something close to Freud's notion of the selfishly amoral child, a human whose superego is still in formation and thus whose conscience is still relatively weak. To be heartless, he says, is to be "entirely selfish." It is to be what children are, "the most heartless things in the world," creatures who abuse love and who take emotional security for granted. On the other hand—it is the paradox of the child—this heartless selfishness is the essential quality (after fairy dust) making flight to the Neverland possible. Adults may be more considerate, but they can neither fly nor venture into the child's unconscious. In other words, the world of Peter Pan is open to us only so long as we are free from the constraints of conscience (Novel, pp. 138, 213).
Near the beginning of the novel there is a nodal passage (given in the play as an extended stage direction) in which Barrie both clarifies and dramatizes his notion of the fully developed superego. Naturally, he does not call it this, nor does he deploy the metaphors of censorship or guardianship we find in psychoanalytic theory. Instead he allows the concept to gather around a sentimentalized vision of the role and function of the mother, principally in the character of Mrs. Darling but also in certain important secondary images to which she is explicitly related. Of course, as we would anticipate if our wider hypothesis about the story is correct, Mrs. Darling and all her subsidiaries have to be evaded or weakened before the dream itself may commence.
Barrie begins by observing that it is the custom of Mrs. Darling and every good mother to "rummage" in her children's minds "after they are asleep." The process, whose purpose is to "put things straight" for the next day, is "quite like tidying up drawers." This is an analogy perfectly consistent with Freud's theory of repression. What the mother does as her children sleep is "repack into their proper places" those thoughts that have either "wandered" or, even more disturbing, have inexplicably found their way in from the outside. Thus Mrs. Darling one night finds Peter lurking in her children's minds.
Barrie goes on to remark that as the busy mother continues her mental cleaning she makes other "discoveries." These may be of matters either "sweet" or "not so sweet." The nicer thoughts she fondles, like a kitten; the others she "hurriedly … stows out of sight," wondering nervously "where on earth" her children can have "picked up" these things. Barrie then concludes, addressing his reader directly:
When you wake up in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.
[Novel, p. 18]
The parallels with Freud's depiction of the censoring purpose and activity of the superego are striking. Note too the accuracy of Barrie's intuition that the repressing mechanism is capable only of concealing from the child its "naughtiness and evil passions"; they cannot be thrown out. Instead these unsettling impulses are merely hidden at the bottom of the mind, ready to surface again as soon as mother's back is turned.
Barrie later supplements his image of the maternal superego with two associated figures. The first is the nursemaid, Nana, a character whose nurturing role establishes her both sociologically and psychologically as a surrogate for the mother. The second is the group of nightlights, earlier identified by Mrs. Darling precisely as an extension of herself—"the eyes a mother leaves behind her to guard her children" (Novel, p. 36). All three—Mrs. Darling, Nana, and the nightlights—are united in a tight, protective alliance which the unconscious must contrive to overcome before Peter, as Barrie neatly puts it, can "break through." Again, the language is strikingly Freudian.
The disabling of the superego is achieved elegantly and persuasively. Mrs. Darling goes out for the evening. Nana is literally chained up. And as for the nightlights: "Wendy's blinked and gave such a yawn that the other two yawned also, and before they could close their mouths all three went out" (Novel, p. 37). We gather that some mysterious agency wants them off guard before it can appear.
The charm of Barrie's manner conceals the profundity of his insight. Later, however, he is able to draw on the subtle implications of his images. He observes that "you"—an ambiguous, portmanteau category that could include himself, the reader, and the children of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies to whom the play was dedicated—are relieved at bedtime to have Nana's reassurance that the Neverland is "all makebelieve." But then he adds: "Of course the Neverland had been make-believe in those days" (i.e., when the child was awake), "but it was real now, and there were no nightlights, and it was getting darker every moment, and where was Nana?" (Novel, p. 61).
But Barrie was an artist, not a scientist. His images of the superego and its interaction with the id, therefore, lack descriptive precision. What he communicates marvelously instead is the felt experience of resistance—the pressure exerted by the superego. Just before the children, led by Peter, make their final descent into the seething maelstrom of the unconscious, he suddenly includes a passage so extraordinarily perceptive and yet so plainly intuitive in scope that he himself seems not fully to have grasped its meaning.
The passage in effect describes a final flourish of resistance by the superego, a sort of last-ditch stand before the real dream on the Neverland can commence. Swooping low over "the fearsome island," the children notice that Peter's eyes have begun to sparkle and that his body tingles to the touch. Abruptly Barrie says:
Nothing horrid was visible in the air, yet their progress had become slow and labored, exactly as if they were pushing their way through hostile forces. Sometimes they hung in the air until Peter had beaten it with his fists.
"They don't want us to land," he explained.
"Who are they?" Wendy whispered, shuddering.
But he could not or would not say.
[Novel, pp. 61-62]
This sequence can be read as mere device—a kind of mysterious rumbling of the literary drums to heighten tension and suspense. But I think it also shows how profoundly Barrie understood the fact, if not the theory, of resistance. His implicit point, like Freud's, is that although we may all journey to our idiosyncratic Neverlands at night, the "hostile forces" of the superego make it a thoroughly difficult undertaking. This is why we can usually only "break through" when asleep or when, as in the case of a parapraxis, the superego is momentarily off guard. Incidentally, resistance is also the reason most of us forget our dreams—quite like the way the Darling children and the lost boys soon forget all about the Neverland and Peter after returning to the mainland and reality.
In these remarkable passages and elsewhere Barrie makes explicit his interest in detailing the topography of what he calls the "map of a child's mind." At its core, of course, he locates the Neverland, a poetic version of the Freudian id. It is, Barrie suggests, the child's mind during sleep—a formulation very close to Freud's. In it are to be found, in a significant series of related images, religion, fathers, murder, hangings, a hook-nosed old lady, caves with subterranean rivers, savages, and lonely lairs (Novel, p. 19). The sequence, "fathers, murder, hangings," reverbates with particular meaning in a post-Freudian era, as may perhaps the hook-nosed old lady and the caves with underground streams. Later Barrie talks of "unexpected patches" in the Neverland that rise and spread threateningly at bedtime. "Black shadows" move about within it and the frightening roar of predatory beasts (familiar Freudian dream-symbols of sexuality) may be heard (Novel, p. 61).
Barrie's Neverland, however, is more than merely dark suggestive hints. In fact he endows it with an ambiguous status quite like Freud's conception of the unconscious, settling on it not only archetypal representatives of physical terror—beasts, savages, murderous pirates—but also fantasies of gratified sexuality.
The chief of these is the marriage between Peter and Wendy, itself replete with Oedipal significance. Although there has been no formal ceremony beyond the exchange of kisses and thimbles in the nursery, their marriage—that is, their symbolic sexual union—is treated as a fact shortly after Wendy's arrival on the island. She repeatedly refers to herself as a wife and mother, as does the narrator, and in the chapter called "The Home under the Ground" behaves exactly as a stereotypical Victorian wife. Peter reciprocates. She calls him "Father" and he responds by referring to her as his "old lady." They both cast the lost boys, together with John and Michael, in the role of their children.
The patriarchal family is recreated down to its most subtle details, including, at one point, even a sly hint of growing sexual rivalry between Peter and John, the eldest "son." Perpetually cleaning, cooking, and darning, Wendy exclaims happily: "Oh, dear, I'm sure spinsters are to be envied" (Novel, p. 102). Later, in the chapter pointedly entitled "The Happy Home," she is directly referred to as a housewife and we see that the children have begun to call her "Mummy." "Father knows best," she is inclined to say loyally when the boys complain to her of Peter.
Beyond this, Peter Pan confronts heterosexuality primarily in the figure of Tinker Bell, although there is a noticeable prurience in the way Barrie deals with Tiger Lily and the mermaids. Tink, however, is openly a sexy creature, modest and brazen by turns. She tends to wear seductive negligées in her curtained-off boudoir, and is "slightly inclined towards embonpoint" (Novel, p. 37). (Given the sexual connotations of France in the Victorian mind, it may be significant that these French euphemisms are used almost exclusively in relation to her. The single exception, which we will notice later, tends to support the point.)
When we first encounter her, Tinker Bell is "exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage" (Novel, p. 37). Peter describes her as "an abandoned little creature," and she retorts that she glories in her abandonment (Novel, p. 133). She is subject to raging sexual jealousies and, pushed by Wendy into the uncomfortable role of "other woman" in Peter's life, contrives to have her rival murdered. Like the other "heroic" characters in the story, she can fly (well known in Freudian dream analysis as a symbol of sexual intercourse) and, as a common "street fairy," may have participated in the drunken orgies which occasionally take place in the Neverland. Drunken orgies? Certainly. We gather this from Barrie's suggestive remark that, as Peter sleeps on guard one night, "some unsteady fairies had to climb over him on their way home from an orgy" (Novel, p. 95).
It may be objected, of course, with some justice, that these are rather ponderous reactions to what could have been intended merely as light-hearted satire. But in fact I think something more interesting and complex is involved. Barrie appears to be making use of one of the important but unrecognized conventions of writing for children: the Double Address. On the one hand the author speaks directly to his principal audience, his voice and manner serious and gentle, even conspiratorial. From time to time, however, he glances sidelong at the adults listening in and winks. Naturally, his jokes and references on these occasions are not meant to be understood by the children. And thus he is permitted a privileged discourse, unique to the genre, in which he is able simultaneously to quarry his own unconscious while denying, with a smile, that he is doing so. Most of the humor in Peter Pan is of this type.
Barrie completes his portrayal of the Neverland by claiming three more things about it. The first is that each individual possesses his own private island—Wendy's is concerned with this, John's with that, and so forth. This is an insight quite acceptable to the Freudian. At the same time, however, each Neverland participates collectively in the symbolism of its culture, or, as Barrie puts it, "the Neverlands have a family resemblance" (Novel, p. 19). By implication, then, and Barrie goes along with this, waking reality is imaged as "the mainland" (Novel, pp. 102, 105, 107).
These details are important, not only because they indicate the purely literary nature of Barrie's intuitions but also because of their sharply autobiographical character. As we have already seen, he was aware that his creative imagination was drawn compulsively to the idea of an island. To this we need only add that he once acknowledged in a public talk, possibly revealing more than he intended, "I should feel as if I had left off my clothing, if I were to write without an island."10 In order to create, it seems, he needed to put on the disguises of his unconscious. Without them he felt literally, perhaps even sexually, exposed.
Barrie's Neverland then is an unpredictably predictable universe to which each dreaming child can fly. It is a place where the inhabitants—Wendy and Tinker Bell, specifically—can die and yet survive death; where aging and growth can be transcended; where children may marry, and kill bloodthirsty pirates; where there are wild beasts of prey, and savages dangerous and worshipful by turns, and where half-perceived hints of adult sexuality and licentiousness abound. It is, in other words, an authentic vision of the Freudian id.11
At the center of the Neverland stands Captain Hook, at once Peter's greatest foe and the enemy of all small children. When he first bestrode the London stage, according to Daphne du Maurier, children were carried screaming from the stalls. In the story itself, both John and Michael weep in terror when his name is first pronounced because, says Barrie, "they knew Hook's reputation" (Novel, p. 63).
Yet this instant knowledge is a curious thing. After all, Hook is a fictional personality with no existence outside Barrie's imagination—unlike, for example, the Knave of Hearts in Alice. Certainly he has a literary ancestor in "Captain Swarthy," a "black man" and a pirate Barrie invented for the Davies children; but the reference is too esoteric to account satisfactorily for the universal recognition Barrie claims for Hook and with which he was received. When his name comes up in Peter Pan there has been nothing, including Peter's tone and manner, to justify the terror the boys display.
What is even more puzzling about their behavior is that, as we subsequently learn, "Hook was not his real name" (Novel, p. 167). Who is he, then? Barrie is as evasive about this as he was about the hostile forces of the superego. One possible explanation is that he is the author himself, for Barrie admits in his Preface that Captain Swarthy "is held by those who know to be autobiographical" (Play, p. xxiii). Unfortunately, however, this explanation obscures more than it reveals, for more than six years earlier, as we noted at the outset, he had already identified himself with Peter Pan ("Desperate attempt to grow up but can't"). In fact the apparent contradiction points to its own solution. As we shall see, he was both Pan and Hook, an unconscious condensation.
Barrie himself never understood this. In Peter Pan and elsewhere he is as genuinely ignorant of his villain's true identity as are his readers. Hook is simply "a dark and solitary enigma," an "unfathomable" man, the revelation of whose identity would "set the country in a blaze" (Novel, pp. 148, 166, 167).
Hook is also immensely powerful. During the final battle with the boys we are told that "this man alone seemed to be a match for them all" (Novel, p. 185). He is a cold-hearted killer whose menacing hook, as his man Skylights discovers, deals instant death. As the tale progresses his dark shadow looms ever larger until Peter, muttering "Hook or me this time," is forced at last into the final confrontation.
At the same time he is an oddly attractive individual, more an anti-hero than a fiend. "Thou not wholly unheroic figure," as Barrie apostrophizes, he is "not wholly evil" (Novel, pp. 190, 156). Disarmingly handsome, he loves flowers, music, and good clothes. He is also something of a gentleman and of course—one of those winks at the adults—an old Etonian. Finally, he possesses an outstanding brain and a code of honor which he calls "good form." His death is grotesque and almost pathetically triumphant.
The reader will have anticipated my view that Hook represents the Oedipal Father. Daphne du Maurier, who watched her own father play the role many times, describes his impact in terms which ineluctably evoke the Freudian idea:
He was a tragic and ghastly creation who knew no peace, and whose soul was in torment; a dark shadow; a sinister dream; a bogey of fear who lives perpetually in the grey recesses of every small boy's mind. All boys had their Hooks, as Barrie knew; he was the phantom who came by night and stole his way into their murky dreams.12
If Hook is the Oedipal Father, however, then within the structure of the story Peter Pan himself must be his Son. In great part the tale's popularity derives from its dramatization, in symbolic terms, of the Oedipal Son's victory over the Father. When Peter defeats Hook, every son in the audience crows with glee.
If this reading seems a little forced, let us recall that once the children descend into the unconscious Peter and Wendy undergo what is in effect a marriage. They set up house; they have children; Peter goes out to work and Wendy darns socks. At the same time, however, their roles oscillate ambiguously. Wendy is now a mother, now a wife; Peter simultaneously her husband, son, and, as he insists on being called, "The Great White Father" (Barrie's original title for the play). The Oedipal nature of their relationship emerges unmistakably in the following exchange:
"Ah, old lady," Peter said aside to Wendy, warming himself by the fire and looking down at her as she sat turning a heel, "there is nothing more pleasant of an evening for you and me when the day's toil is over than to rest by the fire with the little ones near by."
"It is sweet, Peter, isn't it?" Wendy said, frightfully gratified. "Peter, I think Curly has your nose."
"Michael takes after you."
"Dear Peter," she said, "with such a large family, of course, I have now passed my best, but you don't want to change me, do you?"
Certainly he did not want a change, but he looked at her uncomfortably; blinking, you know, like one not sure whether he was awake or asleep.
"Peter, what is it?"
"I was just thinking," he said, a little scared, "It is only make-believe, isn't it, that I'm their father?"
"Oh, yes," Wendy said primly.
"You see," he continued apologetically, "it would make me seem so old to be their real father."
"But they are ours, Peter, yours and mine."
"But not really, Wendy?" he asked anxiously.
"Not if you don't wish it," she replied; and she distinctly heard his sigh of relief. "Peter," she asked, trying to speak firmly, "what are your exact feelings for me?"
"Those of a devoted son, Wendy."
[Novel, pp. 132-33]
Sophocles excepted, it would be hard to find a more articulate literary presentation of the confusions and gratifications inherent in the Oedipal situation. It is notable too that at the crux of this exchange Peter is unsure whether he is dreaming or not—in other words, from the Freudian point of view the scene constitutes an almost classic wish-fulfillment. At its conclusion Peter is simultaneously Wendy's son, husband, and father to her children.
Yet this satisfactory arrangement is broken up, and by none other than Hook himself. He does so, furthermore, not only because he is the incarnation of evil but because he is, directly, Peter's sexual rival. He wants Wendy for himself.
Hook is indeed a highly sexual figure. First, he is overwhelmingly seductive. Wendy in particular displays a curious ambivalence towards him, as indeed she should, given the nature of this dream. Certainly she hates him, but at the same time she is not immune to his charm. After he has kidnapped her brothers and the lost boys, she nevertheless politely takes Hook's arm and allows him to escort her away from the "happy home." Barrie says that this was just a "slip" on her part because she is "fascinated" and "entranced" by his gentlemanly manner; he is "so frightfully distingué." But of course there are no slips, and in the context of the tale the meaning of this episode is clear. (Other than in the passages describing Tinker Bell, this is the only occasion in the story when French is used. Once again it appears in a scene charged with sexual significance.)
In more oblique but perfectly recognizable ways Hook's figure is replete with graphic phallic symbolism. The most vivid is the mighty iron hook for which he is metonymically named—a dangerous weapon which occasionally twitches or hangs idle of its own volition. He also wears a florid hat—according to The Interpretation of Dreams frequently a symbol of masculinity. And finally, in an amusing symbolic emphasis, he is shown smoking simultaneously not one but two cigars, in a strange double holder of his own design. These detailed images, as we see, turn out to be important in the story's climax.
My point that Hook is (unconsciously) the Great Black Father in the tale may be clinched by recalling that in the stage version, following a tradition that goes right back to the original production under Barrie's own direction in 1904, the part of Hook is always played by the actor cast as Mr. Darling. He is thus literally Wendy's father in elaborate disguise. When she takes his arm, therefore, and Peter rushes hotly in pursuit vowing vengeance, the archetypal Freudian triad (Oedipal Father-Mother-Oedipal Son) is complete.
But Peter Pan is not Hook's only enemy. His other indefatigable foe is Time itself, emblematically presented in the relentlessly pursuing crocodile. On the Neverland, where "it is quite impossible to say how time does wear on" (Novel, p. 102), the crocodile is chronology personified. "It must have been not less than ten o'clock by the crocodile," the narrator observes at one point; and, more explicitly elsewhere. "The way you got the time on the island was to find the crocodile and then stay near him until the clock struck" (Novel, pp. 159, 129).
Peter's final victory and the emblematic crocodile are linked in many ways. First, of course, Hook ultimately perishes in its jaws. Additionally, it has been imprinted on him by Peter's act—an important detail, for it shows among other things that the boy has already symbolically castrated the male parent. Peter's final victory is thus implicitly assured. This is indicated by the fact that at the moment of his amputation Hook's time starts to run out: the crocodile begins to tick. It will not cease, as we are told on more than one occasion, until the very hour of his death.
And then, in a stroke of real narrative genius, Barrie brings these elements dramatically together. His point seems to be that time itself is on the child's side. Just before the climax of the action—the final confrontation between the father and his son—two things happen simultaneously. First, the crocodile's clock stops running, and we know then that Hook is doomed. Second, Peter himself begins to imitate the sound—unconsciously, but so perfectly that when he climbs aboard the Jolly Roger the crew believe the crocodile itself has come at last. "It was Fate," Barrie has them thinking (Novel, p. 176). In these final startling moments Barrie allows all the deadly temporal meanings associated with the crocodile to gather around his hero.
Peter thus becomes both Time and Fate. He is also, in a closely related thought, Youth. Throughout the story Barrie has suggested that what Hook finds most irritating in Peter is his boyishness, his "cockiness." Now, in the final battle, Hook realizes that his opponent is something more than "Peter Pan the avenger," as he melodramatically calls himself.
Hitherto [Hook] had thought some fiend was fighting him, but darker suspicions assailed him now.
"Pan, who art thou?" he cried huskily.
"I'm youth, I'm joy," Peter answered at a venture. "I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg."
[Novel, p. 188]
I take this awkward exchange, which the text immediately dismisses as "of course … nonsense," to be an indication of Barrie's dim perception that his protagonists stood for issues larger than themselves. Within a page Hook is dead, slain by his own symbolic progeny.
My general argument can be affirmed, I think, by an examination of the way in which Barrie follows up the defeat of Captain Hook. In Freud's analysis of the Oedipal dream, it is necessary that the youthful victor seal his triumph by replacing the father he has overthrown. Thus Oedipus becomes King of Thebes and marries his own mother. In Peter Pan Barrie offers us another version of this process, simultaneously completing the transformation of his hero (begun when he assumed the crocodile's emblematic status) and discovering a striking denouement for his drama. After bursting from the egg at the moment of his father's death, Peter undergoes a final and decisive transformation. He becomes Captain Hook.
It is doubtful if Barrie fully understood what he was doing. Although he prepares us for this event, showing Peter passing by slow increments into Hook, he also writes, perhaps speaking at the same time for himself, that Peter "did not know in the least who or what he was" (Novel, p. 188). At one point he even admits his own confusion.
The crucial moment occurs in the rescue of Tiger Lily, something Peter accomplishes by imitating Hook's voice so brilliantly that even the pirates are deceived. Superficially the incident is meant to illustrate Peter's limitless resourcefulness and to display his capacity for mimicry. More profoundly, however, the scene touches on the nerve of his identity. Barrie seems to have sensed this, but only vaguely, for in the play he suddenly includes a parenthetical comment—it can hardly be called a stage direction—which is, I believe, an authentic glimpse into his own unconscious mind. For Peter "can imitate the Captain's voice so perfectly," Barrie admits, "that even the author has a dizzy feeling that at times he was really Hook" (Play, p. 80).
Later there is another revealing stage direction, suggesting but oddly not requiring a wordless tableau of overwhelming psychological importance. Barrie's language also merits some attention, for it is like a voyeuristic peep at something he both does and does not want to see. The climax of Act V, Scene I is Hook's quasi-suicidal leap into the crocodile's waiting jaws. The curtain falls immediately. Then Barrie adds:
The curtain rises to show Peter a very Napoleon on his ship. It must not rise again lest we see him on the poop in Hook's hat and cigars, and with a small iron claw.
[Play, p. 143]
End of scene. When the curtain does in fact rise again we are back in the Darlings' nursery. The dream is evidently over.
In the novel, however, Barrie explores this idea in more detail. Chapter 16, "The Return Home," reveals that all the boys have become pirates and Peter, "it need not be said," is their captain. So he has literally replaced Hook as master of the Jolly Roger. Like Hook, he treats his crew "as dogs," and they obey him with the same fear and trembling. There is even the appalling suggestion, albeit offered with another of those asides to the adults, that the lash itself is used. "Slightly," he writes, "got a dozen for looking perplexed when told to take soundings" (Novel, p. 192). Finally, having taken on Hook's role and manner, Peter assumes his full identity. He forces Wendy against her will to make a new suit for him "out of some of Hook's wickedest garments" and then drapes himself in the Captain's phallic symbolism:
It was afterwards whispered among them that on the first night he wore this suit he sat long in the cabin with Hook's cigar-holder in his mouth and one hand clenched, all but the forefinger, which he bent and held threateningly aloft like a hook.
[Novel, pp. 192-93]
The wheel has come full circle. Having destroyed the Oedipal father the triumphant son becomes the Oedipal father. He takes his place completely.
These points look back to the whole question, which we touched on earlier, of whether Barrie was his hero or his villain. They suggest that, like the schizoid Mr. Lapraik, he was both.
1. Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment (New York: Knopf, 1976), pp. 5, 155.
2. Andrew Birkin, J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1979).
3. Ibid, p. 297.
4. Cynthia Asquith, Portrait of Barrie (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1955), pp. 220-21.
5. J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (London: Holder and Stoughton, 1928), pp. viii-ix. Hereafter cited as "Play," parenthetically within the text.
6. Birkin, p. 253.
7. Asquith, p. 26.
8. Ibid, pp. 45, 66.
9. J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan (Puffin Books, 1978), p. 230. Hereafter cited as "Novel," parenthetically within the text.
10. Harry M. Geduld, Sir James Barrie (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1971), p. 29.
11. A psychoanalyst has pointed out to me that what I term the "id" is an inclusive definition of the Freudian unconscious, or "mixtures of id and ego that are unacceptable in waking life, censored by conscious ego values and superego attitudes."
12. Birkin, p. 110.
Kay McPherson (essay date January 1989)
SOURCE: McPherson, Kay. "The Lost Boy Who Wrote Peter Pan." School Library Journal 35, no. 5 (January 1989): 32-3.
[In the following essay, McPherson offers a biographical portrait of Barrie along with critical commentary on recently published editions of Peter Pan.]
Just as the Ancient Mariner is compelled to recreate his tale constantly, so was J. M. Barrie compelled constantly to dwell in both his life and his writings on the tale of the Boy Who Would Never Grow Up.
James Matthew Barrie was born on May 9, 1860, in Kirriemuir, Scotland, the ninth child of a weaver. His childhood was intensely happy until he was six. Many of his childhood preoccupations found their way into Peter Pan in one form or other. He loved to put on plays, most of which dealt with pirates and desert islands, two of his favorite interests kept constantly whetted by reading the adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson and R. M. Ballantyne.
All of this changed in 1866 with the accidental death of his older brother David, who was 12. David was their mother's favorite child and from his death, she went into a nervous shock so severe that her family feared for her life. Her daughters were able to rekindle her desire for living only by reminding her that she still had another son. They encouraged young James to adopt the mannerisms of his dead brother, and his mother's dramatic reaction to this behavior stirred up in James a desire "to become so like him that even my mother should not see the difference."1 As James grew up, David always remained for their mother a boy of 12; eventually James saw that he could no longer take the place of his dead brother. James would become a man no matter how he longed not to, but David always remained the boy who could never grow old to their mother. Thus the germ for Peter Pan was planted.
Barrie grew up but he didn't grow up. Both Alison Lurie in an article in The New York Review of Books and Andrew Birkin in J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys make strong cases for the idea that even though physically Barrie reached manhood, emotionally he was still a preteen boy whose primary attachment was to his mother or to mother figures. Physically, he was barely 5 foot 2 inches tall with a high slight voice and an extremely youthful appearance. He grew a large mustache to make himself appear older, but that, plus the baggy way his clothes fit, only made him look like a little boy playing dress-up in his father's clothes. Lurie wrote that he suffered from incomplete puberty, which can be caused by a glandular deficiency or by a deep subconscious desire on the part of the sufferer not to grow up and face adulthood.2
Whatever the cause, Barrie always remained a person who was far more comfortable in the company of children than adults. He was honorary uncle to many children. Foremost among these were the sons of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. Barrie entertained the boys with tales of the baby Peter's life as a bird before he was born. Soon the stories became too complicated for Peter to be the hero, so Barrie invented a new hero for the stories. This was Peter Pan, whose adventures at that time were confined to the Gardens.
One chapter of Barrie's 1902 novel, The Little White Bird, related the story of Peter Pan as it then stood. It proved so successful that this section was published separately as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 1906, with color illustrations by Arthur Rackham.
As the years passed, the fantasy game of Peter Pan between Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys grew more elaborate. The island in the Gardens' Serpentine Lake where Peter lived became the desert island of Never, Neverland, the name taken from an area in Australia. Indians were added along with pirates, with Barrie himself taking the role of the cruel head of the pirate band. By the early 1900s, Barrie began writing down the elements of the Peter Pan fantasy game, mixing it with aspects of the traditional English Christmas pantomime along with other experiences from his life. He introduced his St. Bernard into the play as Nana, the doggie nurse. The character of Mrs. Darling was based on Mrs. Llewelyn Davies, who was the most important of Barrie's surrogate mother-figures. Mr. Darling was an unkind and inaccurate portrayal of Mr. Llewelyn Davies. The idea for Tinker Bell came from a flash of light seen through the trees on a summer's night. Wendy and her cape were modeled after the daughter of a friend who had called Barrie "My Friendy," which came out as "My Wendy."
The play premiered on December 27, 1904, at the Duke of York Theatre. Its effect upon the public was instantaneous and wild. Peter Pan clothes and toys were suddenly everywhere. Even Queen Mary's dollhouse was built with a tiny Peter Pan toy theater in its nursery. The effect upon the English language is lasting to this day: there are "Peter Pan collars" for women's and children's clothing named after the collar on the costume of the first Peter Pan, Nina Boucicault. In England, a child's playhouse is called a "Wendy House," while paying for something on the installment plan is called "buying on the Never-Never." Peter Pan was, and has remained since, an integral part of childhood, and each generation meets him anew—either through revivals of the play, the 1952 Disney animated film, TV productions, or book versions.
The first book version, in 1911, was Barrie's Peter and Wendy. It contained much that is not in the play, and much of it is in the cloying, whimsical style associated with Barrie. An example is to be found in the first chapter where, we are told, Mrs. Darling nightly goes through her children's minds after they go to sleep, tidying up their thoughts. This is really more fey than the average child (and many adults) can handle. Barrie allowed reductions in this text. The first was Peter Pan and Wendy, published in 1915, which was called an "authorized school edition." May Byron did a complete retelling for young children in 1935. Following editions have used one of these three versions or a combination of all three for their text.
The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature says that the best retelling of Peter Pan is Eleanor Graham's Peter Pan: The Story of the Play (Scribners, 1962; o.p.), which is actually a retelling of the play with pen-and-ink cross-hatch illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. Other prominent older versions follow.
Peter Pan (Scribners, 1950), a version of the 1911 text illustrated by Nora Unwin, has pen-and-ink sketches which present a sweet and prettified view of the story, in the tradition of the Mabel Lucie Attwell illustrations for the 1921 editions.
Peter Pan (Scribners, 1980), illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, also uses the 1911 text. There are eight colored plates mixed with full-page and half-page pen-and-ink drawings. Familiar scenes are shown in ways that make them appear fresh. The illustrations feel at once both timeless and contemporary, most appropriate for this particular classic.
In 1927, Barrie turned over his royalties from the play, book, and other spinoffs to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London with the stipulation that they never reveal how much money they received from the bequest. This was "The Peter Pan Bequest," which lasted until December 30, 1987, when the copyright ended. Since then the following new editions of the book have been published.
Peter Pan (Unicorn, 1987), illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt, is a lavishly illustrated edition with 8 black-and-white full-page drawings and 21 full-page color plates. The black-and-white drawings are more successful in creating a unique and lively version of the story. The color plates show a heavy-handed imitation of N. C. Wyeth as colored by Walt Disney. Tinker Bell looks as if she is moonlighting from The Magic Kingdom, while Captain Hook looks positively kindly. There is also a static quality to the color plates which do not exist in the black-and-white drawings. However, the general format and typeset are spacious and handsome.
Peter Pan and Wendy (Clarkson N. Potter, 1988), illustrated by Michael Foreman, is a version of the 1911 text. It has an attractive, spacious format with full-color illustrations of full-page, half-page, and quarter-page sizes. They are colored mostly in pastel shades of pinks and blues with strong splashes of green. The style is a primitive, almost childlike impressionism—a different way of looking at Peter and his adventures.
Peter Pan (Holt, 1987) is illustrated by Michael Hague. As an admirer of Arthur Rackham, Hague is very much at home in the world of Peter Pan. The format is attractive with full-color plates throughout. The colors used are rich and strong and have a golden, antique cast to them. This Peter is the King of the Wild Things with a deranged spikey hairstyle which would be the envy of any punk rocker. He dominates every illustration in which he appears with his forceful, aggressive poses. This is a Peter who would be right after J. M. Barrie's heart. Barrie had complained that the Kensington Gardens statue of Peter Pan "doesn't show the Devil in Peter."3 Hague's Peter most certainly is a little devil.
Peter Pan (Viking Kestrel, 1988), illustrated by Jan Ormerod, is the most impressive version to date and is the most filled with illustration. There are full-color plates; pen-and-ink drawings of half- and full-page using blacks, whites, and grays; and silhouette groupings. There are also tiny sketches at the right-hand corner of many of the pages showing a capering Tinker Bell inviting readers to turn the page to see what happens next. This is a Captain Hook shown through dramatic use of black to be a malevolent Charles II, just as Barrie described him. Wendy, on the other hand, is not the submissive little mother whom Barrie created, but is an active, independent little girl who can handle any adventure even if it happens before tea. Barrie may not have approved, but readers certainly will. Peter is often shown only from the back or in silhouette or in such a hazy fashion that readers must fill in the rest with their imagination. This is how it should be, since there are as many ways of seeing Peter Pan as there are children who have met him. This is a striking edition, filled with variety and depth which often match and then expand the text.
There will certainly be more new editions of this book, since every child will sometime in his childhood meet Peter Pan, just as Wendy meets him and then her daughter Jane and then Jane's daughter Margaret. For Peter is now a changeless part of childhood, along with Mother Goose and the heroes of the Grimms' folk tales. This is the ultimate accomplishment of a man who was loathe to give up childhood and was preoccupied with ways to remain an eternal boy no matter the effect on his life and relationships. In 1933, when Barrie was 73, he sat next to the 3-year-old Princess Margaret Rose of York at a children's birthday party. The two spent their time in animated conversation. Afterwards, the child grandly announced that the author "is my greatest friend and I am his greatest friend."4 Most children have always felt this way about Barrie's creation and alter ego.
1. Lurie, p. 11.
3. Birkin, p. 202.
4. Ibid., p. 299.
Birkin, Andrew. J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Love Story That Gave Birth to Peter Pan. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1979.
Carpenter, Humphrey, & Mari Pritchard. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Pr, 1984.
Green, Roger Lancelyn. J. M. Barrie: A Walck Monograph. New York: Henry Z. Walck, 1961.
Lurie, Alison."The Boy Who Couldn't Grow Up." The New York Review of Books, xxii, Feb. 6, 1975, pp. 11-15.
R. D. S. Jack (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: Jack, R. D. S. "The Manuscript of Peter Pan." Children's Literature 18 (1990): 101-13.
[In the following essay, Jack contrasts issues of character development in different versions of Peter Pan, ranging from Barrie's earliest known manuscript to more modern stagings. Jack questions whether Barrie's original intent with Peter Pan was to create a moralizing story for adults or a fantastic tale for children.]
The discovery of the earliest known text for any major play is always an important event, establishing as it does the author's original conception of his work and allowing us to see how that conception was later developed. All the more so with the discovery in 1964 of the manuscript for Peter Pan, since its author, J. M. Barrie, had previously gone to considerable lengths to deny or at least cast doubts on its existence.
In the dedication to the play he contends, "I have no recollection of writing the play of Peter Pan " and even says, "I have not the original MS" (Plays, definitive edition 491). This dedication of course postdates the play by at least sixteen years, and Barrie had in fact lost the manuscript by then.1 Yet his professed ignorance of the manuscript undoubtedly served his larger aim of emphasizing the creative part played by the Llewellyn Davies boys in originating the central ideas and situations of the play.2 This aim was already evident in the two earlier works centering on Peter Pan. In The Boy Castaways of Black Island (1901), a book made up almost entirely of pictures of the boys playing, the preface is attributed not to Barrie but to Peter Llewellyn Davies. In the novel The Little White Bird (1902), the narrator's art is first compared unfavorably with the true act of creation (motherhood), then condemned as an act of self-indulgence, and finally proved to be derivative, most of the best ideas having come from the mother figure herself.
The desire to conceal the power of his own art in order to glorify both the creative strength of motherhood and the free imagination of youth is, for Barrie, not a whim but an important part of the myth. At the first performance of Peter Pan the program claimed that the author was Ela C. May, the youngest actress in the cast, and she, not Barrie, appeared to make the author's speech of gratitude at the final curtain. The review in The Times, however, does make clear that there are limits to Barrie's artistic modesty: "The programme pretends that she wrote the play, but Mr. Barrie's name is not concealed. He has the large letters and stands at the top" (Times, Dec. 28).
A further sign of Barrie's efforts to downplay his creative role—this one relating to the manuscript it-self—is the curious lack of any entry for the original Peter Pan in the British Library. All plays had to be presented to the Lord Chamberlain's office for censorship, and accordingly the rest of his plays found their way into the British Library. But there is no entry or typescript, under either Barrie's or Ela C. May's name, for Peter Pan. This helps perpetuate the idea that the play simply has no written origin.3
The manuscript found in the Lilly Library of the University of Indiana is incontestably in Barrie's hand and contains an inscription that dates it one year before the first production of the play. The inscription reads: "To Maude Adams. This the MS of Peter Pan from her humble servant and affectionate friend. J. M. Barrie. Nov. 23 1903."4 Not only was Maude Adams, the actress who took the role of Peter in America, an appropriate person for Barrie to entrust with such a literary treasure; interestingly, in the dedication, just such a gift is contemplated among the various outcomes imagined for the manuscript. "I know not whether I lost that original MS or destroyed it or happily gave it away" (Definitive edition 491). The only complicating feature is a second date—March 1 1904—at the end of the text. Probably the two dates refer to when the composition was started and concluded. Even if the later date is accepted the manuscript would antedate the first known typed version, the 1904/1905 Beinecke Production Text, especially as Barrie's earlier practice shows him working always from manuscript to typescript. A brief comparison will confirm the precedence of the manuscript.5
Jacqueline Rose in her valuable book The Case of Peter Pan compares the Beinecke text, the earliest full form known to her, with the later, better-known versions (32-37). Almost all the narrative differences she notes are shared by the manuscript, thus establishing these two texts as early and close in conception. But the manuscript contains further differences that locate it at an even earlier stage of writing. Most notably in the manuscript the title has not yet been decided upon but remains Anon; in Beinecke it is Peter Pan. Names of characters are not set either. Beinecke has the final forms Michael and Tinker Bell; in the manuscript Michael begins as Alexander and (most striking of all) Tinker Bell is called Tippy or Tippytoe throughout.
This manuscript, then, is without doubt the earliest known version of the play. That Barrie did know of its existence is revealed in a letter the Lilly librarian David A. Randall wrote to The Times Literary Supplement. He explained that Charles Scribner, having recovered the manuscript, notified Barrie. The dramatist cabled back: "Delay because unwell. Stop. Greatly interested about discovery of long lost manuscript. Stop. Thought I might have given it to Adams but uncertain. Stop. Want to buy it back from you kindly cable suggesting terms." The conceit of the "unwritten play" was thus a device designed to strengthen (and perhaps add a sense of mystery to) the myth of Pan. Barrie not only knew of the manuscript but suspected that he had given it to Maude Adams.
If a production based on this first version were attempted, the audience would be faced with a six-scene form, rather than the five acts to which they have grown accustomed. In the earlier parts of the play, they would detect many speech changes along with alterations to the nature and the order of the games played in Neverland. Extreme variations, however, are reserved for the last two scenes after the return to the Night Nursery. I shall focus on these first.
In Scene Five the Lost Boys are, as it were, auctioned to twenty mothers with such exotic names as the Countess of Copley or Madame Villon. They in their turn have to undergo tests of motherhood devised by Peter and Wendy, who enthusiastically check on their reaction to baby clothes, their ability to kiss their offspring without awakening them, and their conviction that their own chosen child is the prettiest. The art of storytelling is also highlighted more strongly than in later texts, with particular emphasis being placed on the fact that Mr. Darling, unlike his wife and daughter, cannot hold his audience's attention:
Father, and why are you in the kennel?
It's a long story, Wendy, but—
If it's very long father, we'll excuse you telling it, but do come out.
What we are seeing is a faithful following of the central ideas of The Little White Bird, Walker, London, the subplot of The Professor's Love Story, The Little Minister, and Quality Street (Jack, "Novel" 48-61). In The Little White Bird, the mother proves herself both the prime creator (by having a child) and the superior writer, whereas the male narrator figure uses an inferior fantastic art in an effort to spirit the child away from her. Of course, this exploration of the connection between motherhood and art is still present in the later versions of Peter Pan, but there it is neither so exhaustively nor so explicitly examined. And this, on one level at least, makes the manuscript version more obviously adult in focus than the play we now watch.
Scene Six develops the oppositions between timelessness and mutability set forth in The Little White Bird, using the same contrasts of image and setting. Both are laid in Kensington Gardens, whose gates clang shut in the evening, dividing those who have chosen the enclosed freedom of eternal youth from those who have chosen the different freedom of aging in the outside world. In neither case does Barrie oversimplify the opposition or suggest that all the advantages lie with one group or the other. Those who stay outside are prisoners of time and place, never again to know the transcending freedom of the childish imagination. Those locked in will never again know parental love, either as growing adults or as parents themselves.
In both the manuscript of the play and The Little White Bird there follows a fantasy in which the image of aging is associated with schooling and with one figure in particular. In the novel this figure is Pilkington, "bearded and blackavised, and of a lean tortuous habit of body that moves ever with a swish" (237). He steals the younger boys away from childhood and dresses them in school clothing. The similarity of his description to that of Hook anticipates the manuscript version of the play, where the pirate, having escaped from his encounter with the crocodile, lives on as a schoolmaster, fulfilling the same role as Pilkington:
That's why I'm a schoolmaster—to revenge myself on boys! I hook them so, Starkey (indicating how he lifts them by the waist) and then I lay on like this! When it was found out what a useful hook I had every school in Merry England clamoured for my services.
The presence in the manuscript version of six boarding school girls with a "starchy governess" and of the twins in Eton suits strengthens the idea of school as the main, immediate enemy to Peter Pan's Neverland. This is occasionally suggested in the later play as well—for example in Hook's dying cry of "Floreat Etona"—but here, as in the novel, schooling is the major image of mutability.
In The Little White Bird the myth of eternal youth is sustained not only by Neverland but by figures taken from the commedia dell'arte. After the Pilkington episode, another centering on Joey the clown proposes an alternative vision of agelessness, this time specifically associated with that art form. In the manuscript of Peter Pan, Peter and the boys become clowns, the starchy governess is converted into a harlequin, and the girls turn into columbines. The major battle this time is not between Hook as pirate of death and Peter as bird of the dawning day but between Hook as schoolmaster and Peter as clown. Tippy (Tinker Bell) engineers the outwitting by making all the boys look like Peter so that whenever Hook catches a boy and whips off his makeup, he discovers that he has failed to capture his principal enemy, the creator of the timeless land. Only after this additional scene does he again face the crocodile, an early emblem of time, and die.6 Inevitably, both the dramatic advantage and the audience's sympathy lie with Peter and so with unending youth. But even here, Barrie refuses to present a simple black-and-white picture. Hook is already seen as a noble villain who must fail so long as he fights Peter within his own mythical land according to its free, imaginative laws. Interestingly, too, although Barrie later excised the commedia scene, he extended its implications in the one-act play Pantaloon (1905). In that work, the selfish, egotistical side of the Peter-Clown figure is emphasized; indeed, he becomes the villain of the piece. Barrie seems to have argued throughout his writings that escape from time and so from death, whether through the fantasy of Neverland or through various art forms, cannot be a wholly satisfactory solution to the human situation. In The Little White Bird, on balance, he comes down in favor of reality, making the mother his major heroine; in Peter Pan, on balance, he comes down in favor of the myth, making Peter his major hero; in Pantaloon, he makes a villain out of the character who pushes the implications of the myth to their most uncompromising extremes and portrays those who yearn for marriage and family sympathetically.
One of the major implications of this artistic honesty for Peter Pan is that, in a real sense, no single ending can satisfactorily resolve these ambiguities. Barrie often had trouble ending his plays; he composed many different conclusions for The Admirable Crichton and faced the problem of irresoluble myth in The Little Minister (Jack, "Myth" 1-16). The difficulty was increased in Peter Pan, which seeks at an adult level to embody the most profound problems of life and death. It is no accident that there are more "variations on an ending" for it than for any other of his plays.
In most later versions the solution leaves Peter in Neverland and Wendy with a compromise. She opts for family life but returns to Neverland for spring cleanings and to tell Peter the stories that first attracted him to her. This ending highlights their different fates and Peter's forgetful selfishness:
Yes. (gloating) To hear stories about me!
It is so queer that the stories you like best should be the ones about yourself.
(touchy) Well, then?
Fancy your forgetting the lost boys, and even Captain Hook!
Only at the most immediate level of dramatic impact is this exchange comic—Peter refuses to feel sorry for himself and ends the play piping "with rapturous face." The real implications, though, both for the myth and for the narrative (girl loses boy), are undeniably tragic.
In the manuscript version, by contrast, Wendy chooses the "never land" of Kensington Gardens, bids farewell to her parents, and stays there in her little house with Peter. This hands Peter, presumably the child's hero, a complete victory. He wins his girl and retains her within the myth. Both Wendy and her parents play down their mutual loss by treating the fantasy as if it were adult reality:
I like your house, Wendy. Gravel soil—south aspect.
And the cupboard accommodation is so good, father. I made a point of that. Besides, we pay no rent.
And that's a consideration.
Although Barrie does point out some tragic implications, most of them are presented quite subtly. Nana arrives with pups just before Peter calls Wendy "Mother" three times in succession, reminding us that the heroine has sacrificed real motherhood to be a parent in make-believe; she has traded Peter as husband for Peter as child. Nonetheless, there can be little doubt that this resolution is both happier and more obviously appealing to children than that depicted in later versions.
This resolution is particularly important, as it contrasts with the otherwise more adult conception of the earlier texts (both the manuscript and Beinecke 1904/05). Both their closer relationship to the adult novel The Little White Bird and their more explicit development of the themes of motherhood, art, creativity, mutability, immortality, time, and death confirm this and raise the unavoidable question of whether Peter Pan was originally intended for children at all. I shall, however, postpone that problem until I have looked at two trios of characters who receive rather unexpected treatment in the manuscript.
The first of these groups consists of Wendy, Tiger Lily and Tippy (Tinker Bell). In later texts of Peter Pan it is suggested in rather muted fashion that each of these would prefer a more adult relationship with the eternal boy. In the manuscript and Beinecke 1904/05 these suggestions are made explicit, with each representing a different sort of womanly temptation. Even Wendy, the motherly woman and the least forward of the three, asks pointedly sexual questions of Peter. Nor is there any evidence yet of the idea that she and Peter cannot touch. Indeed, in Scene One they sit together with their legs dangling and Peter rubs her back. She is, however, the readiest to adapt to Peter's non-sexual games, even accepting the role of aged parent in Scene Three. "I have now passed my best but you don't want to change me do you? We are an old couple now Peter but am I still your Jo?" (4) This leads into their jointly singing Robert Burns's sentimental celebration of marriage in old age, "John Anderson, my Jo."
Tiger Lily's part is much longer in the early versions, and she offers herself to Peter in a more aggressively sexual way than Wendy. In Scene Three of the manuscript, for example, she literally suggests throwing herself at him:
Suppose Tiger Lily runs into wood—Peter Paleface catch her—what then?
(bewildered) Paleface can never catch Indian girl, they run so fast.
If Peter Paleface chase Tiger Lily—she no run very fast—she tumble in a heap what then? (Peter puzzled. She addresses Indians.) What then?
She him's squaw.
And in Scene Four, when finally she comes to accept the impregnability of his innocence, her reaction is the passionate one of a rejected suitor. Furiously she abandons him to his fate. "Then Tiger Lily leave you here—you starve, or else wild beasts come eat you little bit here, little bit there."
Tippy (Tinker Bell), being of fairy size, cannot ultimately represent any real sexual threat. She nonetheless is presented in an overtly sexual fashion and refers flirtatiously to the fact that she is in her negligee. Even Peter remembers this and later threatens to reveal her to the audience in this state. "Tippy, if you don't get up and dress at once I shall open the curtains and then we shall all see you in your negligee." She is, on her own evidence, a completely free spirit, able to indulge her abandonment with Peter in a way not open to the others. In yet another passage that later will be erased, Wendy furiously confronts Peter about her behavior:
It isn't for a lady to tell.
(huffing) Oh, very well. Perhaps Tippy will tell me.
(with spirit) Oh yes, Tippy will tell you. She has no scruples—she hugs you openly—though she can't go a twentieth part of the way round—Tippy's an abandoned little urchin! (Tippy darts about).
She has been listening! (Tippy rings) She says she knows she's an abandoned little urchin and that like a true woman she glories in it. I suppose she means that She wants to be my mother. (Tippy rings 'You silly ass' which the audience can now understand for itself).
(with spirit) I cannot agree with her! (Peter is hurt. Tippy darts at Wendy and evidently pinches her and pulls her hair) Oh! Oh! Oh!
The intense enmity among the three, their clear desire to attract Peter sexually, and their different modes of approach as mother, mate, and mischievous urchin, respectively, are distinctive features of the earliest texts. Soon Barrie was to tone down the sexuality and markedly reduce the role of the passionate Tiger Lily. Yet his original intentions are plain and provide further evidence for those who claim that Peter Pan was at first written for an essentially adult audience.
The second group whose roles and interrelationships differ significantly in the manuscript comprises Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Mr. Darling. Those well versed in the final text recognize Peter as the dominant character in the play and Hook as the major villain, with Mr. Darling (in spite of his melodramatic kennel antics) assigned a comparatively minor role. The first surprise the manuscript presents is Mr. Darling's much greater dramatic importance. Not only does he head the list of dramatis personae; he has much more dialogue than in later versions, both after the children have flown off at the end of Scene One and when his kennel exploits are being analyzed in Scene Four (corresponding in the final play to Act Five, Scene Two). To this must be added the important contribution he makes to the mother recognition scene, where he not only is driven to distraction by the sudden invasion of his home by women ("Twenty! There are thousands of them!") but also proves unable to cope with Peter. At the very end of the play he is present again, not only accompanying Mrs. Darling to the little house but having quite as much to say as his wife.
It is not Mr. Darling's significance that changes as the various texts of the drama evolve. He is at the beginning as at the end an inadequate, selfish, doglike creature lending weight to oedipal and psychological interpretations of the play (Rose 35; Geduld 57). It is his dramatic impact with which Barrie seems to have been more concerned earlier on. This is almost certainly because his original conception of the myth of mutability and timelessness was intellectual rather than theatrical. Darling and Hook each represented adulthood and change, the one within Never-land, the other outside it. As such they were opposed as inadequate villains to the mature, motherly figures of Mrs. Darling and Wendy respectively. In the manuscript they have equal importance, reflecting this balanced idea, for just as Darling's role is more detailed than in later versions, so Hook's is comparatively restricted. Notably, most of his major soliloquies, in particular the famous rumination on death ("How still the night is") at the start of Act Five, prove to be later additions. Not only does this variation imply a lower dramatic profile; it lessens his direct contact with the audience, making him a less sympathetic villain. His dark and ultimately futile plottings as schoolmaster in the harlequin scene confirm this less ambiguous (though not entirely unambiguous) vision.
Only once this has been firmly grasped does the final variation seem other than astounding. For in the manuscript Peter's own role is not nearly so dominant. He is conceived as the focal point for the tensions discussed above rather than the major imaginative power in the drama. How else can one explain the fact that Barrie completed the whole of the manuscript draft, yet still had Anon as his title? As with Hook, many of Peter's best-known lines are added in later texts but, most significant of all, a comparison between the conclusions to the six scenes of the manuscript and those to the five acts of the final version reveal the degree of his dramatic ascendancy in the latter. In the play Peter shares the final spotlight in each of the first four acts and has the stage to himself at the end of Act Five: "With rapturous face he produces his pipes, and the Never birds and the fairies gather closer, till the roof of the little house is so thick with his admirers that some of them fall down the chimney. He plays on and on till we wake up." In the manuscript the curtain falls, in successive scenes, not on Peter but on the Darlings, the Redskins, Tippy, the Pirates, and Nana. Even in Scene Six Peter has to share the last moment with Wendy, Starkey (of all people)—and, arguably, lighting effects: "Footsteps are heard. They are the steps of Starkey as keeper with lantern. As he appears trudging by, the house and children [Peter and Wendy] are no longer there. When he has passed, they are there again. Stars all go out. Blackness." Given Barrie's obsession with the dramatic importance of endings, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that in his first vision of the play, Peter, though important, was not yet the crucial character of subsequent recastings. His later dominance must, therefore, suggest either an altered conception of the myth or acceptance that Peter and Hook were proving the major theatrical attractions. Certainly Barrie had always been a student of the box office as well as an ardent reviser of his work at every possible stage.
This inevitably leads to the crucial question how he conceived of his audience. Jacqueline Rose points out that the first performance was attended by the London elite with scarcely a child among them (32). Perhaps it is a bit unfair, though, to generalize from what by its very nature would have been an untypical audience, especially as most contemporary reviewers seemed confident that the work was primarily for children: "The audience which gathered at the Duke of York's Theatre this evening was in numbers and brilliance a worthy tribute to the man who in The Admirable Crichton and The Little Minister has dramatised ideas, and thereby proved himself a new force on our stage…. It ought to be exactly the thing that will appeal to children" (Scotsman 5). And we do know that children flocked to the box office, making the work such a success that it completely eclipsed Shaw's rival Androcles and the Lion. How can we reconcile this evidence with our knowledge that, especially in its earlier format, the drama contained an adult myth of some complexity?
Critics who emphasize the adult nature of Peter Pan may overlook two important factors: its appeal on a surface level to children and its echoes of the author's earlier works for the theater.
Barrie was, after all, a proven success as a teller of stories to the Llewellyn Davies boys. And in Peter Pan he unites the obvious attractions of adventure story and fairy tale, doing so in a manner that seems guaranteed to catch and hold a child's attention. Peter Pan is a tremendous spectacle. Barrie's fame had made large sums available for his productions. (How else could he have thought of creating twenty minor women's parts for one short scene?) He was also vitally interested in stage effects. With its use of complex lighting effects and such devices as the building of the house around Wendy and the flying of the children, the drama is constantly introducing visual surprises. Furthermore, Barrie knew the importance of actively involving children in what was going on. The most obvious example of this is Peter's cry at the end of Act Four (manuscript Scene 3) for the children in the audience to save the dying Tinker Bell by clapping their hands if they believe in fairies. More subtly, however, the opening scene, which firmly establishes children as the heroes, lets his younger audience know that the piece is not only for but also about them. To this we add variety. The changing of scene from one dramatically exciting land to another—from nursery to Neverland, from underground house to lagoon to ship, from redskins to lost boys to pirates to fairies—would surely appeal even to the shortest of attention spans. Finally, by ensuring the supremacy of action, it prevents any major, potentially tragic involvement, even with important characters.
The links between Peter Pan and Barrie's earlier dramas provide a further clue to its dual appeal. Barrie had already experimented—most notably in The Little Minister and Quality Street —with the techniques and story lines of the fairy tale. Having had considerable success with mature audiences using a form that yoked adult narrative to childhood myth, might he not naturally have presumed that children would be attracted to a combination of childhood narrative and adult myth? This seems to me to have been his intention throughout. From the outset I believe he hoped to attract both sections of his audience but in different ways and on rather different levels. This is, after all, only a development of Boccaccio's vision of art as presenting a series of veils for the reader or listener to remove according to his capacity for understanding.
Whatever one's answer may be to the apparent contradiction between the adult themes and childhood narrative of Barrie's original play, the evidence of the manuscript and Beinecke 1904/05 suggests that he started out with too adult a conception. We do not know the precise form in which it was originally performed, but first night reports indicate that the comic conclusion retained in both these versions may already have been replaced. It seems certain, however, that this production did keep close to Beinecke 1904/05 (which, after all, is the production copy) and so to the original manuscript. It is not surprising, then, that Barrie saw the imbalance and in successive revisions attempted to redress it without losing the integrity of the original dual concept. The adult myth loses the rigor of its original analytic presentation. Instead it is more briefly, subtly, and imaginatively suggested. The relationships between characters are maintained, but the importance of individual dramatic roles comes to depend more on popularity with children and less on neat ideological correspondences.
Study of the Peter Pan manuscript would not lead anyone to deny the adult content in this play. But it does reveal that Barrie, a man by nature drawn to children's literature, aimed to attract a young audience and was ready to revise his work over and over again in efforts to increase that appeal.
The research for this article was greatly assisted by grants from the British Academy and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland.
1. This was deduced from the reference in it to Mary Rose (1920). Probably, however, the dedication was written for the first collected edition of The Plays of J. M. Barrie (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1928).
2. For a detailed discussion of the Llewellyn Davies family and their importance for Barrie, see Andrew Birkin, J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys (London: Constable, 1979).
3. R. L. Green in Fifty Years of Peter Pan (London: Peter Davies, 1954) does claim to have consulted the Lord Chamberlain's text. I report the result of my own research.
4. Permission to quote from the manuscript was kindly granted by the Lilly Library.
5. R. L. Green (47-69) argues for the primacy of the manuscript without feeling the need to argue the case.
6. The more obvious symbol of time—the ticking clock—is a later addition.
Barrie, J. M. The Boy Castaways of Black Island. London: J. M. Barrie, 1901.
――――――. The Little White Bird. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1902.
――――――. Peter Pan, Barrie MS, P 45/1904-05B, Beinecke Library, Yale University.
――――――. The Plays of J. M. Barrie. Collected edition. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1928.
――――――. The Plays of J. M. Barrie. Definitive edition. Ed. A. E. Wilson. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1943.
Birkin, Andrew. J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. London: Constable, 1979.
Geduld, Harry M. Sir James Barrie. New York: Twayne, 1971.
Green, R. L. Fifty Years of Peter Pan. London: Peter Davies, 1954.
Jack, R. D. S. "From Novel to Drama: J. M. Barrie's Quality Street." Scottish Literary Journal 14 (1987): 48-61.
――――――. "The Land of Myth and Faery: The Dramatic Version of Barrie's The Little Minister." Scotia 9 (1985): 1-16.
Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan or the Impossibility of Children's Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1984.
The Scotsman, 28 December 1904, p. 5.
The Times, 28 December 1904, p. 4.
The Times Literary Supplement, 9 January 1904, p. 5.
Richard Rotert (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: Rotert, Richard. "The Kiss in a Box." Children's Literature 18 (1990): 114-23.
[In the following essay, Rotert examines the title character's need for maternal love in Peter Pan, contending that Peter's child-like self-centeredness thwarts any chances for maturity or personal growth.]
Long ago I thought like you that my mother would always keep the window open for me; so I stayed away for moons and moons and moons, and then flew back; but the window was barred, for mother had forgotten all about me, and there was another little boy sleeping in my bed.
—Peter Pan (106)
In spite of Peter Pan's history of recurrent amnesia—he says of pirates, "I forget them after I kill them," (161)—the distressing memory of being barred from returning to his mother persists. Considering the preponderance of material purged or repressed in the adolescent mind, it is crucial for an analysis of subsequent behavior to identify which details of a child's life escape general oblivion. What remains in conscious memory is likely the most significant element in that whole period of life, regardless of whether it possessed such importance at the time or gained importance from the influence of later events (Freud, Character 193). In the traumatic memory cited above, Peter acknowledges his estrangement from the mother imago, an estrangement that persists without hope of redress. The barred window excludes Peter as participant in the previously abandoned familial context of mother and child in a nursery. Peter's personal story, mirroring that of the text, begins and ends with a flight from and return to the nursery window, the locus of his unresolved dilemma. Peter Pan was—and is—on the outside looking in.
By returning to this locus Peter acknowledges his deprivation and reveals the purpose of his original flight. "'Wendy, I ran away the day I was born…. It was because I heard father and mother,' he explained in a low voice, 'talking about what I was to be when I became a man.' He was extraordinarily agitated now. 'I don't ever want to be a man,' he said with passion" (26). Peter's repudiation of "manhood" may also be affirmed in the conspicuous absence of the father from the iterative nursery scene, an absence indicative of the fulfilled wish by a son who sees the father as denying access to the mother. The normal wish to eliminate the father imago is revealed in a wistful encounter with a dead father in a wood, later to be identified as the Island of Neverland. "Children have the strangest adventures without being troubled by them. For instance, they may remember to mention, a week after the event happened, that when they were in the wood they met their dead father and had a game with him" (8). Here the apparent merriment of the children suggests the ultimate resurrection or replacement of the father, or adult, in their own eventual maturity. But Peter Pan permanently rejects fatherliness, including his own, by refusing to enter the prerequisite order of manhood. By denying his manhood, Peter also denies the possibility of a mature, loving relationship with any of the female characters, considering them only surrogates for the desired but inaccessible mother.
Peter's necessary conflict with a specular image of the father is displaced onto Neverland battles with pirates whose captain, James Hook, is associated by parallel episodes to the one identifiable father in the text, Mr. Darling. In a nursery scene with Michael, Mr. Darling invokes parental authority by demanding the consumption of medicine by his son. "Strong man though [Mr. Darling] was, there is no doubt that he had behaved rather foolishly over the medicine…. When Michael dodged the spoon in Nana's mouth, he had said reprovingly, 'Be a man, Michael … when I was your age I took medicine without a murmur' (16). Later, in Neverland, Captain Hook adds a poisonous concoction to Peter's medicine in an effort to murder the boy: "But what was that? The red in his eye had caught sight of Peter's medicine standing on a ledge within easy reach. Lest he should be taken alive, Hook always carried about his person a dreadful drug … which was probably the most virulent poison in existence. Five drops of this he now added to Peter's cup" (122-23). The father-pirate analogy exposes the tyranny of authority, and the pirates become fathers against whom the children, urged on by Peter, avenge prior transgressions.
When Peter returns to the nursery window, he discovers that the affection he seeks from his mother has been directed toward another. The mother as object of desire is inaccessible to him within the sealed enclosure of the nursery which she shares with other children. This quandary is elaborated metaphorically in a mise-en-abyme image of Mrs. Darling as a puzzle box of desirable contents.
Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner.
He [Mr. Darling] got all of her, except the innermost box and the kiss. He never knew about the box, and in time he gave up trying for the kiss.
Peter, as subject, is constituted by his acknowledged lack of and desire for the mother imago. His enigmatic relation with the feminine, represented by the missing kiss, is underscored by his incomprehension of the word "kiss," as revealed in a dialogue with Wendy.
She also said she would give him a kiss if he liked, but Peter did not know what she meant, and he held out his hand expectantly.
"Surely you know what a kiss is?" she asked aghast.
"I shall know when you give it to me," he replied stiffly; and not wanting to hurt his feelings she gave him a thimble.
"Now," said he, "shall I give you a kiss?" and she replied with a slight primness, "If you please." She made herself rather cheap by inclining her face toward him, but he dropped an acorn button into her hand.
Even when Peter and Wendy "play house" on Never-land, the island retreat emblematic of his emotionally remote, isolated identity, he fails to develop a fuller relationship with her. Because of his prior displacement from the nursery, Peter's instinctual desire for the feminine, which would normally shift from the mother to a lover, was arrested at an infantile stage. His fixation1 on the mother-son dyad allows Peter to imagine Wendy only as a potential mother imago, as he does all the female characters.2 When Wendy suggests to him that he is indeed father to the island boys, to whom she is surrogate mother, Peter rejects the assertion of his fatherhood not only because to accept it would mean foreclosure upon the desired mother-son relationship, but also because he equates fatherliness with the adult world he repudiates.
Peter Pan's inability to imagine an object-love relationship with the feminine is elaborated during his interrogation by Wendy regarding the island family.
"Peter, what is it?"
"I was just thinking," he said, a little scared. "It is only make-believe, isn't it, that I am their father?"
"Oh yes," Wendy said primly.
"You see," he continued apologetically, "it would make me seem so old to be their real father."
"But they are ours, Peter, yours and mine."
"But not really, Wendy?" he asked anxiously.
"Not if you don't wish it," she replied; and she distinctly heard his sigh of relief. "Peter," she asked, trying to speak firmly, "what are your exact feelings for me?"
"Those of a devoted son, Wendy."
"I thought so," she said, and went and sat by herself at the extreme end of the room.
"You are so queer," he said, frankly puzzled, "and Tiger Lily is just the same. There is something she wants to be to me, but she says it is not my mother."
"No, indeed, it is not," Wendy replied with frightful emphasis….
"Then what is it?"
"It isn't for a lady to tell."
"Oh, very well," Peter said, a little nettled. "Perhaps Tinker Bell will tell me."….
He had a sudden idea. "Perhaps Tink wants to be my mother?"
"You silly ass!" cried Tinker Bell in a passion.
Peter's demeanor bespeaks intact narcissism. Even on the island his self-sufficiency differentiates him from the other boys. Though part of the group, he remains aloof from it, to the extent of forbidding anyone even to look like him. As the narrator insists, Peter is a self-contained unit of conceit; and Wendy agrees, noting that the only stories he enjoys are those about himself.
At the center of each of the many family units is a female who draws it together. Mrs. Darling, Wendy, Tinker Bell, and Tiger Lily, the lovely Indian maiden, all exert a centripetal force on their constituent groups; even the pirates have a "feminine" character in Smee. As the adhesive, bonding agent, each is associated with the act of sewing or mending. Tinker Bell, the sarcastic anima figure darting about the text and literally hovering over the stage as a beam of light in the theatrical version of Peter Pan, is so named "because she mends pots and kettles" (28), a reference to the traditional occupation of gypsies or tinkers. After putting her children to bed, Mrs. Dar-ling "sat down by the fire to sew" (9). Unity or wholeness is precisely what Peter lacks; he entices Wendy, whose kiss was represented by a thimble, to the Neverland Island family by promising, "you could darn our clothes, and make pockets for us. None of us have any pockets" (31). It would seem that the feminine task is to suture the jagged edges of a youthful world in disarray.
An inclination toward orderliness, as another form of unity, is stated explicitly in a passage that compares Mrs. Darling's arranging of her children's minds to the tidying of a room. This citation also implicates motherhood in the dynamic of the superego (Egan 42).
Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children's minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for the next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can't) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtiness and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out your prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.
The text bequeaths Peter Pan's shadow to feminine ordering and mending when the boy loses it in the Darling nursery. On discovering it, Mrs. Darling "decided to roll the shadow up and put it away carefully in a drawer, until a fitting opportunity came along for telling her husband" (12). But the adult Mrs. Darling forgets Peter; it is her young daughter who must enter his world to cure him. The feminine as unifying agent reunites Peter with his shadow, returning him to wholeness. For Wendy awakens at Peter's sobbing over his lack (the missing shadow, the fragmented self), and she sews his shadow back on for him.
Clearly Mr. Darling would not have been as receptive as his wife to the little boy's intrusion. The text resonates not only with the oedipal conflict, but also with the puer-senex conflict, itself integral to the oedipal.3 The puer, representative of the imaginativeness and spontaneity of youth, contends with the senex, which exemplifies the rigidity of tradition and adulthood. These mutually exclusive configurations strive to displace rather than incorporate each other. Peter Pan would kill Captain Hook, who would kill Peter Pan.
Adulthood kills children figuratively, since each individual who attains maturity abandons his own youth. Captain Hook plots to kill youth by having children in Neverland walk the plank of death. The maturation process kills fairies as well, those figures of the imagination and the hallmark of Neverland who succumb to the rational. As Peter explains to Wendy, "when the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies…. [But] you see children know such a lot now they soon don't believe in fairies, and every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead" (26-27). But Peter, the standard-bearer of youth, counters this process with a somatic response to his neurotic compulsion against the adult enemy: "He was so full of wrath against grown-ups, who, as usual, were spoiling everything, that as soon as he got inside his tree he breathed intentionally quick short breaths at the rate of about five to a second. He did this because there is a saying in the Neverland that, every time you breathe, a grown-up dies; and Peter was killing them off vindictively as fast as possible" (107). And Peter himself culls his troops on the basis of advancing age, the fatal flaw. "The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out" (48).
This conflict culminates in the battle between Peter Pan, captain of the children, and James Hook, captain of the grown-up pirates. Peter comes face to face with him and with his own "grown-up" potential on Marooners' Rock: "Hook rose to the rock to breathe, and at the same moment Peter scaled it on the opposite side. The rock was slippery as a ball, and they had to crawl rather than climb. Neither knew that the other was coming. Each feeling for a grip met the other's arm: in surprise they raised their heads; their faces were almost touching; so they met" (87). In this specular projection Peter sees his despised manhood, which he feels he must eliminate. But also juxtaposed are a physically mutilated Captain Hook (Peter having previously severed his hand) and a psychically fragmented Peter. To complete an oedipal scenario of castration in this scene of recognition, Captain Hook actually bites Peter Pan. Some time later Peter vicariously experiences adulthood by figuratively becoming Hook as captain of the captured pirate ship, with the island boys as crew.
Some of them wanted it to be an honest ship and others were in favour of keeping it a pirate; but the captain treated them as dogs, and they dared not express their wishes to him even in a round robin. Instant obedience was the only safe thing…. The general feeling was that Peter was honest just now to lull Wendy's suspicions, but that there might be a change when the new suit was ready, which, against her will, she was making for him out of some of Hook's wickedest garments. It was afterward whispered among them that on the first night he wore this suit he sat long in the cabin with Hook's cigar-holder in his mouth and one hand clenched, all but the forefinger, which he bent and held threateningly aloft like a hook.
Ultimately the boys return to the Darling household, where they abandon their youthful Neverland identities to become adults, although Peter will again refuse the invitation. The children's displacement of Hook's entire group on the pirate ship marks their ascension to the order of adulthood. The feminine remains integral to each group: Wendy to the boys and Smee, whom Hook observed "hemming placidly" on a sewing machine before the battle, to the pirates.
The mutually exclusive concepts of youth and adulthood are isolated and defined in the Pan-Hook conflict and elaborated by the leitmotiv of the exclusionary circle. Peter challenges the lions "when he drew a circle round him on the ground with an arrow and defied them to cross it" (75); later Hook with "his iron claw made a circle of dead water round him, from which they [the boys] fled like affrighted fishes" (87). The interchangeable "arrow" and "claw" designate the perimeters of identity within which none may intrude without forfeiture of self. The climactic combat joins the enemies in a ring where only one can survive. "Proud and insolent youth" challenges the "dark and sinister man."
I think all [pirates] were gone when a group of savage boys surrounded Hook, who seemed to have a charmed life, as he kept them at bay in that circle of fire. They had done with his dogs, but this man alone seemed a match for them all….
"Put up your swords, boys," cried the newcomer, "this man is mine."
Thus suddenly Hook found himself face to face with Peter. The others drew back and formed a ring round them.
For long the two enemies looked at one another; Hook shuddering slightly, and Peter with the strange smile upon his face.
"So, Pan," said Hook at last, "this is all your doing."
"Ay, James Hook," came the stern answer, "it is all my doing."
The man-image was indeed Peter's, and its "murder" was Peter's doing when, on the day of his birth, his flight denied the eventuality of his own manhood. The threat of Hook is eliminated, lost for all time to the belly of a crocodile whose belly ticks. And Peter, the eternal puer, survives in timeless youth.
As the rest of the children approach the nursery window, the father once more assumes an exclusionary role: Mr. Darling instructs his wife to shut the window of the nursery (152). But the children are now liberated from the tyranny of adulthood, for they have resigned themselves to their own maturation and incorporated the very confidence which previously had intimidated them. Michael says, "'Let me see father,…' and he took a good look. 'He is not so big as the pirate I killed.'" (154).
Peter Pan retains his youth and continues to haunt the imagination of the young, who have intuitive knowledge of him. But in their rational advance to adulthood, the Darling children will forget him, just as their parents have: "At first Mrs. Darling did not know, but after thinking back into her childhood she just remembered a Peter Pan who was said to live with the fairies…. She had believed in him at the time, but now that she was married and full of sense she quite doubted whether there was any such person" (7). Bowing to the dictates of generational cycles the characters successively replace one another. Only Peter's youthful nature remains constant, surfacing repeatedly from the unconscious as the return of the repressed. Eventually the mature Wendy, like Mrs. Darling before her, acknowledges the repressed youthfulness her adulthood would conceal. "'Hullo, Peter,' she replied faintly, squeezing herself as small as possible. Something inside her was crying 'Woman, woman, let go of me'" (166). Peter Pan's return reminds Wendy of her childhood and of the repressed, figuratively dead child within her.
Because of his unfulfilled wish for reciprocity with the mother, Peter is bound to sterile and iterative behavior. During one more of his many returns to the Darling nursery, a little girl there wakens to the sounds of someone sobbing. It is Peter. She asks, "Boy, why are you crying?" (167). This is the question asked verbatim years ago by her mother, of a little boy who had lost his shadow. This time it is Jane, Wendy's daughter, who speaks; for Wendy, with husband and family, has realized her "favorite story" of "Cinderella."
"Hullo," he said.
"Hullo," said Jane.
"My name is Peter Pan," he told her.
"Yes, I know."
"I came back for my mother," he explained, "to take her to Neverland."
"Yes, I know," Jane said, "I been [sic] waiting for you."
The "mise-en-abyme," box-within-a-box enigma of inaccessibility is replicated by female progeny. Jane's place is taken by her daughter Margaret, and "when Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter's mother in turn; and thus it will go on" (168). Peter's yearning for the mother imago will never end. When Mrs. Darling finds the returned children—
"George, George," she cried when she could speak; and Mr. Darling woke to share her bliss, and Nana came rushing in. There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a strange boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.
1. In volume 3 of his Collected Papers, Sigmund Freud writes: "Fixation can be described in this way. One instinctual component fails to accompany the rest along the anticipated normal paths of development, and, in consequence … it is left behind at a more infantile state."
2. The following dialogue between Tiger Lily, the Indian maiden who speaks in overtly sexual terms, and Peter Pan appears in the 1903–04 manuscript, in scene 3:
If Peter paleface chase Tiger Lily, she no run very fast. She tumble in a heap, what then?….
Are you wanting to be my mother, Tiger Lily?
3. See Jacqueline Rose for additional applications of Freudian principles to Peter Pan.
Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan. New York: Bantam, 1985.
――――――. Manuscript dated 1903–04 of Peter Pan, cited with permission of the Manuscript Department of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, at Bloomington, Indiana.
Egan, Michael. "The Neverland of Id: Barrie, Peter Pan, and Freud." Children's Literature, 10 (1982), 37-55.
Freud, Sigmund. Character and Culture. New York: Macmillan, 1963.
――――――. Collected Papers. London: Hogarth, 1925. Vol. 3, 453.
Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan or the Impossibility of Children's Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1984.
Jack Zipes (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: Zipes, Jack. "Negating History and Male Fantasies through Psychoanalytic Criticism." Children's Literature 18 (1990): 141-43.
[In the following essay, Zipes argues that the protagonist's refusal to grow-up in Peter Pan is a fantasy metaphor for Barrie's own antipathy to British empirical, social, and financial expectations.]
If psychoanalytic criticism of literature is to be effective, it must stop denying the historical significance of the author's psyche and fantasizing, and it must consider the author and work in the context of the times in which the work is produced. A number of the essays in volume 18 of Children's Literature barely touch on these factors and thus are limited by the prescriptions of the psychological theories they employ. By dismissing the author's psyche and history, it seems to me that they undermine an approach which might yield important insights about psychoanalysis and literature. By no means do I wish to as-sert that such readings are wrong or fallacious; I am more concerned with raising questions about the psychoanalytic approach to children's literature that are often ignored if not negated. Underlying my questions is the thesis that the psychoanalytic approach might be enriched if history and society were not repressed. By reviewing some key biographical and historical factors, one could draw remarkable parallels between Peter Pan and Charlotte's Web, for example, that might reveal common patterns of male fantasizing and demonstrate how differently J. M. Barrie and E. B. White conceived problems of maturation in two different societies.
Peter Pan was first produced as a play in 1904 and then transformed into a novel in 1911. Barrie had been going through a marital crisis during this time, and he had also met the five Davies boys for whom he created Peter Pan in a series of stories he told them in Kensington Gardens. In addition to the marital crisis and encounter with the Davies boys, his early childhood attachment to his mother, whom he more or less had to parent after the death of Barrie's older brother, and the idyllic five years he spent at the all-male Dumfries Academy during his adolescence must be taken into account if we are to understand the psychological implications of Peter Pan. Finally, there is an interesting connection to be made between the symbolic figure of the eternal boy Peter in his Neverland and the imperial power and highly rationalized system of manufacturing.
If we take these factors into consideration, Richard Rotert's interpretation of Peter Pan in relation to the inaccessibility of the mother ego appears rather one-dimensional. Let me suggest certain perspectives that might shed greater light on the psychological implications of the play/novel. Instead of viewing Peter Pan merely as an escapist figure, the eternal adolescent, the unfulfilled son, I would argue that Peter is also a rebel who consciously rejects the role of adulthood in conventional society. In some respects, Barrie's work reflects his own struggle to conceive a different type of parenting and educating that he missed during his youth. It is through Peter's help, for instance, that Wendy learns to become a mother, and this construct enables Barrie to postulate a theory of mothering and responsibility valid for both males and females. Viewed from this vantage point, Barrie's sublimated neurosis has broader socio-psychological ramifications in his work, for Peter continually returns to children in the conventional world to guide them through experiences that enable them to love, understand trust, and be loved in a nurturing environment. Neverland thus retains a utopian value as part of what Herbert Marcuse in Eros and Civilization designated the romantic "great refusal" to acquiesce in a society bent on "instrumentalizing the imagination."
Barrie's male fantasy of romantic refusal in the early twentieth century, when England was the major industrial power in the world, has some interesting parallels with E. B. White's male fantasy of refusal in Charlotte's Web (1952), when the United States had become the dominant political and economic power in the West. Written shortly after White had left New York and settled in Maine for good, the novel is obviously a celebration of friendship between the sexes and country life as a utopian idyll. Moreover, as Lucy Rollin perceptively demonstrates, it is a remarkable description of mothering. But Rollin omits a discussion of the male perspective and overlooks the significance of Wilbur as a figure of the romantic great refusal. If we focus on Wilbur as the central character of the novel and assume that White identifies with him, then it is important to consider White's projection of Wilbur's life as a male fantasy. Wilbur learns about the importance of interdependence and trust to become a non-reproductive survivor in a society that depends on slaughtering to maintain itself. Like Peter Pan, he refuses to have anything to do with exploitation in a socio-economic system that champions male power. Citing Carol Gilligan's comments on violence, Rollin discusses how, with the exception of Wilbur, the males in Charlotte's Web practice their violence in and around the home and the personal relationships there. Wilbur stands or rather wallows in opposition to violence and is psychologically linked to White's personal proclivities—his rejection of commercialism, his use of writing as a means to create trust and nurturing, his abhorrence of violence.
Like Barrie's "fantasy," White's novel depicts male protagonists who are outsiders. Insofar as they do not assume productive roles within the power systems of their novels, which are symbolically connected to the power systems of their authors' societies, they implicitly critique the gender roles designated for men. This gives the two works a tantalizing ambivalence that, I believe, accounts for their appeal to both male and female readers: if they are undoubtedly regressive fantasies from a classical psychoanalytic perspective, from a male perspective they are progressive critiques that question traditional socialization and male bonding and offer alternatives to exploitation and slaughtering. Here the particular conditions of male socialization and hegemony in Britain and America must be distinguished and analyzed in great detail. What bearing did Barrie's socialization in Scotland and White's socialization in Brooklyn and Mount Vernon have on their self-image?
Much more can be said about Peter Pan and Charlotte's Web as male fantasies. My purpose here has been simply to demonstrate that any psychoanalytic approach to literature which fails to situate author and text historically will serve the limited end of justifying a particular theory without addressing the deep psychology behind the text. As literary critics, we show how seriously we take texts by taking their human and historical origins seriously and by carefully revealing the parallels between past and present. Understanding the psychological impulses behind the historical composition of Peter Pan and Charlotte's Web will, I believe, help us grasp our discontent with civilization today and evaluate the validity of contesting psychoanalytic approaches that probe our underlying assumptions of creativity.
Lynne Lundquist (essay date 1996)
SOURCE: Lundquist, Lynne. "Living Dolls: Images of Immortality in Children's Literature." In Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George Slusser, Gary Westfahl, and Eric S. Rabkin, pp. 201-10. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1996.
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Ann Wilson (essay date winter 2000)
SOURCE: Wilson, Ann. "Hauntings: Anxiety, Technology, and Gender in Peter Pan.1" Modern Drama 43, no. 4 (winter 2000): 595-610.
[In the following essay, Wilson analyzes the treatment of Victorian English male/female cultural, sexual, and domestic roles in Peter Pan.]
J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1904) circulates in the popular imagination as a happy tale for children that, through the adventures of Peter and the other children in Never Land, celebrates playfulness. As Mark Twain commented, "It is my belief that Peter Pan is a great and refining and uplifting benefaction to this sordid and money-mad age; and the next best play is a long way behind" (qtd. in Jack 158). Tellingly, Twain's comment that Peter Pan is uplifting seems to depend on ignoring the fact that each of the "lost" boys is a baby who has fallen out of his pram "when the nurse is looking the other way" and who, if not claimed within seven days, is "sent far away to the Never Land" (Barrie 101). The boys of Never Land are dead, and so Peter Pan, arriving at the window of the Darling family, is a ghost. As the stage direction before Peter's arrival indicates, "the nursery darkens […]. Something uncanny is going to happen, we expect, for a quiver has passed through the room, just sufficient to touch the night-lights" (97). As Freud suggests in his 1919 essay, the "uncanny" arouses an experience of "dread and horror," partially because the familiar (heimlich) evokes the unfamiliar (unheimlich), rendering the comfortable and "homey" uncomfortable and alien (224). The familiar, now both familiar and unfamiliar, generates anxiety.
Peter Pan, as a ghost whose first appearance is announced as "uncanny," is the sign of anxiety within the play. Beneath the familiarity of middle-class life, in the opening and closing scenes, and the culture of children's play evident in the adventures in Never Land is the anxiety aroused by the shifts in masculine identity in relation to modern life, including the new technologies of the workplace and the demise of Empire. Barrie's response is anxious and nostalgic, the desire to return to an imagined past of stability that, if it ever existed, is impossible to recuperate, a point marked by the setting of the play in "Never Land."
The "modern," as the experience of recent times, involves the memory of the past and anticipates a future. Thus, the experience of the "modern" is change. In the flux, the familiar may be lost or altered. If change is a characteristic of the modern, then heimlich and unheimlich—the familiar and the unfamiliar—with the resulting dread and anxiety produced by change are important features. One of the implications of this understanding of "modern" is that as capitalism emerges as the economic ethos of Western countries, the changing technologies of industry that buttress capitalism become key to understanding the "modern." Industrial technologies are not simply tools within the workplace; because they change the terms of work, they inevitably have an impact on the relation of workers to their labour and, hence, on the identities of workers, particularly in terms of redefining class and gender. As industrial technologies evolve, they effect radical change, which generates anxiety, particularly for the middle class, which, located between the upper and working classes, is in a site of negotiation and inherent instability.
Industry and its technologies opened a set of social relations that gave rise to the middle class. It is relatively easy to define the upper class as those who enjoy social privilege by virtue of aristocratic birth and those with established fortunes—either made or inherited—that allow access to social institutions of power. In contrast, as Ed Cohen notes in Talk on the Wilde Side, "agricultural labourers and the industrial working classes […] were largely determined by the material constraints circumscribing their lives" (19), which is to say that the work in which they engaged was mainly physical, intellectually disengaged, and under-waged, so that there was little possibility of accruing excess capital. Members of the working class did not have the luxury of imagining that their financial circumstances would improve significantly.
The middle class seems more difficult to define. Cohen, synthesizing a wide range of commentary on class formation, suggests that understanding the middle class depends partially on the empirical and partially on understanding the epistemological underpinnings of the concept (19). As its name implies, the middle class falls between the upper and working classes as an unstable site of mediation between the two. The instability of the middle class means that arriving at a definition is difficult, but a point of departure might be the consideration of the broad terms of work for the middle class, which requires a degree of intellectual engagement and is remunerated at a level above subsistence; in these two ways it differs from the work performed by the working class. The accumulation of savings, frequently resulting in members of the middle class buying property, results in a horizon of expectation and imagined possibilities: affluence brings the promise of a better life, which seemed a consequence of the economics of Empire. As Cohen comments,
Without too much quibbling […] we might say that the denizens of the Victorian middle class were those who had been able to advance themselves financially and socially in the accelerating, expanding, and industrializing British economy. Hence it included a wide array of individuals from merchant princes and entrepreneurial wizards, to an ever-growing number of professionals, bankers, bureaucrats, and civil servants, to local shopkeepers, artisans, teachers, clergy, and clerks, along with their families.
The broad range of individuals who make up the middle class means that, given the differing social locations of these individuals, it is relatively difficult for this class to coalesce around common interests: the aspirations of a curate serving in a rural parish are not those of a shopkeeper in an urban setting, although both are "middle class." The lack of commonality contributes to the instability of the middle class. Further, its instability is an effect of the cycles of capitalism, which means that being middle class is not secure. In times of affluence, some members of the middle class acquire savings. But the margin of comfort afforded by such savings tends to be limited, and so an economic depression can lead to financial demise for those in the middle class. Hence, as Cohen notes, the spectre of failure haunts the middle class even as it anticipates a better life (19-21). Put another way, to be middle class is to be located within a social sphere of inherent instability marked by the lack of homogenous interests amongst members of the class and by the reality that the defining economic location is precariously uninsulated from vacillations in the economy. The optimistic investment—psychological and fiscal—that the future brings possibilities of affluence and a better life is the underlying anxiety that the conditions of capital generate in the middle class. A valence of the "uncanny" that renders the comfort of the "homey" uncomfortable may well stem from the fundamental instability of the middle class, which, given its investments, cannot acknowledge that "instability" is its condition. It is a class that, as Cohen suggests, is haunted by the possibility of failure.
The strain of having limited and insecure affluence is the context of Peter Pan, which opens in the nursery of a house "at the top of a rather depressed street in Bloomsbury" (87). The house is so nondescript that Barrie advises, "you may dump it down anywhere you like, and if you think it was your house you are very probably right" (87). While this is a particular house, belonging to the Darling family, Barrie assumes that members of his audience recognize and identify with it because they, like the Darlings, are middle class: if they don't live in a house like the Darlings', they know of people who do.
The opening scene of Peter Pan continues to offer a glimpse of the middle class, particularly in terms of the negotiation of gender. The action of the play begins with the Darling children pretending to be their parents. Says John to his mother, "We are doing an act; we are playing at being you and father" (89), as if gender roles are performed. John and Wendy's rehearsal of their parents seems like a recurring part of the dynamic of the family, so that Mr Darling's entrance and his petulant demand that his wife fix his tie read like an extension of the role playing: as the children play their parents, so the father plays his child. Says Mr Darling to his wife, "I warn you, Mary, that unless this tie is round my neck we don't go out to dinner to-night, and if I don't go out to dinner to-night I never go to the office again, and if I don't go to the office again you and I starve, and our children will be thrown into the streets" (91). Given that the audience does not have access to the stage directions while they watch the play, and given that Mr Darling does later self-consciously play his son, the audience might be forgiven for seeing Mr Darling as entering the spirit of the domestic scene by "playing along." The stage directions suggest that it would be a misreading to see Mr Darling as naturally given to the sulks and resentful of others being the centre of attention:
Mr Darling arrives, in no mood unfortunately to gloat over this domestic scene. He is really a good man as breadwinners go, and it is hard luck for him to be propelled into the room now, when if we had brought him in a few minutes earlier or later he might have made a fairer impression. In the city where he sits on a stool all day, as fixed as a postage stamp, he is so like all the others on stools that you recognise him not by his face but by his stool, but at home the way to gratify him is to say that he has a distinct personality. He is very conscientious, and in the days when Mrs Darling gave up keeping the house books correctly and drew pictures instead (which he called her guesses), he did all the totting up for her, holding her hand while he calculated whether they could have Wendy or not, and coming down on the right side.
This stage direction is extraordinary in a number of ways, not the least of which is that Barrie includes important information in a stage direction that an actor would have difficulty conveying in performance. The information amounts to a curious recognition and, given that the information is unplayable, suppression by Barrie of the effect of the economic on the lives of individuals. In a moment that one might expect to find in a play by Ibsen in which characters are anxious about their finances (such as A Doll's House), Barrie tells us that the Darlings are not flush and had to calculate whether they could afford to have a child (with the interesting implication that they must have been practising contraception). As well, the stage direction establishes a tension between Mr Darling's identity at work, where he is anonymous, and his demeanour at home, where he is the protective husband who, as the master of his house, takes responsibility for reconciling the household finances. Barrie establishes the beginnings of a critique of masculinity in which there is a separation between the identity of a man in the workplace and his identity at home. Work alienates and dehumanizes the labourer, whereas within the sphere of home, his humanity is restored within the codes of manhood that make him the first element of the dyad man/woman. At home, he is ostensibly the breadwinner, provider, and protector of his family.
This scene seems to suggest two types of instability: the instability of masculine identity as a man moves between work and home; and financial instability or insecurity. Given the Mr Darling to whom the audience is introduced in the opening act, the strain seems too much. "George, not so loud, the servants will hear you," instructs Mrs Darling after Mr Darling has petulantly compared his situation to that of Nana, the governess of his children, who, because the family is in economic straits, is a Newfoundland dog.2 When, in this moment, his daughter, Wendy, tells her father that he has made Nana cry, he responds, "Coddle her; nobody coddles me. Oh dear no. I am only the breadwinner, why should I be coddled? Why, why, why?" (95). It is then that Mrs Darling tries to regulate her husband, to insist that he lower his voice, presumably in order to maintain the illusion of middle-class decorum, and financial solvency, before the servants. Mr Darling responds, "Let them hear me; bring in the whole world," because he is "The desperate man, who has not been in fresh air for days, [and] has now lost all self-control" (96). Mr Darling's desperation, it is implied, is a consequence of his being cooped up at work, where he is denied a sense of individuality and autonomy, a cipher in the workings of the office.
Mr Darling is faceless, known by his stool, and is likened to a postage stamp, which dehumanizes him in a particular way. By being made into a piece of furniture in the workplace and a postage stamp, which marks that the cost of sending a piece of mail has been paid, he is rendered a part of the technology of industrial capital. Given that postage stamps were introduced in England in 1839, Mr Darling seems not even to be a part of current technologies. What is at stake here is more than a rhetorical figure of synecdoche in which a stool or a stamp stands for Mr Darling. Barrie suggests that under capitalism, human identity becomes a technology. The social codes of masculinity are thrown into crisis because notions of "mastery" that were key to middle-class masculinity are impossible for men like Mr Darling in the context of their work, which shapes a significant aspect of their identity. Rendered less than fully human in the workplace, Mr Darling is not even the "master" within his own home, where the terms of his livelihood as a clerk mean that his ability to provide for his family is uncertain; and, given the shabbiness of the house and the fact that the family has a dog as its governess, Mr Darling's inadequacies as a provider seem to announce his "failed" manhood.
Part of this sense of "failure" is a consequence of the shifting demographics of the workforce. The expansion of industrial capital involved the expansion of the business end of the operations. With this expansion, women entered the labour force as clerks, which, in the early part of the nineteenth century, had been a male occupation. As the offices of industry enlarged, the nature of clerical work shifted, creating a "dual labour market": "highly trained, trusted and well rewarded employees [undertook] the demanding and responsible work, while the routine work was performed by a shifting group of low-paid, easily replaced workers who could be hired and fired as pressure of work demanded" (Jordan 12). As Elizabeth Roberts notes in her study Women's Work, 1840–1940, "In 1914 about 20 per cent of clerical workers were women. Between 1861 and 1911 the number of male clerks had increased fivefold while the number of women clerks had risen by 400 per cent" (28). From the description of Mr Darling on his stool, it is clear that he does not hold a senior position of responsibility but performs "routine" work that offers little job security and is increasingly becoming the domain of women. As routine clerical work became feminized and devalued, the sense of failure for men like Mr Darling became pronounced. The workplace is a site of emasculation that denies men performing clerical work the sense that they can provide assuredly for their families. As a result, failure is the condition of masculinity for Mr Darling and men like him, who, under the changing terms of work in industrial capital, can never be "masterful" men.
The emasculation of Mr Darling is emphasized in the final scene of the play, in which Mr Darling is, literally, in the doghouse. As he emerges from the kennel, the stage direction indicates that "It ought to melt us when we see how humbly grateful he is for a kiss from his wife, so much more than he feels he deserves" (148). The play suggests that Mr Darling is being punished for losing his temper. As I have argued, however, his outbursts are not symptomatic of his limitations as an individual but, rather, are socially produced through the irreconcilable codes of masculinity that he has to negotiate. The anger and the feeling of impotence, which lead to childish outbursts, become modes of social regulation that ensure that middle-class men will not enjoy consistent identities within the public and domestic spheres. Put another way, the full title of the play is Peter Pan or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. "Would" suggests agency and choice. In Mr Darling's case, the contradictions of masculinity may amount to the man who could not grow up. Faced with the impossibility of coming to terms with the eroding sense of masculinity as the demographics of the workplace shift and women perform clerical tasks but the imperative remains for middle-class men to be the "bread winners" of the family, Mr Darling "plays" the child at home. The play rehearses this regression when it moves to Never Land, the world of childish adventure that is an escape from the pressures of adult life.
In Never Land, the parental figures—Mr and Mrs Darling—are left behind, and so Barrie abandons the critique of the middle class that he seemed to offer in the first act. Never Land, as its name implies, doesn't save in its imaginative rendering within the constraints of the proscenium arch. It is a place of play within a play. The terms of Never Land are nostalgic and gendered. Never Land is a boy's world, "very compact, not large and sprawly with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed" (105).
Act Two introduces Never Land and begins while Peter Pan is still off in London, where he is trying to recover his shadow, which he lost in the Darlings' house, which Mrs Darling found and Mr Darling is keen to sell: "There is money in this, my love. I shall take it to the British Museum to-morrow and have it priced" (93). Without Peter Pan, their leader, the other boys in Never Land are "lost," trying to imagine the mothers from whom they were separated as small children (107). Enter the pirates, led by Captain Hook, who, in the context of the adventure, are the enemy. Barrie provides a long and detailed description of Hook, who, among his other features, is described as having his hair "dressed in long curls which look like black candles about to melt, his eyes blue as the forget-me-not" (108). Further, he is described as having elegant diction, which, along with "the distinction of his demeanour, show him one of a different class from his crew, a solitary among uncultured companions. […] At his public school they said of him that he 'bled yellow.' In dress he apes the dandiacal associated with Charles II" (108).
The identification of Captain Hook as a "dandy," in the wake of the trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895, is significant inasmuch as it opens the complex issue of Hook's sexuality. As Ed Cohen (in Talk on the Wilde Side) and Alan Sinfield (in The Wilde Century) argue, the trials (which were widely reported in the popular press in England and, indeed, throughout Europe and the United States) were crucial in the construction of the homosexual as a recognizable social identity. As Sinfield notes, "The dominant twentieth-century queer identity […] has been constructed […] mainly out of elements that came together at the Wilde trials: effeminacy, leisure, idleness, immorality, luxury, insouciance, decadence and aestheticism" (Wilde Century 12). Sinfield's point is that while these characteristics have since become associated with homosexuality, Wilde's public personae of aesthete and, later, dandy were not read by his contemporaries as obvious signs of his homosexuality. While Wilde's dandyism was recognized, celebrated, and reviled, his self-staging did not lead "either his friends or strangers to regard him as obviously, even probably, queer" (2).
With the case of Wilde serving as the cautionary note, a reading of Captain Hook as "queer" is problematic. Certainly, that he is the only adult in Never Land, engaged in "play" with the boys, does suggest a latent anxiety about the homosexual as arrested in his development, invested in the culture of youth, inclined to pederasty. Given that the "lost boys" are dead, a sexuality that eroticizes death could be added to the list of anxieties about the homosexual. Captain Hook, rather than being obviously homosexual, is a dandy. As Sinfield suggests in "'Effeminacy' and 'Femininity': Sexual Politics in Wilde's Comedies,"
Dandy effeminacy signalled class, far more than sexuality. The newly dominant middle class justified itself by claiming manly purity, purpose, and responsibility, and identified the leisure class, correspondingly, with effeminate idleness and immorality. In the face of this manoeuvre, there were two alternatives for the wealthy and those who sought to seem wealthy. One was to attempt to appear useful and good; the other was to repudiate middle-class authority by displaying conspicuous idleness, immortality, and effeminacy; in other words, by being a dandy.
Given that a theatrical convention is to have the role of Captain Hook played by the actor performing the role of Mr Darling, and given that middle-class masculinity has failed Mr Darling, Captain Hook can been seen as Barrie's inscription of what amounts to a fantasy, for Mr Darling, of his having access to the privilege of leisure and luxury associated with the upper classes. This is not to discount the idea that there is a homoerotic undercurrent in Peter Pan ; this is another mode of haunting in the play because at issue is masculinity, related to issues of class, rather than simply sexuality. The interrelation between sexuality and class is complex, and, as Sinfield's comments imply, adopting the guise of a dandy may signal more than homosexual inclinations. In some sense, Mr Darling might be read as a figure in Never Land who escapes the pressures of being an adult by donning the guise of Captain Hook, a dandy—leisured and effeminate—who has the time (which is to say, financial security) to indulge in play and is free of the necessity to work. Further, playing an effeminate male figure offers Mr Darling the fantasy of recuperating a sense of masculinity that is eroded in his working life, in which the role of clerk increasingly is becoming the domain of women. If a cause of Mr. Darling's anxiety about his masculinity is the feminization of clerical work, playing the dandy—the feminized man of wealth—is a way of managing that anxiety because the dandy is a figure of financial means; Mr Darling is anxious about his ability to provide for his family. Never Land is a haunted world, not just because the boys are "dead" but because it is not free of the spectre of social and economic pressures on the middle class.
It seems impossible for Barrie to imagine a place without class, perhaps because Never Land is the nostalgic response to the conditions of the middle class that Barrie established in Act One. The fantasy circulating around the ethos of Never Land rehearses that of the public schools, which were, as Jonathan Rutherford has suggested, implicated in establishing codes of manliness associated with a virtuous Englishness that justified imperialism. He suggests that "public schools sought to inculcate four qualities in their boys": "sport," "readiness," "character," and "religion" (15). While the last, "religion," is not particularly evident in Peter Pan, the others are. In Never Land, the culture of the public school is rehearsed in the separation of the boys from family and, particularly, the influence of mother. In the face of the loss of family, the boys become a "family" and forge close, intense bonds that are homosocial and, inasmuch as these affective relations are "between boys" (to borrow and adapt Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's phrase), open an emotional terrain that allows the intimacy to become homosexual. Through their "games" or adventures, they learn not only about readiness in responding to the surprise attacks by Hook but about submitting to enforced regimes, and so they become obedient. As the opening of Act Two suggests, without Peter Pan as their leader, the other boys flounder, remembering mother but, as the stage direction reminds us, "not that they are really worrying about their mothers" (107).
Codes of manliness involve physicality through the games/adventures but a pronounced avoidance of the body as sexual. When Wendy reaches out to touch Peter in their initial encounter, he recoils and says, "You mustn't touch me" (98). As the stage directions note, "He is never touched by any one in the play" (98). Indeed, the play establishes a curious economy of desire in which Wendy, Tinker Bell (the fairy) and Tiger Lily (the Indian maid) are all attracted to Peter Pan, who doesn't reciprocate their interest. Wendy, in Act One, offers herself to receive a kiss from Peter Pan, who "offers her the thimble" (101). "Thimble" becomes a means for negotiating the awkwardness of the moment as Wendy leans forward to kiss Peter, who seems perplexed and doesn't recognize her attraction to him. Their faces don't meet; Wendy screams, saying that she felt as if someone were pulling her hair (101). "That must have been Tink," explains Peter. By Act Four, when Wendy has established a household where she plays mother and Peter plays father to the boys, Wendy asks, "What are your exact feelings for me, Peter?" (130). "Those of a devoted son, Wendy," he replies. Apparently disappointed, Wendy turns away, causing Peter to comment, "You are so puzzling. Tiger Lily is just the same; there is something or other she wants to be to me, but she says it is not my mother" (130). "No, indeed it isn't," retorts Wendy (130).
Each of the three female figures attracted to Peter Pan recognizes the other's desire for him, even if he is oblivious. Tinker Bell reacts with obvious jealousy, pulling at Wendy's hair and, when Wendy is arriving in Never Land, telling the boys that Peter has ordered them to shoot her. Given that they have been trained to obediently follow the orders of their Captain, they shoot arrows at her until she falls to earth, which Tootles believes will make Peter proud of him (112). Wendy recognizes Tiger Lily's desire for Peter because it parallels her own. The terms under which Barrie represents female desire are worth considering because they suggests how class and ethnicity are elements in producing codes of middle-class femininity.
When Wendy offers to give Peter a kiss, and he reveals that he doesn't know what a kiss is, she gives him a thimble. Peter then asks if he should give her a kiss, and then offers her an acorn (99). The scene, played between a young boy and girl, seems innocuous enough but, even so, provides cues about middle-class perceptions of female sexuality. Wendy has the opportunity to take the lead and give Peter a kiss, but instead offers him a thimble. His reciprocating by offering her an acorn creates an economy in which the exchange of tokens of affection substitutes for the expression of affection itself. A few moments later, Wendy seems to feel that the opportunity might be right for a kiss, but this time, rather than offering to kiss Peter, she offers herself: "Peter, you may give me a kiss" (101). It is as if the codes of middle-class femininity prevent Wendy from expressing sexual agency; her role is to make herself passively available, despite her own desires.
The play hints at a logic behind the suppression of sexuality. Never Land, rehearsing the culture of public school, is homosocial, a site for establishing relations between men in which women, if they figure at all, do so as currency in the exchange.3 While the homosocial is not homoerotic, the spectre of the homoerotic, lurking as the unspoken possibility, haunts the scene. The negative connotations of "lurking" are deliberate, because by the time Barrie wrote Peter Pan the dissident figure of the homosexual as pathological and criminal was established in the cultural imaginary of England through press accounts of the trials of Oscar Wilde. The castigation of Wilde in the popular press speaks to an already established anxiety about homosexuality and, indeed, about sexuality in general. To gesture to this anxiety, it is worth remembering that in 1864 Britain implemented the Contagious Diseases Acts, which allowed the police to apprehend any woman who appeared to be infected with venereal disease and subject her to medical examinations in hospital, where she was held for three (and later nine) months. The women who appeared to be infected were prostitutes, and the cultural context of prostitution is important. Prostitution was a mode of casual employment for working-class women employed in the three major occupations which were available to them (laundry, needlework, and domestic service), none of which paid adequate wages (Clark 642). Occasional stints as prostitutes supplemented the income of these women. Prostitution came to be seen as a threat to the nation in the aftermath of Crimean Wars, in which men in the military had high rates of infection from sexually transmitted diseases.
There is little evidence to suggest that the castigation of working-class women who supplemented their incomes through prostitution had any effect on rates of venereal disease infection amongst the military. My reference to this moment of history is intended to serve as a reminder of the terms of the Acts: sexually engaged women were cited as contaminating men. Because the women were from the working class, the measures against them were severe. Women were apprehended on the basis of appearing to be infected, held for months in hospitals, segregated from their families and communities, and subjected to the regulation of being put on a register. Further, the police, having identified the women, patrolled the areas where they lived, and so all women within those communities became suspect (Clark 644). This hyper-vigilance gave rise to suspicion about female desire. Wrote Henry Mayhew in London Labour and the London Poor in 1862, "'Literally, every woman who yields to her passions and loses her virtue is a prostitute'" (qtd. in Clark 642). The mid-nineteenth-century concern over sexuality transmitted disease was understandable, but it became a panicked response that made manifest fears of female sexuality as dangerous and needing regulation. While men were the agents of the Empire that fuelled the economy and the commensurate sense of nation, they somehow were not responsible for their own sexual conduct or for availing themselves of prostitutes, apparently rendered powerless by the allure of female sexuality. Socially engaged women responded to the Contagious Diseases Acts with an evangelical fervour, but part of the movement involved notions of purity and eschewing sex outside marriage because it was dangerous and sinful. Further, the purity movement, with its distrust of the body as sexual, included the regulation of homosexuality, which, like prostitution, was seen as undermining a "manliness" that was crucial to the project of Empire, even if the ethos of Empire seems to have depended on the homosocial. The result of the anxiety around homosexuality was the 1885 Labouchère amendment, which made homosexual acts, whether in public or in private, criminal. As Sinfield notes, the title of the amendment is "Outrages on public decency" (Wilde Century 9). These references to the regulation of sexuality in Victorian England speak not only to the public anxiety about sexuality but to the recognition of the body as sexual, even if that body is reviled. This history of sexual regulation is another mode of haunting in Peter Pan in which Peter, forever the boy, panics and avoids the advances of the three female figures in Never Land.
Although Wendy desires Peter, she is reticent about acting; not Tinker Bell, who tries to cut Wendy from Peter's affections so she can have him to herself. Tinker Bell is brazen and, as Peter remarks, "not very polite. […] She is quite a common girl, you know. She is called Tinker Bell because she mends the fairy pots and kettles" (100). It would seem that even the fairy world is marked by class and that Tinker Bell, who is working-class, is impure and suspect in ways that are consistent with the middle class's imagining of the working class. Later on in the play, at the opening of Act Four (titled "The Home Under the Ground"), Barrie establishes a contrast between Tinker Bell, who has retreated to her unseen bedchamber, where she "is probably wasting valuable time just now wondering whether to put on the smoky blue or the apple blossom" (126), and Wendy. While Tinker Bell indulges in attiring herself, presumably for the pleasure of Peter, who isn't home, Wendy presides over the dinner as if she were mother of the boys (126). It would seem that the role envisioned for middle-class women is that of mother, evacuated of any sexuality—which, because it contaminates, is displaced onto the working class, becoming another reason to sanction the regulation and containment of that class.
There are other implications to rendering the figure of mother as pure and asexual: as I mentioned earlier in commenting on Mr Darling, middle-class masculinity, produced within industrial capital, may militate against men growing up. As well, the fear of female sexuality as diseased and the resulting celebration of the middle-class woman as "pure" and "chaste," occurring within the context of a ho-mosocial ethos haunted by fear of homosexuality, which is seen also as diseased, leads to suspicion of the sexualized body. This point is made by Barrie's depiction of the sexualized female as Tinker Bell, the fairy who is a coloured light and so without a body.
In mapping the construction of middle-class sexuality through Peter Pan, I want to draw attention to another aspect of the contrast between Tinker Bell and Wendy. Tinker Bell is a light, but one that is coloured, while Wendy—in keeping with tropes of purity—is associated with white. As Wendy and her brothers approach Never Land, Tinker Bell offers a feigned alert and tells the boys in fairy language that Peter wants Wendy shot (111). The boys shoot at Wendy, who has been "fluttering among the tree-tops in her white nightgown," almost like a ghost. As if to emphasize the visual cue of the fluttering figure, one of the boys comments, "How white it is!" (111). Wendy is "it" and not "she," the feminine denied gender, looking ghostly but representing such a threat to the boyish culture of Never Land that she has to be shot down on the instruction of Tinker Bell, who pretends that the instruction comes from Peter. Women (or, at least, female figures—Tinker Bell is hardly a woman) are key to the regulation of sexuality, as evinced historically by the involvement of middle-class women in social purity movements; Tinker Bell's wanting Wendy shot is a mode of regulation, but one motivated by her selfish desire to have Peter to herself, and so she makes no pretence about serving the social good.
Multiple anxieties are at work in this scene, beginning with the implications of "whiteness." "Whiteness" is a crucial critical category in the production of discourse around race because, as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., reminds his readers in the introduction to "Race," Writing, and Difference, "Race, as a meaningful criterion within the biological sciences, has long been recognized to be a fiction. When we speak of 'the white race' or 'the black race,' 'the Jewish race' or 'the Aryan race,' we speak in biological misnomers and, more generally, in metaphors" (4). Wendy's "whiteness" marks her purity and effectively announces visually that she is sexually pure. As we have noted, the legacy of the Contagious Diseases Acts was to mark working-class women as licentious and dangerous, carriers of disease that threatened to exceed the working class and infect the middle class. Taking my cue from Gates's comments, the force of the metaphoric deployment of whiteness in Peter Pan is a referent to the set of social understandings around the relation of feminine sexuality to class. Perhaps the latent anxiety around female sexuality resonates most strongly in Tinker Bell being a fairy, and so having desire but no body that might unleash that dangerous working-class desire.
The purity of whiteness figures strongly on another valence in Peter Pan. Through the figure of Tiger Lily, the stereotype of the over-sexed aboriginal figure is introduced. Like Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily desires Peter Pan. In an early manuscript, that desire is articulated through a rape fantasy:
Suppose Tiger Lily runs into the wood—Peter Paleface attack her—what then?
(bewildered) Paleface can never catch Indian girl, they run so fast.
If Peter Paleface chase Tiger Lily—she no run very fast—she tumble into a heap what then? (Peter puzzled. She addresses Indians.) What then?
She him's squaw.
(qtd. in Jack 169)
In a play marked by the negotiation of anxiety and filled with the playwright's self-censoring (including the displacement to the stage directions of concerns about how industrial technologies impact on Mr Darling), Peter Pan starts to seem to be a play with an unconscious. Lurking in that unconscious is an anxiety about female sexuality as dangerous and, in the case of aboriginal populations subjugated in the colonizing enterprise of imperialism, wanting to be raped. To the contemporary reader, Barrie's depiction of the aboriginal is embarrassing, for, while the play depends on stereotypes of femininity—of the middle-class Wendy as the figure of mother, of the working-class Tinker Bell as self-absorbed in her desire for Peter—the early manuscripts, which feature a stronger presence of Tiger Lily, are horrific in their suggestion that aboriginal women so strongly desire white men that they want to be violently conquered through rape. While the rape fantasy does not figure in the version of Peter Pan that was finally staged, Barrie depicts the aboriginals as stereotypes of the primal and pre-social, so that the braves can say little beyond "Ugh, ugh, wah!" and Tiger Lily's command of language is only slightly better: "The Great White Father save me from pirates. Me his velly nice friend now; no let pirates hurt him" (129). Indeed, the use of "velly" sounds like a racist stage depiction of a Chinese person, suggesting that all who are not white meld into an undifferentiated "other." The deployment of the phrase "The Great White Father," mimicking the nineteenth-century appellations of Queen Victoria as the Great White Mother, signals that Never Land is not just a recreation of the public school ethic—although it is that—but an invocation of Empire that ties the public school ethic to imperialism.
Jacqueline Rose, in The Case of Peter Pan or The Impossibility of Children's Fiction, devotes a chapter to issues of language. The chapter titled "Peter Pan, Language and the State," with the subtitle "Captain Hook Goes to Eton," offers a useful reminder that in Barrie's short story "Jas Hook at Eton," Hook's final words before jumping overboard are "Floreat Etona" (115). Given that the story was written in 1925, the contrast with the "plain" language of the play, written just over twenty years earlier, serves as another useful index of Barrie's anxiety about the changing world brought about by the industrial technologies of capitalism. The specifics of Rose's argument about the tension of various levels of language in Barrie's iterations of the Peter Pan story, at a time when there were state initiatives around literacy and more accessible education based on the deployment of a standardized vernacular, have limited applicability to the concerns of this paper. But her comments do draw attention to the use of language and its implications for maintaining class distinctions. Barrie has Tinker Bell's utterances unheard by the audience but clearly marked as being in a foreign tongue—that of the fairies—that needs translation and is ungrammatical (136). The figure of Tinker Bell, so innocuously presented as a disembodied fairy, is Barrie's management not just of the working class but of the working-class immigrant for whom English was not a first language. Similarly, Tiger Lily and her braves seem to have limited abilities in English, marking the xenophobia of the English middle class to the "other." It is Wendy, that figure of purity and the virtues of English womanhood, who has full command of English. To return to the earlier scene in which a "kiss" was interpreted by Peter Pan as a "thimble," R. D. S. Jack reminds readers that the issue is one of understanding referentiality: Wendy knows the referent to "kiss" and Peter Pan doesn't (232). The middle-class English woman is figured as the sign of purity, a repository of Englishness marked by her command of language.
To state what at this juncture must be patently obvious, Peter Pan is a fable of modernity, anxiously negotiating industrial technologies that produced a middle class predicated on instability and which encoded impossible roles for men and women. Given the circulating ideologies of manliness that involved notions of their agency, of being patriarchal masters in their immediate households and in that enterprise of nation predicated on a lexis of "family," middle-class men at the turn of the twentieth century seem to have been denied any actual way of becoming "real" men. The evolution of industrial capital inscribed their failure. But no less did it regulate middle-class women by locating them as asexual, pure figures whose "natural" inclinations to maternity became the sign of the inherent virtue of whiteness. Mr Darling may be "really a good man as breadwinners go," but the implication is that "goodness" is accessible only to a middle-class woman like Mrs Darling.
The experience of the modern is that of the present or the very recent past, which is marked as different from the more distant past. This difference is, in effect, change, which, since the Enlightenment, Western culture has understood as cumulatively amounting to "progress" and, ultimately, to social betterment. Given that the various aspects of society do not function as discrete entities but are interrelated, change in one aspect has some degree of impact on others, including gender and sexual identities. Barrie's strategy for managing the anxiety is a nostalgic retreat to Never Land, the fantasy of boyish adventure, which rehearses the ethos of the public school and Empire. Never Land, as its very name suggests, is an impossibility, an idealization of what never was, because part of the strategy of managing anxiety about the changes that the modern brings is nostalgia for a (mis)remembered past now gone.
Selective remembering is not restricted to Peter Pan ; it also characterizes the response to the play, as Twain's comment about it being an "uplifting benefaction" suggests. Twain forgets that Never Land is inhabited by dead boys who are ghosts. For the most part, the play's reception has been marked by its being read as a play for children, a jolly fantasy of fun-filled adventure. As a consequence, it is not included in the canon of modern drama, as if a work for children cannot tackle issues with the gravity of a writer like Ibsen. So, for example, Elaine Showalter writes,
New Women and male aesthetes redefined the meanings of femininity and masculinity. There were fears that emancipated women would bear children outside of marriage in the free union, or worse, that they would not have children at all. In the wake of Ibsen, women's oppression became the theme of successful plays by Arthur Pinero, Oscar Wilde, Harley Granville-Barker, and George Bernard Shaw….
Showalter's comment is instructive inasmuch as her list of playwrights who address issues relating to the shifts in gender and sexual identities celebrates those whose works anticipate, and are compatible with, changing roles for women and a greater social acceptance of homosexuality in the late twentieth century. In the move to inscribe a genealogy for the social movements of the present, Showalter and others ignore plays that do not seem politically "progressive." The remarkable longevity of Peter Pan, which receives more productions today than do the works of Pinero or Granville-Barker, suggests that it appeals to audiences. While much of the appeal is, no doubt, the highly theatrical fantasy of the play, this fantasy is a means of managing the anxiety of loss. It may well be that Barrie's anxieties resonate with audiences who are haunted by the loss that change brings and seek escape in fantasy.
1. My thanks to Alan Filewod for his careful reading of an early draft of this paper. I owe a tremendous debt of thanks to the students in a senior seminar on dramatic literature that I taught at the University of Guelph in winter 2000. The course focused on ideologies of gender and sexuality in relation to nation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The students' enthusiastic, thoughtful engagement did much to shape my thinking.
2. Bendure notes, "In addition to being something of a status symbol, Newfoundlands were also employed as canine nannies and personal companions, and saw great popularity as gun dogs. There is even a story from the last century of a husband trading his wife for a Newfoundland dog" (70).
3. Sedgwick notes in her introduction to Between Men that "'Homosocial' is a word occasionally used in history and the social sciences, where it describes social bonds between persons of the same sex; it is a neologism, obviously formed by analogy with 'homosexual,' and just as obviously meant to be distinguished from 'homosexual'" (1).
Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan. Peter Pan and Other Plays. Ed. Peter Hollindale. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. 73-154.
Bendure, Joan C. The Newfoundland Dog: Companion Dog—Water Dog. New York: Macmillan, 1994.
Clark, Anna. "Prostitution." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Sally Mitchell. New York and London: Garland, 1988. 642-45.
Cohen, Ed. Talk on the Wilde Side: Toward a Genealogy of a Discourse on Male Sexualities. New York and London: Routledge, 1993.
Freud, Sigmund. "The 'Uncanny.'" The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 17. Trans. and Ed. James Strachey. London: Hogarth P and Inst. of Psycho-Analysis, 1955. 217-56.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "Editor's Introduction: Writing 'Race' and the Difference It Makes." "Race," Writing, and Difference. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1985. 1-20.
Jack, R. D. S. The Road to the Never Land: A Reassessment of J. M. Barrie's Dramatic Art. Aberdeen: Aberdeen UP, 1991.
Jordan, Ellen. The Women's Movement and Women's Employment in Nineteenth-Century Britain. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.
Roberts, Elizabeth. Women's Work, 1840–1940. 1988. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.
Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan or The Impossibility of Children's Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1984.
Rutherford, Jonathan. Forever England: Reflections on Race, Masculinity and Empire. London: Lawrence, 1997.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia UP, 1985.
Sinfield, Alan. "'Effeminacy' and 'Femininity': Sexual Politics in Wilde's Comedies." Modern Drama 37 (1994): 34-52.
――――――. The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Moment. London: Cassell, 1994.
Wendy Lukeheart (review date December 2000)
SOURCE: Lukeheart, Wendy. Review of Peter Pan: A Classic Illustrated Edition, by J. M. Barrie, illustrated by Cooper Edens. School Library Journal 46, no. 12 (December 2000): 138.
Gr. 4-8—This series entry presents Barrie's original text [of Peter Pan ], minus a brief section in the first chapter in which Mr. and Mrs. Darling discuss whether they can afford to keep their three offspring. This omission is curious, since many of the author's asides to readers, which could keep students of psychology busy for years, remain. Nevertheless, the story of a boy who doesn't want to grow up and the three children who experience and abandon Never-land has achieved nearly archetypal status, so fresh editions of this 1911 story deserve attention. In this handsome volume. Edens has compiled artwork by more than 16 known illustrators (acknowledged at the conclusion). There are additional unattributed works, as well as art from playbills and posters—all spanning the years from 1904 to 1934. The presentation encompasses the willowy sprites of Arthur Rack-ham; the Kewpie doll portraits of Wendy and the lost boys by Roy Best; the black-and-white realistic drawings of original illustrator, F. D. Bedford; and the romanticized watercolors full of fabric and embracing figures by Alice Woodward. Children who are used to suspending their disbelief amid an ever-changing string of virtual images and adults interested in early editions will enjoy the variety. Yet, despite the carefully considered design, there will be children who find the lack of a consistent look for the main characters disconcerting. Give those readers the edition with Scott Gustafson's striking oil paintings.
Matt Freeman (essay date October-November 2004)
SOURCE: Freeman, Matt. "A Century and Counting for Peter Pan." Reading Today 22, no. 2 (October-November 2004): 38.
[In the following essay, Freeman reflects on the popularity of Peter Pan, one hundred years after its first staging, and illustrates how the play's themes of magic, youth, and imagination have captivated audiences over the past century.]
He claimed—quite possibly truly—to have invented the name "Wendy": he certainly popularized it. He also gave the world a useful term with which to describe a certain type of male who is adult in some ways but not others.
And if that were all Sir James Matthew Barrie had ever done, his would have been an unusually constructive life. But a century ago this year, a play by J. M. Barrie was performed entitled Peter Pan or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, and the years since have shown that Barrie was one of those rare writers who manage to create a story with close to universal relevance and a prodigious ability to endure.
Peter Pan has been a stage play, a novel, and numerous movies from the silent era to 2003 (the most recent version), and it has inspired sequels and prequels, more of which are in the works. It gets retold in various eras with different emphases, different tones from frothy to dark, and yet it's still the same story, with the same elemental, archetypal appeal. There are a few stories that can thrive over centuries of retelling—"Jack the Giant Killer" and "Cinderella" come to mind—but few that are quite as interesting, complex, or ambivalent as Peter Pan.
Peter's creator was himself a complex and ambivalent person. There is speculation that following the death of an older brother, Barrie tried to console his mother by behaving youthfully in an attempt to hold on to or replace the deceased child. This may have affected his emotional development; he was, at any rate, shy and awkward around women as an adult. But he was a successful writer. A short story written in 1902 became, in 1904, a play about a boy who refused to grow up, and it became the crowning achievement of a long life.
People who assume that a play written in 1904 would be especially sentimental or artificially innocent would be surprised to read a novelization of the play that Barrie did a few years later, titled Peter and Wendy.
"It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly," the book says at the end. Peter is an egotist, capable of attachment, but not extremely interested in other people's feelings. He is, after all, a child, with few inner restraints. When he first encounters the older Wendy's child, he denies that it is hers, then takes "a step towards the sleeping child with his dagger up-raised."
He doesn't hurt it, of course. He teaches young Jane to fly and takes her to Neverland, and that child's child too, and the book's last line is, "and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless."
Most people, of course, haven't read the book, and most producers of modern versions have shrunk from calling Peter heartless or letting him raise his knife to a child. But different versions of the play do explore this and other themes to a greater or lesser degree.
A film version of Peter Pan was released in 2003 and was described by many critics as "dark," com-pared to earlier versions. It also was said to have had more sexual tension between Wendy and Peter, who was played by a young man named Jeremy Sumpter.
Having a male play Peter is a relatively new thing. From the first production, it has been the tradition for a woman to portray him. The so-called sexual tension is relatively tame—there are a few moments in which Wendy and Peter lie on the Neverland leaves and make cow eyes at each other, and that's about it.
There are interesting mythic elements afoot—when he first appears, Peter's costume immediately suggests the Greek deity Pan, and there are other scenes that could be allusions to myths associated with him.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the production is the Mr. Darling-Captain Hook character (traditionally played by the same actor). Hook is often played as a strictly clownish figure, but Jason Isaacs paints the portrait of a deeply sad man. There are lingering close-ups of his melancholy face, and the poison he tries to give to Peter is described as "a mixture of malice, jealousy, and disappointment."
Nostalgia and Newness
Of course, there are many other versions. Just about everyone of any age has seen the 1953 Disney version, which is handled mostly as a light entertainment. There's a silent version from 1924, Cathy Rigby's 2000 television version, and spinoffs like Hook in which Peter does, in fact, grow up. There are written sequels in the works, as well as prequels such as Peter and the Starcatchers by suspense author Ridley Pearson and humor columnist Dave Barry.
So there's no lack of versions to choose from. But there's one version utterly familiar to baby boomers, a filmed version of a Broadway musical redone for television. You don't see it any more—it could be that television executives don't think 50s-era production values cut it nowadays. You can literally see the wires holding Mary Martin in the air, after all.
But the performances and music allow most of us to suspend our disbelief anyway. And the story does, too—that's really its essence. Everyone knows that it's good to grow up, mostly, good to be responsible, good to know what's true and what isn't. But it's also good, J. M. Barrie said a century ago, to still believe, deep down somewhere, that imagination can survive our adulthood, that something lasts of our younger selves, that people might be able to fly. People responded strongly to that idea in 1904, and they haven't stopped yet.
Nicola Shulman (essay date 10 December 2004)
SOURCE: Shulman, Nicola. "Eternal Child: J. M. Barrie's Double Vision." Times Literary Supplement, no. 5306 (10 December 2004): 14-15.
[In the following essay, Shulman highlights the autobiographical elements that influenced Barrie's Peter Pan.]
Peter Pan is 100 this month, but how old is Peter Pan? The authors of children's fiction often withhold their characters' ages, so as not to prescribe the age of their readers. But J. M. Barrie on this point is not so much vague as misleadingly precise, and, even if we disregard Barrie's endless rewritings and restrict ourselves to the two most common versions of the story, the 1904 play and the 1911 novel, internally contradictory.
Peter, we are told, has "his first laugh still" and all his first teeth, which he gnashes at Mrs Darling when she wakes up and finds him in the nursery. Yet he is as tall as Wendy, herself the oldest of the three Darling children, competent to perform tasks such as sewing and spring cleaning. To the redskins he is "the great white father". Furthermore, he cannot be a tiny boy, since he is old enough for, respectively, Wendy, Tiger Lily and Tinker Bell—a foul-mouthed "common fairy" who favours a negligee for evening wear, and has plainly been around the block a few times—to entertain amorous hopes in his regard.
The contradiction is clearly intentional, and is part of Barrie's plan to make, in Peter, an impossible person, the equivalent of those drawings by Escher of staircases and rivulets descending upwards. However, one effect of this obfuscation is to produce a very broad field of interpretation: theatre directors, illustrators and film-makers can depict Peter Pan according to their own ideas of what a child should be, which may be the mushroom-dwelling toddlers of Mabel Lucie Atwell's illustrations, or the tribal gang-lord of Trevor Nunn's production of 1982 or the narcissistic pre-teen bombshell of last year's Hollywood Peter Pan, or the virgin suicide of the Savoy's low-budget (and surprisingly bad) effort of last Christmas season. Over a century, it seems that what we make of Peter Pan reflects what we think—and what we are allowed to think—of children.
For a long time, Peter on the stage was played by a young woman in tights—the rump, as it were, of late Victorian theatre. A nubile woman in the role, with her frank appeal to the heterosexual adult tastes of the fathers in the house, obscured the difficult matters of child sexuality, sibling hatred and child-death that infest the play and may be defined as everything Walt Disney omitted from his 1953 cartoon. Moreover, when Peter Pan first played in December 1904, it was to audiences unattuned to any such signals of unpleasantness. "Mr Barrie is not that rare creature, a man of genius. He is something more rare—a child who, by some divine grace can express through an artistic medium the childishness that is in him…. Mr Barrie has never grown up. He is a child absolutely", wrote Max Beerbohm—the first of many to identify Barrie with his creation and so establish a sort of circuit of association whereby our ideas about children come, through our treatment of Peter Pan, to affect our sense of Barrie himself.
In 1904, considerable social energy was expended in ensuring that to be "a child absolutely" meant you were innocence and gaiety itself. But a century later it means something very different, and accordingly, recent treatments of Peter Pan have taken comparable pains to expose its more sinister side, particularly those aspects that accidentally but precisely anticipate, or closely shadow, the work of Freud. Any adult who knows the story only from Disney or the pantomime, or who hasn't read it since childhood, must now be astonished not by Barrie's innocence but by his uncanny knowingness. To recap as briefly as possible: the story of Peter Pan is of a boy who flees the prospect of adulthood and goes to a place where he can remain a child for ever, ruling a gang of "lost boys" who have been abandoned by their mothers. One night he breaks into a nursery in London and steals a little girl, Wendy Darling, to come and "be" their mother. He flies away with her and her two younger brothers to an island far away. This island, the Neverland, is an early blueprint for a theme park: "not large and sprawly … with tedious distances between adventures, but nicely crammed". It offers "themed" play areas—pirates, red Indians, mermaids, fairies—in which children can perpetually play at games that scare and thrill but do not harm them. Peter Pan's enemy is Captain Hook, an Old Etonian pirate whom death pursues in the shape of a crocodile who has swallowed a (biological) clock. Death has already taken Hook's right arm (cut off, no less, and fed to it by the eternal child, Peter) and is "licking his lips for the rest of me". The tick-tock of the clock warns Hook of the crocodile's approach, but, as his bosun, Smee, tactlessly observes, "'Some day the clock will run down, and then he'll get you'. Hook wetted his dry lips, 'Aye, that is the fear that haunts me'".
The pirates conceive a plan of revenge:
"Let us steal those boys' mother and make her our mother".
"It is a princely scheme!" Cried Hook….
"We will seize the children and carry them to the boat: the boys we will make walk the plank, and Wendy shall be our mother."
Meanwhile, Wendy, domesticized on the instant of arrival in Neverland by the erection of a house around her fallen body, has recovered enough to darn the boys' socks. She tells them a story about her own mother. A real Mother, she says, will always leave the window open for her children to fly back. But Peter disagrees. He once tried to fly back to his mother, "but the window was barred, for mother had forgotten about me, and there was another little boy sleeping in my bed". After Peter foils the Pirates' plan, the children fly home to the nursery where Wendy's mother adopts the lost boys, all except Peter who stays, unseen, outside the nursery window, watching.
It is staggering to think of Barrie writing so overtly Oedipal a parable while the terms in which to speak of it were still forming in the head of a Viennese doctor. But in the late twentieth century these terms have come increasingly into use, notably as a consequence of two works which asked the question why Peter Pan didn't grow up. One of them was Jacqueline Rose's brilliantly abrasive study, The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children's Fiction (1984). It put the more sinister proposition that Peter Pan doesn't grow up "because someone else prefers that he shouldn't"—implicating not just Barrie in this, but all adults who watch or read Peter Pan, for accepting Barrie's proffered licence to regard children—and childhood—from a voyeuristic standpoint. Five years earlier, The Lost Boys, Andrew Birkin's biography examining Barrie's relationship with the Llewelyn-Davies children, was published. It tells how J. M. Barrie's tall, athletic older brother died in a skating accident at the age of thirteen, and of Barrie's efforts to console his mother, and how Barrie barely grew thereafter.
By 1897 he is a very successful playwright, unhappily and perhaps chastely married to an actress. Walking his dog in Kensington Gardens he meets a family of unusually beautiful small boys, and joins in their games. They are the sons of a barrister, Arthur Llewelyn-Davies, and of his wife Sylvia, both of whom Barrie meets socially a while later. Gradually, by means of charm and financial assistance, Barrie embeds himself in the Llewelyn-Davies family.
He begins taking Sylvia and the boys away with him on expensive holidays to rented houses, leaving Arthur in London. A princely scheme indeed. During one of these jaunts he takes the celebrated photographs with which Peter Pan began: pictures of the Llewelyn-Davies boys playing, both clothed and naked, at a pirate "adventure" Barrie concocted for them to act out. With scrupulous courtesy, Barrie gives this album to Arthur Llewelyn-Davies, who immediately loses it. Then Arthur and Sylvia die, in close succession, of cancer, and Barrie adopts the orphaned boys. Both Michael and George, Barrie's particular favourites, die very young. The others grow into men and are pursued through life by their now embarrassing association with Barrie and Peter Pan.
This extraordinary story, haunted with boys who are fixed, one way or another, in childhood, further confused the identity of the playwright with his play, and revealed in both something pitiful and not quite wholesome.
Here was Barrie, who started the century as Peter Pan, "a child absolutely", and who said bitterly of his insipid appearance "with another face I could be quite harmful", ending it with another face indeed: that of Captain Hook, the snatcher of mothers and children. The detail of Birkin's book shows a good deal of harm done by this generous and persistent benefactor, and deals lightly with the moral ambiguities of the case. Barrie's note of appalled recoil from his own thoughts, for example, when one of these small boys crept into his bed is ambiguous in meaning but an exposure nonetheless. The makers of a recent film on this subject (Finding Neverland) had no skills to show a man evading his own scrutiny, and consequently had to change all the facts of the case.
Barrie's own Peter Pan, on the other hand, has no problem with ambiguity. It seethes with characters and objects which are neither one thing nor the other, or two things at once: a man pretends to be a dog, a dog pretends to be a woman, a little girl pretends to be a mother, Peter Pan pretends to be Captain Hook, a thimble pretends to be a kiss. One of the many surprises of rereading Peter Pan as an adult is to note that there is no lurid or morbid inference a twenty-first-century reader may draw without Barrie, the great sentimentalist, having drawn it first—and wittily at that. Consider the economy, the sheer psychological eloquence of casting the same actor as Captain Hook (the mother-stealer) and Mr Darling (the husband and beloved father)—and supplying Hook with the author's own first name, James.
There are other kinds of ambiguity too. Jacqueline Rose exposed the unreliablity of the narrative position, which affects to address children from within childhood itself: "Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end", but which simultaneously spectates upon childhood from the outside: "Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive". If "we" are supposed to be children, then to whom are "we" so attractive?
She also noticed the same instability infecting the language of the book, so that it is at times of samplerlike plainness, suitable for a child—"The fight was short and sharp"—but elsewhere, of Jamesian impenetrability: "even this and the increased insecurity of life to which it led, owing to the crocodile's pertinacity, hardly account for a vindictiveness so relentless and malignant". But for this reader, such instability is entirely appropriate, essential even, to a fiction wherein "a strange boy had broken through" from a posited world of children and, through that broken membrane, the adult world and the child world become confused.
Moreover, it is precisely this mobility of tone that mimics a child's telescopic interpretation of the world. A young child has no trouble accepting a pirate crew who want a mother, a father (Mr Darling) who slips his medicine to Nana, the dog-nurse, and sulks when found out ("coddle her! Nobody coddles me! Oh dear no. I am only the breadwinner!"), and a bloody fight between boys and pirates with fifteen fatalities, but in which "the lateness of the hour was almost the biggest thing of all"; or, again, the notion that children can "stay away for years and years" and then, when they are "portly gentlemen", can go back to the nursery and be hugged by their mummy and daddy, who are still there, waiting for them at the window. Children are indeed able to spectate upon themselves as "children", apparently without compromising the solipsism of their child's viewpoint. An eight-year-old boy from Boston once told me that when he is President of the United States he will pass a law changing the cinema rating of The Matrix to "PG"—so that he'll be permitted to see it. This is the logic that allows one to be big and small, safe and in danger, all at once, and which, once Barrie had cap-tured it and given it a voice, allowed him to play with age in Peter Pan as Lewis Carroll plays with size in Alice. There is no precedent for this except perhaps The Young Visiters (1890), in which all the adults are effectively children. However, The Young Visiters wasn't published until 1919, with a preface by Barrie, the supposed "discoverer" of Daisy Ashford. (Similarities between its style and parts of Peter Pan have often caused Barrie to be accused of its authorship.) Since its author is either nine years old or, if not nine years old, then J. M. Barrie, it doesn't much alter the case.
Barrie's original scheme for Peter Pan was indeed as a "Fairy play"—which he defined as one in which "all the characters are children with a child's outlook on life". As the work progressed they became more childish. The character of Captain Hook began life as a schoolmaster (in Barrie's notes, the Pirate Ship, and hence the entire Pirate theme, was introduced for reasons of staging) and ended as a schoolboy: an arrested Etonian, fixated on the arcana of his old school codes. "Was it not bad form to think of good form … had the Bo'sun good form without knowing it, which is the best form of all?", he rambles in his last moments, as the crocodile boards the ship. In the play, he goes to the crocodile's jaws with the cry "Floreat Etona!". (A lost joke, this, almost certainly alluding to Lady Butler's Boer War picture, "The Disaster at Majuba Hill", which hung in every boy's room at Eton a century ago. It depicted an officer of the Gordon Highlanders leading the doomed charge with this battle cry.)
But not all the characters in Peter Pan are children: only the male ones. In fact, the childishness of the male characters is defined in specific opposition to the distinctly grown-up qualities of self-sacrifice, solicitude, sexual curiosity, sexual jealousy and maternal tenderness evinced by Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, Mrs Darling, Nana, Mermaids, Liza the housemaid (who turns out to be the mother of the Lost Boy, Slightly) and the Never-Bird. Even Wendy, who is a child, is also "every inch a woman"; and what proves her womanliness, in the dizzying logic of Peter Pan, is her knowledge that she is "only a little girl" and can't really be the Lost Boys' mother. None of the male characters has such a grip on the matter of who, or what, can be their mother—with which frailty the author acknowledges his own.
How often in the history of literature has a writer come up with a new subject? Barrie did, and in the many thousands of words written about Peter Pan, too few of them credit him for it. Nor do many books prefigure the future with accuracy, even in the realm of children's literature, where the invention of other worlds gives scope for such extrapolations: C. S. Lewis, for example, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, imagined a world in which it was "always winter and never Christmas"—precisely the reverse, as it turned out, of the situation we have today. But cases of arrested boyhood have grown in number and influence, both in life and literature, from D. H. Lawrence to Nick Hornby, and show no sign of abating in either form.
Hollindale, Peter, editor. Oxford Drama Library: J. M. Barrie: The Admirable Crichton, Peter Pan, When Wendy Grew Up, What Every Woman Knows, Mary Rose, edited by Peter Hollindale. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1995, 338 p.
Provides an extensive list of secondary sources and a chronology of Barrie's works.
Billone, Amy. "The Boy Who Lived: Carroll's Alice and Barrie's Peter Pan to Rowling's Harry Potter." Children's Literature 32 (2004): 178-202.
Examines fantasy, gender roles, and maturity in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and Barrie's Peter Pan.
Green, Roger Lancelyn. "The Writing of Peter Pan." In Fifty Years of "Peter Pan," pp. 29-42. London, England: Peter Davies, 1954.
Considers the early influences to Barrie's Peter Pan and Peter and Wendy, and illustrates Barrie's revisions of the play Peter Pan in its subsequent stagings.
Isherwood, Charles. Review of Peter Pan, by J. M. Barrie. Variety 373, no. 5 (14 December 1998): 141.
Presents a positive assessment of the La Mirada Theater's 1998 performance of Peter Pan.
Jack, R. D. S. "Peter Pan as Darwinian Creation Myth." Literature and Theology 8, no. 2 (June 1994): 157-73.
Investigates the concept of God, creation, origin, and evolution in Peter Pan.
Rose, Jacqueline. "State and Language: Peter Pan as Written for the Child." In Language, Gender, and Childhood, edited by Carol Steedman, Cathy Urwin, and Valerie Walkerdine, pp. 88-112. London, England: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985.
Originally written in 1980, this essay examines late nineteenth-century British ideals of class, education, and the presentation of literature across socioeconomic distinctions. Rose illustrates that, with Peter Pan, Barrie transcends many ideological beliefs of the era, yet notes that Peter Pan and other novels of that period were often edited to adhere to the beliefs of what ideas and language each class should read.
――――――. "The Return of Peter Pan." In The Case of Peter Pan, or, The Impossibility of Children's Fiction, pp. ix-xviii. Philadelphia, Penn.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
Discusses the interpretation of innocence and sexuality in Peter Pan when viewed by modern standards—in a society when child abuse and false allegations of sexual abuse are frequent.
Wren, Celia. "Fear of Flying." American Theatre 20, no. 2 (February 2003): 44-8.
Examines modern productions of Peter Pan and surveys how different stagings interpret Barrie's original play.
Additional coverage of Barrie's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 4, 5; British Writers Supplement, Vol. 3; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 16; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1890–1914; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104, 136; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 77; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 10, 141, 156; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Dramatists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Drama for Students, Vol. 7; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Major 20th-Century Writers, Ed. 2; Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 2005; Modern British Literature, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Vol. 5; St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers; Something about the Author, Vol. 100; Supernatural Fiction Writers; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 2, 164; World Literature and Its Times, Ed. 4; Writers for Children; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Vol. 1.