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'Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens' by J.M. Barrie

'Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens' by J.M Barrie is a very curious book. Barrie published it in 1906 on the heels of the runaway success of his play 'Peter Pan'.  This book only bears a fleeting connection with the play. It's all about how Peter flies away from his mother when a baby and goes to live in Kensington Gardens.  It's a very Edwardian world that Barrie creates with its nursemaids and prams and sailing your boat on the Round Pond, but the book is really about what happens in the Gardens when the Gates are locked for the night when the fairy population takes over and the park belongs to them.  Barrie takes great delight in creating a complete fairy world, full of enchanting detail about fairy lives, clothes, dancing, feasts, social structure.  One might describe PPIKG as a social-study of fairy-life in Edwardian London. And there's a great deal about birds and their nests.  All babies started out as birds I understand. There's not much story - except the latter chapters about the adventures of a little girl called Maisie who gets locked in the park after dark.
The book refers often to someone called David, but that is not the name of any of the Llewleyn-Davies children who were the inspiration for Peter Pan so I'm not sure who it is.  The book is dedicated to Sylvia and Arthur Llewelyn-Davies both of whom died while the boys were young and Barrie became their guardian.
The book, although very charming, is somewhat arch, and a decided period period piece, with its knowing Uncle-style voice. It won't be of much interest to modern children, I suppose its audience nowadays is people like me who are interested in Barrie and Edwardian children's books.  My copy is a beautiful large format Folio Society reproduction of the first edition (now worth a lot of money so look in your great-grandparents' attics) with gorgeous tipped-in pictures by Arthur Rackham, the artist who probably influenced our ideas of what fairies are supposed to look like.  The book begins with a detailed description of Kensington Gardens accompnied by a fascinating map. I think this passage gives a flavour of Barrie's style in this book and of Edwardian attitudes to children.

We are now in the Broad Walk, and it is much bigger than the other walks as your father is bigger than you. David wondered if it began little, and grew and grew, until it was quite grown up, and whether the other walks are its babies, and he drew a picture, which diverted him very much, of the Broad Walk giving a tiny walk an airing in a perambulator.  In the Broad Walk you meet all the people who are worth knowing, and there is usually a grown-up with them to prevent them from going on the wet grass, and to make them stand disgraced at the corner of a seat if they have been mad-dog or Mary-Annish. To be Mary-Annish is to behave like a girl, whimpering with your thumb in your mouth, and it is a hateful quality; but to be mad-dog is to kick out at everything, and there is some satisfaction in that.

As homework for John Logan's new play Peter and Alice, which I'm going to see in a couple of weeks, I read this book. I'll read Barrie's Peter and Wendy presently, the non-play version of the familiar story, which may be more pertinent to Logan's play, an imagined version of the real-life meeting between Alice Liddell (Judi Dench) and Peter Llewelyn Davies (Ben Whishaw). Most of the reviews I've glimpsed praise the performances but not the play; I imagine most people, myself included, will be more interested in seeing the performers and so won't mind that much. Perhaps that's a sad state of affairs.

As for the book, it's an odd and not very satisfactory beast. In fact it turns out to be a few chapters of Barrie's earlier book The Little White Bird, and the material's decontextualisation may account for its shortcomings. Mike wondered about the identity of David, who is referred to frequently. If the Wikipædia is to be believed, he is George Llewelyn Davies.

Perhaps if I'd encountered Peter Pan in my childhood I'd have enjoyed the book more; perhaps not. There's no accounting for taste, is there. Of the classic children's books I waited until adulthood to read, I have loved The Wind in the Willows and cordially disliked Alice. Peter Pan is somewhere between the two, but I will reserve judgement until I've tried Peter and Wendy, which will presumably be more satisfactory on account of its being a self-contained entity rather than an excerpt of a larger work.

There are very beautiful moments in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, but I can't be doing with its long descriptions of silly fairies, or its casual misogyny which dates it badly. Too often it dwells on the general habits and practices of the inhabitants of Kensington Gardens and its environs (the escapades of the children who parade through the park didn't appeal to me in the slightest, I regret), and neglects the occasional intrusions of plot that make it a delight to read. Peter's journey up the Serpentine in a boat inspired by the arrival of a five-pound note discarded by the poet Shelley is one instance. When he gets back to his home, he finds his mother has locked the window and installed another boy in his place. It's quite nightmarish. The book's portrait of a particular part of London, part real and part imagined, is lovely, and at moments the place springs into life.

Returning up the Broad Walk we have on our right the Baby Walk, which
is so full of perambulators that you could cross from side to side stepping
on babies, but the nurses won't let you do it. From this walk a passage
called Bunting's Thumb, because it is that length, leads into Picnic
Street, where there are real kettles, and chestnut-blossom falls into your
mug as you are drinking. Quite common children picnic here also, and
the blossom falls into their mugs just the same.

My Oxford World's Classics edition, though admirable in many other respects (though not those irritating asterisks that pepper the text - what's wrong with footnotes...?), lacks the Rackham illustrations, several of which may be seen here:

Hello Gareth....I'm an irretrievably 'lost' boy and have loved PETER PAN since my first meeting him played by Ann Todd when I was about seven. Hook was Alastair Sim and Wendy was Joyce Redman.  I have no difficulty entering Barrie's world and I think PPIKG is a deliciously quaint piece of Edwardiana. But it's nowhere near as good as PETER PAN the play which I think is a disturbing (if embraced) masterpiece. 'To die will be an awfully big adventure'.  And I'm rather fond of Barrie's other plays. I've seen THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON and WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS and the lovely DEAR BRUTUS ('I don't wantto be a 'might-have-been'), And THE TWELVE-POUND LOOK.
Your remark about being more interested in the performers than the play is in no way reprehensible.  It's a perfectly good reason for going to the theatre.   It's certainly one of mine.  I love seeing how this or that actress or actor will tackle a famous role.  It's why I've seen Hamlet over twenty times - although that's not a bad play I suppose.  It was the actor who helped the theatre to survive through the dramatically fallow 18th/19thC.
And I love to see great performers who can spin gold out of inferior material.  People like Robertson Hare, Marie Tempest, Donald Sinden, Rex Harrison, A.E. Matthews, Robert Morley.
I'm jealous that you're seeing PETER & ALICE. I love Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw (have you seen him as Ariel in the film TEMPEST with Helen Mirren?).  
As you're not an Alice fan, maybe you haven't paid homage at Alice Liddel's (Alice Hargreaves) grave in Lyndhurst in the New Forest.  I shed a tear when I went.


The above posts sent me to the DVDs of THE LOST BOYS which is a three part series (four and a half hours - BBC. 1978) about the relationship between J.M.Barrie and the Llewelyn-Davies boys and their parents. It's based on Andrew Birkin's indispensible book 'The Lost Boys'.  It's an excellent, careful, moving series which takes its time. Barrie is played by Ian Holm, Sylvia & Arthur Llewelyn-Davies by Ann Bell and Tim Piggot-Smith.
Interestingly - in one scene characters look at the edition of 'Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens' with pictures by Arthur Rackham mentioned above. It looked like an actual copy to me.  
I was reminded that Sylvia was the daughter of artist/novelist George du Maurier, and her brother was actor Gerald du Maurier (the first Capt. Hook).  Gerald was the father of Daphne du Maurier which makes Daphne a cousin of the Llewelyn-Davies boys.


I watched that DVD last year, Mike.  I found it very moving.

The Lost Boys has been on my radar for a while, Mike, but I haven't watched it because I thought not knowing Peter Pan would put me at a disadvantage. Perhaps when I've read the book I'll dig it out.

Read last week, as a prelude to seeing the new John Logan play on Saturday, J.M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy. For various reasons I can't judge the book objectively. My moods were up and down all week, and that may account for the fact that at times I have adored it and at other times not. I imagine it works best as a play, but then the play version must lack some of the beauty of the book's prose, for all that it irritates while it charms. Here's the start:

All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow
up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old
she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with
it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for
Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, 'Oh, why can't you
remain like this for ever!' This was all that passed between them on the
subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always
know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.

Of course they lived at 14, and until Wendy came her mother was the
chief one. She was a lovely lady, with a romantic mind and such a sweet
mocking mouth. Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the
other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover there
is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that
Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the
right-hand corner.

The way Mr. Darling won her was this: the many gentlemen who had been
boys when she was a girl discovered simultaneously that they loved her,
and they all ran to her house to propose to her except Mr. Darling, who
took a cab and nipped in first, and so he got her. He got all of her,
except the innermost box and the kiss. He never knew about the box, and
in time he gave up trying for the kiss. Wendy thought Napoleon could
have got it, but I can picture him trying, and then going off in a
passion, slamming the door.

Mr. Darling used to boast to Wendy that her mother not only loved him
but respected him. He was one of those deep ones who know about stocks
and shares. Of course no one really knows, but he quite seemed to know,
and he often said stocks were up and shares were down in a way that
would have made any woman respect him.

Broadly speaking, this is the tone of the whole book. There are occasional fluctuations, which I suppose come from the novel being an adaptation of the play. If the novel had come first, it would flow better.

'Of course they lived at 14, and until Wendy came her mother was the chief one.' That's the kind of oblique tricksiness that presumably makes some readers fall in love with the book. But not me. Milne and Grahame managed to be charming without resorting to this kind of periphrastic coyness. It reminds me of the drivelly books John Lennon produced in the '60s, all that nonsense derivative of Spike Milligan and Stanley Unwin that puts my teeth on edge. Other opinions are available, I stress, and I know everyone loves Peter Pan and of course this book is much better than those. There's an occasional tweeness that grates, that's all.

Anyway, that's enough grousing, the book's mainly a great joy. If you can forgive its indulgences, its whimsy is intoxicating. I've never been a great one for adventure stories, and the story I could take or leave, but there are reflective passages in the book that tug at the heartstrings, particularly towards the end, where the Darling children are reunited with their parents, and then, in the final chapter which is not part of the play, where Wendy grows up and finds he daughter Jane has met Peter Pan, and the cycle continues. I found the character of Peter tiresome, but that's just who he is, isn't it. He couldn't be any other way.

John Logan's play is fascinating. Mike, if you don't make it to London to see it, you should at least read it. There are three pairs of characters - the real Peter and Alice, the fictional Peter and Alice, and Carroll/Dodgson and Barrie - and there is much play with the overlap of fiction and reality, and the overlap of the two familiar stories. As soon as Alice in the play trotted out the familiar 'I wish I hadn't cried so much,' and talked of drowning in her own tears, I realised it would be tied in with the suicide of Michael Llewelyn Davies, as it was, very sensitively.

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Barrie and 'Peter Pan' Gareth.  I have no problem with what one might call the archness of Barrie's style. His plays are full of whimsical stage directions like 'The curtain sees that it's time has come, and falls.' That's from 'Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire' I think.
I can easily weep at 'Peter Pan'. I remember when a colleague and I took a school party to see the RSC's production years ago at the Barbican. In the epilogue when PP visits the grown-up Wendy and asks her to return to Neverland and Wendy says 'I've forgotten how to fly' there were audible sobs from Maureen and me.  
Barrie created an absolutely unique character in Peter, the boy who never grows up. What a brilliant idea, and full of a sadness and poignancy that increases for me as I get older.  Barrie lived with a lifelong feeling that his mother preferred his brother who died as a boy and was always a boy in her memory.  It's all very sad and can be read about in Barrie's autobiographical 'Margaret Ogilvy'.
I have two posters for PP on my bathroom wall - one for the RSC and the other for the National (Ian McKellen (Hook), Jenny Agutter (Mrs Darling), Daniel Evans (Peter). A wonderfully expensive production.
I have a copy of 'Alice & Peter'.
I have always loved Judi Dench and am falling in love with Ben Whishaw.

I'm finding these comments fascinating.  I've just discovered that Thomas Hardy's widow, Florence, got engaged to J. M. Barrie after Hardy's death but then Barrie got cold feet and called the engagement off.

(Incidentally, one psychoanalysis of Hardy I found described him as a "Peter Pan " figure but his first wife, Emma, was also an eternal adolescent and their marriage was a failure as they were both searching for a parent figure.)
Green Jay

Hardy, then Mrs Hardy and J M Barrie - now there's a love tangle destined to fail!

I'm not particularly enamoured of Peter Pan - I find too much of it odd -  but still have vague memories of the lovely series on TV years ago, with Ian Holm coughing over his pipe, and the beautiful Anne Bell as the boys' mother. I must have known about the connection with the du Mauriers as I read Daphne du Maurier's biography years ago but I had forgotten, or it did not sink in. A tragic family, it does seem to encapsulate some of the mythic quality of the Edwardian golden summer and the loss of the flower of that generation.

My Peter Pan posters...

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