Other Literary Forms
The sheer volume of Sir James Barrie’s literary output, together with the fact that his most successful and enduring works were written for the stage, tends to obscure recognition of his talent in other genres. His success as a playwright came when he was already launched as a writer. The vignettes and anecdotes of his literary apprenticeship had formed the basis for the successful Auld Licht Idylls (1888), and Barrie might have been content to continue drawing on his Scottish experiences in the form of articles and essays in the then popular “Kailyard” (cabbage-patch) style but for his determination to write a novel. Success in this genre came eventually with The Little Minister (1891), written in the same vein as the Auld Licht Idylls.
Barrie returned to the Scottish setting in Margaret Ogilvy (1896), a biography based on sentimental recollections of his mother. Questions were raised as to the genre of the work, and reviewers in Scotland were shocked by the detailed ruthlessness of his observation. No less revealing is the largely autobiographical novel Sentimental Tommy (1896), which, together with its sequel, Tommy and Grizel (1900), throws considerable light on Barrie’s complex personality.
The novel The Little White Bird (1902) contained a blueprint for the development of the Peter Pan theme, but it was the successful dramatization of The Little Minister that finally channeled Barrie’s literary efforts away from the novel toward the stage. The foundation of Barrie’s career as a playwright was his determination to master the novel and to capitalize on his potentially limiting Scottish background and childhood experiences.