Hide-and-Seek with Angels: A Life of J. M. Barrie
St. Martin's, 2006 (2006)
Reviewed by Tim Davis
has become one of the most familiar titles in the history of film and theater. Since the play's premier on 27 December 1904, and since its reputation has been further enhanced by the numerous film versions, the world has been fascinated with young Peter, the boy who wouldn't grow up, and his tiny companion Tinker Bell, perhaps the most famous fairy in literature. Most recently, in the benign but narrowly focused 2004 film
, audiences saw Peter Pan's creator (James Matthew Barrie as portrayed by Johnny Depp) as a '
' who was blithely devoted to children.
. M. Barrie, however, has not been very well known, less well understood, and too often ignored (and too frequently even vilified) by audiences and critics in the many years since his canonical creation. So what is the real story? Who was this singularly creative man - as cinematically portrayed in
- who '
himself wanted to be an immortal boy, who employed his personal experiences in the cause of writing about the danger of a life of fantasy
- Did you know, for example, that his brother's death while ice-skating catapulted the young James into an imaginative and desperate relationship with his grief-stricken and suddenly neglectful mother; Barrie, in his '
ambition to console
' her, '
later identified that point in his life as his start down the road to becoming an author
- Did you know that Barrie became one of England's most popular and successful writers with dozens of novels and plays to his credit? So why is it that we know little or nothing about these other accomplishments?
- Did you also know that Barrie's childless marriage to Mary Ansell ended in an acrimonious divorce in 1909 (because of Mary's adulterous affair with another man, which may have been precipitated by Barrie's apparent inability to satisfy - or his na´ve indifference to - his wife's unfulfilled sexual appetites and her desire to have children)?
- Did you that Barrie became the guardian of five young boys in 1910 - upon the death of their mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies - and that Barrie, rather than being an effective foster-parent was instead, with disastrous consequences, more intent upon behaving as if he were the sixth boy in the new family group?
- Did you know that even with J. M. Barrie's many friendships and in spite of his celebrity status, this profound thinker and extraordinarily prophetic writer was one of the most isolated figures in modern literary history?
- Did you know that Barrie has too often been suspected of paedophilia (by contemporaries and critics)? But did you also know that in his defense, Nico Davies, one of the Davies boys, the only one of the five who survived happily into adulthood, said of Barrie: '
Of all the men I have ever known, Barrie was the wittiest, and the best company. He was also the least interested in sex. He was a darling man. He was an innocent; which is why he could write Peter Pan.
' Nico also said: '
I don't believe that Uncle Jim ever experienced what one might call a stirring in the undergrowth for anyone - man, woman, or child.
ere, in one marvelous volume, are the not so simple answers to the foregoing and many other questions surrounding one of English literature's most enigmatic and beguiling personalities. In this clearly written and thoroughly researched biography, Lisa Chaney offers readers '
a thought-provoking and candid new interpretation of J. M. Barrie, an all too often forgotten playwright and novelist.
' She '
re-evaluates the man whose work was shockingly modern in its uncompromising exploration of the seductiveness and dangers of escape and fantasy, and their inextricable connection to the passage of time.
' Any student of literature - and anyone who has wistfully dreamed of flying away to Neverland with Peter and Tinker Bell to avoid all the unpleasantness of
- ought to find themselves a copy of
Hide-and-Seek with Angels
. Filled with surprises and abundant in its detail, this long overdue biography is something quite special.
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