When Peter Pan was first produced in London in 1904, it was an immediate success. Though it broke box-office records, its producers were unsure if the play would be successful at all because it was so unlike anything that had been staged before. Barrie was regarded as a genius in his day, not just for the childlike insights that inform Peter Pan but also for a number of the other plays the prolific author wrote. Max Beerbohm, writing in the Saturday Review, said: ‘‘I know not anyone who remains, like Mr. Barrie, a child. It is this unparalleled achievement that informs so much of Mr. Barrie’s later work, making it unique. This, too, surely is what makes Mr. Barrie the most fashionable playwright of his time. Undoubtedly, Peter Pan is the best thing he has done—the thing most directly from within himself. Here, at last, we see his talent in its full maturity.’’
Contemporary critics noted that the play has appeal for both children and adults. A reviewer from the Illustrated London News wrote: ‘‘There has always been much in Mr. Barrie’s work, of the child for whom romance is the true reality and that which children of a larger growth called knowledge. Insofar as the play deals with real life, we think it a bit cruel.’’
Many critics praised Barrie for not condescending to children, for dealing frankly with the cruelties of real life. In his book The Road to Never Land: A Reassessment of J. M. Barrie’s Dramatic Art, R. D. S. Jack argued, ’’Peter Pan, by highlighting the cruelty of children, the power-worship of adults, the impossibility of eternal youth, the inadequacy of narcissistic and bisexual solutions, presents a very...
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