Hide-and-Seek with Angels: A Life of J. M. Barrie

Overview

What kind of man creates a boy who never grows up? More than 100 years after Peter Pan first appeared on the London stage, author J. M. Barrie remains one of the most complex and enigmatic figures in modern literature. A few facts, of course, are widely known: Peter Pan made Barrie the richest author of his time, and he bequeathed the royalties to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. He was married, but later divorced, and he was devoted to the orphaned sons of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, one of whom ...

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Hide-and-Seek with Angels: A Life of J. M. Barrie

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Overview

What kind of man creates a boy who never grows up? More than 100 years after Peter Pan first appeared on the London stage, author J. M. Barrie remains one of the most complex and enigmatic figures in modern literature. A few facts, of course, are widely known: Peter Pan made Barrie the richest author of his time, and he bequeathed the royalties to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. He was married, but later divorced, and he was devoted to the orphaned sons of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, one of whom was named Peter. And then the rumors begin—about the nature of his marriage; about his precise relationship with the Davies boys, whose guardian he became; about the fantasies and demons that determined his achievements.

In this brilliant biography, Lisa Chaney goes beyond the myths to discover the fascinating, frequently misunderstood man behind the famous boy. James Matthew Barrie was born in a village in Scotland in 1860, the ninth of 10 children of a linen-weaver and his wife. When James was six years old, his older brother died in a skating accident, and his mother began her withdrawal into grief. It is not an exaggeration to say that Barrie's entire life—both his professional triumphs as a writer and his personal tragedies—led up to the creation of Peter Pan, the play where "all children except one grow up." As Lisa Chaney explores Barrie's own struggles to grow up, she deepens our understanding both of his most famous character and of the complex relationship between life and art.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An excellent new biography."

—A.S. Byatt

Library Journal
Peter Pan creator James Matthew Barrie (l860-1937) was a storyteller, and if the facts of a story lessened its impact, fantasy prevailed. The son of a hard-working Scottish weaver, Barrie was determined to succeed, and he did, eventually becoming the most famous and successful playwright of his time. He had several intense friendships, but none more so than that with Sylvia Davies and her five sons. After the death of one of those sons, fantasy stopped being an option for Barrie; his literary output declined, along with his health. In this biography, journalist and lecturer Chaney writes about the playwright's early life, his friendships, his 15-year marriage that ended in a scandalous divorce, his work, and more. Throughout, she is exacting but not unsympathetic in her treatment of Barrie's often impenetrable character, demystifying much of the lore surrounding his private life. Following Andrew Birkin's J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys, Chaney's work offers additional insight and meaning. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Robert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
British journalist Chaney offers a spirited life of the creator of Peter Pan. Barrie, about whom Conan Doyle noted, "There is nothing small except his body," was born in the Scottish weaving town of Kirriemuir in 1860, the ninth child of educated Protestants. He set out to make his journalistic mark in London and immediately began to publish "Auld Licht Idylls" for the St. James Gazette and others. With friends in George Meredith and Thomas Hardy, Barrie grew into a writer with serious purpose, trying his hand at novels, and "troubled, sometimes frightened, by his constant inclination to become someone else." Lured to the theater, he wrote successful plays such as Ibsen's Ghost and Walker, London, and he married the star actress Mary Ansell, a union that would remain childless and end in divorce. An intimate friendship with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, her husband Arthur and their increasing brood led to his momentous creation of Peter Pan (1904): Barrie's perceived perfect family became the Darlings. The play made Barrie rich but rather isolated by his transatlantic success, especially after the deaths of Arthur and Sylvia. Chaney does an admirable job of chronicling Barrie's busy goings-ons, yet does not get at the heart of the man except perhaps to note that he preferred fantasy to reality. His later years were absorbed somberly by cares for the Davies' sons and a touching friendship with the married Lady Cynthia Asquith. Chaney briefly delves into Barrie's significance within the golden age of British children's literature, although unlike other great writers for children, such as Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, he refused to acknowledge time and negotiate adulthood. While Chaney'shistorical overview of Scotland at the time of the Industrial Revolution is perspicacious, her treatment of Barrie's childhood and relationship to his mother are cursory and timid. In an endnote, the author acknowledges grudgingly that "psychoanalysis has discovered Barrie," and cites more scathing studies. The reader craves more than a polite scratch at the literary myth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312357795
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/27/2006
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.45 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

LISA CHANEY has lectured and tutored in the history of art and literature, and has written for journals and newspapers, including the Sunday Times, The Spectator and the Guardian.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2006

    Interesting

    By providing a deep look at J. M. Barrie, Lisa Chaney also presents a keen glimpse into the creating of Peter Pan in this fine insightful biography. Ms. Chaney provides the childhood background of the renowned author who was the ninth child of Scottish parents during the industrial revolution. He left for London to become a journalist and soon became friends with writers George Meredith and Thomas Hardy even as he began his career (yes he wrote other works besides Pan). In his late thirties Barrie befriends Arthur and Sylvia Davies he especially enjoyed the times with their offspring as his only marriage ended in divorce and no children. That time spent with the Davies family led to his play Peter Pan in 1904 as he saw his friends as the loving Darlings. When they died he felt alone though his play made him rich and famous yet perhaps as Peter Barrie he never wanted to grow up.---------------------- Well written and entreating this is a solid bio but feels lacking as a historiographic perspective of critics analyzing the author and his works hinted at with references would have rounded out the insight. Still this is a fascinating look at one of the leaders of the golden age of English writers of children tales in this case a man who seemingly preferred fantasy so as to never grow up.--------------------- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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