Sir James Matthew Barrie, Bart.
(1860-1937) was a Scottish journalist, dramatist and novelist. A contemporary and friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
, George Bernard Shaw
and H.G. Wells
, his story about Peter Pan
earned him worldwide notoriety and a regarded place in literary history.
Born in the Forfashire village of Kirriemuir, Barrie was the seventh surviving child of a hand-loom weaver. When he was six years old, his brother David died in an accident and Barrie tried to console his mother by dressing up in his dead brother's clothes. It is generally believed that he suffered from manic depression, and this combined with his brother's death led to an obsessive relationship with his mother that would affect him throughout his life. He published a genuflecting biography of her in 1896.
Barrie took his M.A. from Edinburgh University in 1882, after which he worked as a journalist for the Nottingham Journal before moving to London in 1885 to become a freelance writer. He gained fame shortly thereafter with the publication of several books, and began playwriting following the dramatization of his melodramatic novel The Little Minister. This play became a popular stage production in 1897 both in England and the United States.
In 1894, Barrie married actress Mary Ansel after her role in his play Walker, London. According to Janet Dunbar's biography, Barrie suffered from impotence, and Mary Barrie began an affair with writer Gilbert Cannan in 1909 which brought the marriage to an end.
Two of Barrie's most notable plays (Quality Street and The Admirable Crichton) were produced in London in 1902, the same year that the character Peter Pan first appeared by name in his novel The Little White Bird. Peter Pan developed out of stories that Barrie told Sylvia Llewelyn Davies' five young sons. She was the daughter of novelist George du Maurier and a close friend of Barrie. When she and her husband Arthur died, Barrie ended up adopting their sons.
Peter Pan was produced for the stage in 1904, but the novelisation (entitled Peter and Wendy) would not come until 1911. Barrie's play What Every Woman Knows (1908) brought futher success. He wrote two more well-received fantasy plays (Dear Brutus in 1917 and Mary Rose in 1920), but the fame of Peter Pan overshadowed any critical interest in much of his remaining life's work. Barrie was made a baronet in 1913, and honored with the Order of Merit in 1922. In 1930 he was named chancellor of Edinburgh University.
Barrie is fondly remembered as a champion of children, and he supported various charities and institutions that fought for their cause. He bequeathed the copyright for Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London, which continues to provide it with funds. His birthplace is maintained as a museum by The National Trust for Scotland, and statues of Peter Pan stand in the town square of Kirriemuir as well as in London's Hyde Park.
Dunbar, Janet. J. M. Barrie: The Man Behind the Image. 1970.
Thanks to Gritchka for the bit about GOSH