Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

After a long and successful career as an artist and illustrator, George du Maurier, at the age of fifty-five and with the urging of his friend, Henry James, began to write his first novel, Peter Ibbetson. In this work, he wrote about subjects and themes that obsessed him—his childhood in France, the fantasies of youth, the power of dreams, and the transcendent nature of romantic love. The work is structured in two parts. In part 1, du Maurier gives a loving autobiographical account of his childhood in Passy, which he tells with precise detail. He describes that time as one of remote innocence. He then abandons the illusion of reality established there and in part 2 develops the theme of psychic phenomenon, or “dreaming true,” as he calls it.

The duality of the plot is consistent with other dualities in the novel. Peter Ibbetson embodies the two cultures of his parents. His emotional life is centered in Passy. As he matures, however, he exhibits the traits of a cultivated Englishman, admires the British aristocracy, enters into manly sports such as boxing and swimming, adopts a snobbish persona, and proclaims a conventional morality.

The duality extends to Peter’s name as well. Born Pierre Pasquier de la Mariere, he is reborn, so to speak, in England as Master Peter Ibbetson. Colonel Ibbetson, who gives Peter his new name, becomes his surrogate father. Although dead, Peter’s actual father, le beau Pasquier, continues to live in Peter’s dreamworld. Colonel Ibbetson, on the other hand, plays no part in Peter’s inner life but determines his external existence. The colonel’s villainous role leads to Peter’s imprisonment, where all of his dreaming begins. The splitting of the father figure into two distinct roles—one hated, the other admired—is an attractive fantasy. The ambiguous attitude that a child may have toward his or her father is dealt with by a screening process that simplifies the ambiguity by dividing the parent into two personalities, one threatening and the other loving.

The theme of duality also involves the central women of the novel, Madame Seraskier, Madame Pasquier, and the duchess of Towers. Both the descriptions and illustrations (done by du Maurier himself) reveal them to be nearly identical in beauty and stature. Madame Seraskier is presented with an idealized beauty that is associated with Peter’s mother. Like his mother, she possesses warmth, kindness,...

(The entire section is 1000 words.)