Places: Peter Ibbetson

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1891

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Passy

*Passy Peter Ibbetson (PAH-see). Small community on the western edge of Paris, where Peter Ibbetson spends his childhood. Idealizing his own childhood, George du Maurier created an edenic setting for Peter. Passy is a place of freshness and innocence, filled with beautiful people, music, and flowers such as “roses, nasturtiums and convolvulus, wall-flowers, sweet-pease and carnations,” all seeming to be perpetually in bloom. Memories of this childhood home, of idealized family, friends, and school, give Peter a rich inner life which sustains him when his parents die and he moves to England to live with his uncle, Colonel Ibbetson. As an adult, Peter revisits Passy but finds it altered for the worse. The Passy of his youth is the place of his outer life when he is a child and the predominant locale of his inner dream life when he is an adult.


*Paris. Capital of France and the location of many of Peter’s boyhood adventures. Through Peter, du Maurier vividly describes the sights, sounds, and scents of old Paris. At times, the novel reads almost like a guide book to Paris, with lists of historical places that Peter and his friends frequent: the Island of St. Louis, the Island of the City, the Pont Neuf, and the winding streets and alleyways that were destroyed when Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann undertook the renovation of Paris. Old Paris is further romanticized as Peter’s reading of novels colors his vision of the city. Peter, the adult, feels nostalgia for the Paris of his youth when he returns and sees the changes in the city.


*Pentonville. London suburb in which Peter, the young adult, is an apprentice to an architect. This community represents for Peter the drab, dreary English life of philistinism and respectability. The outward bleakness of the town itself and the people he meets contribute to his growing isolation.


*London. Capital of Great Britain and the location of Peter’s trial and imprisonment. In London, Peter is most isolated, but his prison cell becomes the location of his nightly dreaming so that although he is physically confined, he is mentally liberated.

Magna sed Apta

Magna sed Apta. In Peter’s dreamworld, a house based on Parva sed Apta, the home of his childhood playmate Mimsey Seraskier, later Mary, Duchess of Towers. If the Seraskiers’ house in Passy was “small but fit,” this dream house is truly “large but fit.” It contains every room that either Peter or Mary has ever seen, allowing them to visit the great museums and theaters of the world. They venture outside and eventually learn to travel through time, seeing the past through their ancestors. This large, expansive house of Peter’s inner world sharply contrasts with the physically limited world of the prison cell. Magna sed Apta, located in the dreamworld Passy of Peter’s childhood, lets him revisit childhood scenes and watch himself and Mary in their idealized youth. This aspect of the dreamworld expresses the adult’s romantic longing for the idealized past and provides a means of recapturing it.

*Mare d’Auteuil

*Mare d’Auteuil (MAHR do-TUI). Small pond in the Bois de Boulogne, a wooded park, in Passy. Appearing several times during the novel, the pond is associated early on with Peter’s childhood happiness, with young lovers, and with dreams. As a young man in England, Peter daydreams about Passy, and has especially fond memories of the Mare d’Auteuil. When he and Mary begin to meet nightly in their dreamworld, the pond is one of the favorite haunts of this young couple. Although in reality the pond, like the rest of Passy, has changed, has become “imperially respectable” with “No more frogs or newts . . . but gold and silver fish in vulgar Napoleonic profusion,” the pond of his dreams is ever the pond of his childhood. It is the place he goes when Mary dies, and he believes that he has been left alone on earth and in his dream Mary comes back from the dead to meet him and assure him that they will spend eternity together.

BibliographyJames, Henry. “George du Maurier.” Harper’s Weekly Magazine 38 (April 14, 1894): 341-342. A short but perceptive discussion of Peter Ibbetson and Trilby. As a personal friend of du Maurier and as a great novelist himself, James’s commentary on du Maurier’s fiction is highly instructive.Kelly, Richard Michael. The Art of George du Maurier. Hants, England: Scolar Press, 1995. Examines the relationship between du Maurier’s art and his fiction.Kelly, Richard Michael. George du Maurier. Boston, Twayne, 1983. A comprehensive discussion and analysis of du Maurier’s life, art, and novels. Contains a lengthy analysis of Peter Ibbetson that explores the psychodynamics of the work.Ormond, Leonee. George du Maurier. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1969. The definitive biography of du Maurier, profusely illustrated. Ormond relates many elements of du Maurier’s life directly to the subjects and themes of Peter Ibbetson.Stevenson, Lionel. “George du Maurier and the Romantic Novel.” In Essays by Divers Hands, edited by N. Wallis Wallis. London: Oxford University Press, 1960. Argues persuasively that du Maurier’s three novels are “masterpieces of romantic fiction.”Wood, T. Martin. George du Maurier, the Satirist of the Victorians: A Review of His Art and Personality. London: Chatto & Windus, 1913. Contains an appreciative commentary on Peter Ibbetson, concluding, “It is by this book I like to think du Maurier will be remembered as a writer.”
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