J. M. Barrie was born on May 9, 1860, in Kirriemuir, Scotland, a village located in the Lowlands. He was the son of a poor weaver, David, and his wife, Margaret Ogilvy Barrie. Barrie was the second youngest of ten children and one of only several to survive infancy. Barrie’s mother ensured that he received an education, and the playwright eventually received his M.A. from Edinburgh University in 1882. After Barrie’s elder brother and Margaret Barrie’s favorite son died when Barrie was six, he took it upon himself to take his brother’s place. The author’s relationship with his mother was unusually close and was often based in a fantasy world due to Margaret’s bedridden condition. Barrie’s complex relationship with his mother is thought by many to be the inspiration for the mother-worship that critics feel is central to Peter Pan.
Barrie began his writing career as a journalist soon after graduation from Edinburgh, first in Nottingham, then back in Scotland, and finally, London. In the late-1880s, Barrie published several novels and short stories. His first bestseller was 1891’s The Little Minister. In that same year Barrie began writing plays and playlets, beginning with a one-act burlesque entitled Ibsen’s Ghost, or, Toole up to Date. After successfully turning The Little Minister into a play in 1897, Barrie focused almost exclusively on the theatre. From 1901 until 1920, he wrote one play per year. One of Barrie’s most famous plays during this period was 1902’s The Admirable Crichton, a combination of fantasy and social commentary. These same elements were employed in Barrie’s best–known work—and his only play intended explicitly for a young audience— Peter Pan, first produced in 1904.
The play had its roots in a novel Barrie published in 1902, Little White Bird, written for some young friends of Barrie, the Davies. Barrie met the family in London’s Kensington Gardens in 1897 and was immediately enamored with the three young boys, George, Jack, and Peter, as well as their mother, Sylvia. Barrie befriended the family, spending considerable time with them over the years (the head of the Davies household, Arthur Davies, did not always like the situation but tolerated it nonethe- J. M. Barrie
After Peter Pan and several novelizations of the story, Barrie continued writing notable plays. Most were adult dramas and comedies that frequently played with fantasy, including Dear Brutus (1917). Barrie’s success as a playwright allowed him to be generous with funds, and he gave often to individuals as well as important causes. Barrie ceased to write plays until a year before his death when he suddenly produced two Biblical dramas. Barrie died on June 19, 1937, in London.
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