Adopting both the general notion and the melodramatic tone of D.H. Lawrence’s famous comment—“J.M. Barrie has a fatal touch for those he loves. They die”—Dudgeon (Our East End: Memories of Life in Disappearing Britain, 2008, etc.) presents the author of Peter Pan as a crippled soul who deliberately manipulated the lives and psyches of numerous associates and children.
Why? Not for sex—the author dismisses this notion out of hand—but in compensation for a childhood so “bereft of wonder” that he was left incapable of any genuine ability to love. How? Through hypnosis and autosuggestion, techniques inspired by Svengali, the villain in George Du Maurier’s novel Trilby. Who? Dudgeon trots in a large company over whom Barrie “extend[ed] his malign power,” including but not limited to the five “Lost Boys” of that same Du Maurier’s daughter Sylvia, his son Gerald Du Maurier, Gerald’s daughter Daphne and, for variety, the doomed explorer Robert Scott. All did indeed die young, commit suicide and/or suffer lifelong emotional problems. Furthermore, the author ups the body count by suggesting that Barrie played a hushed-up role in the accidental death of his older brother in childhood. The evidence for this, as for Dudgeon’s entire thesis, is at best circumstantial. Aside from sure proof, presented in a pair of photos, that Barrie altered Sylvia’s will to give him guardianship over the boys, it’s all based on suppositions, uneasy comments or dark hints by contemporaries, bald guesses and supposedly telling parallels between fleshly characters and those in either Barrie’s works or various of the Du Mauriers’ “autobiographical psycho-novels.”
Nowhere near a cut-and-dried case, but plausible enough to leave readers—particularly those who found Peter Pan disquieting (which it is)—wondering.