With his broad knowledge of J.M. Barrie (1860-1937) and his contemporaries, Dudgeon (Maeve Binchy: The Biography, 2014, etc.) tells the disturbing story of his odd relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family.
The author points out that the story of Peter Pan features a spiritual dimension of childhood that transcends adulthood. Barrie adored the children of Sylvia and Art Llewelyn Davies, and the games he played with them in Kensington Gardens helped in the creation of Peter Pan. It was a process of improvisation and underwent constant revision over the years. Barrie readily admitted that he adored Michael in the strange sort of Edwardian love. The author explains it as best he can, noting the strong bond of boys away at public school. Michael unknowingly ruled Barrie. Stories were presented to Michael, who would finish them or reject them. Sylvia was the daughter of George du Maurier, author of Peter Ibbetson, a book that greatly influenced Barrie. Du Maurier was also a strong supporter of the concept of psychic ability, and Sylvia inherited his “more than earthly” aura. Barrie shared his paranormal fascination, and Sylvia encouraged Barrie’s obsession with her children, almost as if he were a second nanny, taking them off her hands. Her husband, mother, and especially her son, Jack, disliked his control. Jack was recommended by Barrie to Osborne Naval College to get him out of the way. After the death of Sylvia, Barrie took over the boys’ upbringing. It was a life of privilege and fishing excursions to Scotland, where Michael learned to cast off Barrie’s yoke. Insisting that there was no homosexual side to Barrie’s love, Dudgeon explores the man and his character, his obsession with death and the afterlife, the cruel side to his writings, and the strange illusions he created around himself.
A simultaneously interesting and depressing story of arrested development, as sometimes occurs with those who write of children’s heroes.