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J.M. Barrie – a Biography

Skiing Accident

Sir James Matthew Barrie or J.M. Barrie was a famous author who was best known for writing the tales of Peter Pan. He wrote many other stories and plays, not all of which were fantasies. He was one of the most popular writers of his time. He was a childlike and playful man, by many accounts, an obsessive pedophile, by others. However, it is important to note that the latter claims are unsubstantiated. Regardless of what was thought about the personal life of the man, both before and after his death, he was undeniably talented and most certainly generous to those around him.

James Matthew Barrie was born on May 9, 1860 in Kirriemuir, Forfarshire (currently Agnus), Scotland. He was the ninth of ten children born to David Barrie and Margaret Barrie nee Ogilvy. J.M. had six sisters and three brothers. He is rumored to have had an interest in writing and playacting from a young age. It is said that he would write plays to be performed by his siblings and playmates, when he was a boy. His mother encouraged his imagination by telling him adventure stories at night.

When J.M. Barrie was seven years old, a tragedy happened that may have played a large role in making him the man he became. J.M.’s older brother died in a skiing accident. The boy was just short of fourteen years old. Rumor has it that David was Margaret’s favorite and that she fell into a deep depression when he died. James wanted to draw the attention of his grieving mother and so he began dressing in his dead brother’s clothing. This, oddly, made Margaret pay more attention to her young son and their relationship became closer for it. J.M. wrote a loving biography of her, after her death.

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J.M. Barrie went off to University when he was 13 years old. He attended the Dumphries Academy at the University of Edinburgh. It was there that James began studying theater and writing. He graduated from the university in 1882 with a Master of Arts. Following his graduation, he went to work as a writer for the Nottingham Journal. He eventually left his position and became a freelance writer. He sold his work to magazines, for the most part, during this period.

As mentioned above, J.M. Barrie rubbed elbows with some of the best writers of the time. It is amusing to read about how James often interacted with these people. He is sometimes quoted as saying to H.G. Wells: “It is all very well to be able to write books, but can you waggle your ears?” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, however, was more than just a passing acquaintance. He was one of James’ close friends from the moment they met until the end of their lives. They played on a cricket team called the Allahakbarries together and even collaborated on an opera.

J.M. Barrie married an actress by the name of Mary Ansell. She had performed in one of his plays. A biography by Janet Dunbar claimed that he was impotent and that he had told his wife that “Boys can’t love.” It is unknown whether this claim has any basis in reality. However, the couple had no children and many people close to Barrie claim that he seemed to have no interest in romantic relationships. It is important to note here that people close to him also said that he seemed to have no romantic interest in children, either. Nonetheless, this is a common accusation made against the late author.

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One day, while walking in Kensington Gardens, J.M. Barrie met some of the members of the Llewelyn Davies family. He was instantly attracted to the family and soon became good friends with them. The family consisted of five young boys, their mother, Sylvia and their father, Arthur. It would seem that James was closer to Sylvia than he was to Arthur. However, Arthur did seem to tolerate the friendship.

The most important aspect of Barrie’s association with this family was the amount of time he spent playing with the boys. His most popular story, Peter Pan, was inspired by this playtime. He seems to have drawn inspiration from the world around him an awful lot. The character Nana was inspired by James’ own dog. A St. Bernard named Porthos. The play first hit the stages in 1904. Since that time, it has been phenomenally popular.

Mary Barrie conducted an affair with Gilbert Cannan in 1909 and J.M. Barrie’s marriage ended. The following year, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies died. The five Davies boys were orphans, as their father had died three years earlier. J.M. Barrie took in the children and became their guardian. It is assumed that he cared for the boys a great deal (some biographers would have you believe that this care was of an evil sort). He cared for George and Michael until their deaths. He cared for Peter, Niko and Jack until his own death.

J.M. Barrie continued to write throughout his life. He became so renowned that he was given several important positions and was even knighted (in 1913). He became a baronet and was given the Order of Merit in 1922. He was also elected Lord Rector of St. Andrew’s University. He became President of the Society of Authors in 1928. In 1930 he was made chancellor of the University of Edinburgh. He died on June 3, 1937. His body was interred in the Kirriemuir Cemetery.

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