Barrie, J. M.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Barrie, J. M.

J. M. Barrie: (Sir James Matthew Barrie) (bâr´ē), 1860–1937, Scottish playwright and novelist. He is best remembered for his play Peter Pan (1904), a supernatural fantasy about a boy who refuses to grow up. The son of a weaver, Barrie studied at the Univ. of Edinburgh. He took up journalism, worked for a Nottingham newspaper, and contributed to various London journals before moving to London in 1885. His early works, Auld Licht Idylls (1889) and A Window in Thrums (1889), contain fictional sketches of Scottish life. The publication of The Little Minister (1891) established his reputation as a novelist. During the next 10 years Barrie continued writing novels, such as Sentimental Tommy (1896) and Tommy and Grizel (1900), but gradually his interest turned toward the theater. His early plays were mostly unsuccessful, but the dramatization in 1897 of The Little Minister established him as a playwright.

Although he is famous for the play Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up and the novels Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906) and Peter and Wendy (1911), many feel that Barrie's most accomplished work is the tragicomedy Dear Brutus (1917), in which he skillfully blends fantasy with realism and humor with pathos. His other notable plays include Quality Street (1901), The Admirable Crichton (1902), What Every Woman Knows (1908), and the one-act The Twelve-Pound Look (1911). Barrie's collected plays were published in 1928.

Barrie's life was dominated by his mother. This relationship left him emotionally immature and probably precipitated the failure of his marriage, and his lack of maturity is a discernible element in his works. Yet even though he has been criticized for whimsy and sentimentality, Barrie reveals in his best works a profound understanding of human nature and an unexpected capacity for irony and mordant wit. He was created a baronet in 1913 and was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1922. From 1930 until his death he was chancellor of the Univ. of Edinburgh.

See his letters (ed. by V. Meynell, 1947); biographies by J. Dunbar (1970), D. Mackail (1941, repr. 1972), C. Asquith (1955, repr. 1972), and A. Birkin (1979, repr. 2003); J. Wullschläger, Inventing Wonderland (1995).

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