This is a fascinating biography of a complex, difficult, extremely talented man.The death of his adored older brother at a very young age, seems to have driven Barrie to strive for success,in order to compensate his parents, particularly his Mother, for the loss of her favourite son.He became a successful journalist, then a highly regarded playwright in Edwardian London. He tended to fall in love with his leading ladies, and married Mary Ansell, a popular actress, who appeared in many of his productions. I knew that Barrie had married a beautiful actress, and that they had divorced in painful circumstances, that there were perhaps sexual problems in the marriage. Lisa Chaney's theories on Barrie's psychological problems regarding physical relationships, was a fascinating insight on this aspect of his life. Barrie's later relationship with the Llewelyn-Davies family which ultimately led to the writing of his masterpiece Peter Pan is also beautifully explored.
A really rich and informative read. This is a thoroughly-researched and beautifully paced exploration of the curious life and work of a fascinating and hugely under-rated writer. The chapters on Peter Pan, and the explorations of the sinister, shockingly modern aspects of time, escape, fantasy and transformation in this and other plays (most obviously The Admirable Crichton and Mary Rose), are especially stimulating. It is a really useful and necessary book which manages to deal with emotionally charged and occasionally tragic material without stooping to amateur psychology or prurience. Barrie is not an easy man to like, but Lisa Chaney has persuaded me at least to understand his weaknesses and to respect him. And I have begun to seek out his work anew. It is the right moment for a new biography, and this one certainly does the job handsomely.
The fame of J.M. Barrie's greatest creation has so eclipsed his other works that I would imagine few of us would be able to name a single one other than Peter Pan. To some extent this has obscured what an immense figure he was in the Victorian and Edwardian literary world, what a staggering success as a playwright and novelist. But what a creation to be remembered solely for! Peter Pan is surely one of the meaningful, symbolic and important literary creations of the century, and his enduring popularity and relevance suggests that Barrie tapped into something fundamental at the heart of humanity when he dreamed up the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up.
Too often, however, Peter Pan is either seen as J.M. Barrie's alter-ego, the man who never wanted to grow up, or an amalgam of the Llewellyn-Davies boys, the boys Barrie wished would never grow up. The truth, as Lisa Chaney ably sets out in this wonderfully enlightening and enjoyable book, is somewhere in-between. If Barrie was any character in Peter Pan he was all of them. He was just as capable of being the puckish, mischievous Peter as he was the caring, nurturing mother-figure of Wendy. He could be the posturing, threatening Hook and the ridiculous, aspirational Mr Darling. He himself recognised his 'plural personality' and in later life invented a nickname, McConnachie, for one darker aspect of his character.
Few people came away from an encounter with Barrie untouched, and for those whose lives he deftly insinuated himself into, such as the Llewelyn-Davies and later Asquith families, his influence would last a lifetime. Indeed, one could almost say the Llewellyn-Davies boys were both scarred and blessed by their relationship with Barrie, and certainly it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that he was the central figure in all their lives, for better or worse. But then Barrie seemed to determined to make himself the central figure in anyone's life, he was such a forceful personality. Through Chaney's words, Barrie becomes a man who was perhaps hard to like but easy to love.
In all of his plays, Barrie plumbed his own life, his deepest fears and hopes and dreams, for his art, and none more so than Peter Pan. It is telling that Barrie never quite finished refining it, adding to some scenes, cutting others, changing endings and characters. It was decades before it was ever set down in print in any kind of finalised form. In this sense, the play itself is Barrie's alter-ego, rather than the character of Peter.
This is a long book packed full of factual information and historical context, and every page is absolutely fascinating! Chaney is refreshingly non-judgemental in her approach but doesn't shy away from analysis. Her writing brings Barrie to life so that we get a real understanding of his powerful personality and his incredible creativity, as well as the tragedies and troubles that surrounded him. By the end of it, I felt as if I'd lived through the times of J. M. Barrie and that I'd in some way got to know this genius of a man. So much so, I felt quite emotional as I read the final chapters about the last years of Barrie's life. I couldn't recommend this book more highly.