Authors: Sir James Barrie

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Scottish playwright and novelist

Author Works


Ibsen’s Ghost: Or, Toole up to Date, pr. 1891

Richard Savage, pr., pb. 1891 (with H. B. M. Watson)

Walker, London, pr. 1892

The Professor’s Love Story, pr. 1892

The Little Minister, pr. 1897 (adaptation of his novel)

The Wedding Guest, pr., pb. 1900

Quality Street, pr. 1902

The Admirable Crichton, pr. 1902

Little Mary, pr. 1903

Peter Pan: Or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, pr. 1904

Alice-Sit-bythe-Fire, pr. 1905

Josephine, pr. 1906

Punch, pr. 1906

What Every Woman Knows, pr. 1908

The Twelve-Pound Look, pr. 1910

The Will, pr. 1913

Der Tag: Or, The Tragic Man, pr., pb. 1914

The New Word, pr. 1915

A Kiss for Cinderella, pr. 1916

Dear Brutus, pr. 1917

The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, pr. 1917

Barbara’s Wedding, pb. 1918

A Well-Remembered Voice, pr., pb. 1918

Mary Rose, pr. 1920

Shall We Join the Ladies?, pr. 1921

The Boy David, pr. 1936

Representative Plays, pb. 1954

Long Fiction:

Better Dead, 1887

When a Man’s Single, 1888

The Little Minister, 1891

Sentimental Tommy, 1896

Tommy and Grizel, 1900

The Little White Bird, 1902

Short Fiction:

Auld Licht Idylls, 1888

An Edinburgh Eleven, 1889

A Window in Thrums, 1889


Margaret Ogilvy, 1896


James Matthew Barrie was born at Kirriemuir, Scotland, on May 9, 1860, into the family of a poor Scottish weaver. He would one day make his native village famous as the fictional village of Thrums. Despite their poverty, David Barrie and his wife, born Margaret Ogilvy, gave their children all the education they could. The father worked long hours at his loom, so the mother was much closer to their children, particularly in the case of James. It was largely through the influence of his mother that James Barrie became a man of culture and letters, but her influence also made him a sentimentalist and something of a snob.{$I[AN]9810001519}{$I[A]Barrie, Sir James}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Barrie, Sir James}{$I[geo]SCOTLAND;Barrie, Sir James}{$I[tim]1860;Barrie, Sir James}

Barrie’s schooling was acquired in many places, including several schools operated by his brother, A. O. Barrie, himself famous in the British educational world. By dint of hard work, James Barrie graduated from Edinburgh University and took his M.A. in 1882; his university record was undistinguished. Early in 1883, Barrie applied successfully by mail for a job as a writer on the staff of the Nottingham Journal. As a journalist, Barrie turned out thousands of words weekly on many subjects, although none of his writing for the newspapers was remotely of literary quality. His first literary effort to be published was an article entitled “An Auld Licht Community,” in the London St. James Gazette, in 1884. This article was written at his parents’ home, shortly after Barrie had lost his job in Nottingham. Several other “Auld Licht” sketches followed and were published, launching Barrie’s literary career. Filled with enthusiasm, Barrie moved to London, despite the fact that Frederick Greenwood, editor of the St. James Gazette, discouraged the change.

Once in London, Barrie began to write in earnest, and Better Dead, a book based on his experience as a journalist, was published. The following year saw three books which cemented the author’s popularity: Auld Licht Idylls, a sentimental collection about life in Kirriemuir; When a Man’s Single, a novel about life as a journalist; and An Edinburgh Eleven, sketches of famous men of that city. A Window in Thrums was highly popular, but its very success was a mixed blessing for Barrie: It identified him as the leader of the Kailyard School. The term, a derogatory one, was applied by critics to authors who wrote sentimental, humorous fiction about Scottish life, using dialect and ignoring anything which might be considered harsh or ugly. Barrie’s The Little Minister is typical of the type.

Although he began to write for the stage in 1894, Barrie’s career until about 1900 was that of a novelist, for he continued to publish idylls such as Sentimental Tommy and Tommy and Grizel. The 1890’s, however, were an important decade in many ways for Barrie. In addition to changing careers from that of novelist to dramatist, he changed his personal life. In 1894, he married an actress, Mary Ansell. The marriage was unsuccessful, and a divorce followed in 1909. Perhaps the fault was Barrie’s; he clung throughout life to attitudes of adolescence. The influence of his mother, too, may have marred the marriage. This is the evidence implied in Margaret Ogilvy, a biography of his mother that Barrie published in 1896.

As early as 1891, Barrie had plays on the stage. In that year, three of his one-act plays were produced. He dramatized several of his prose works, including The Little Minister. The star of that play was Maude Adams, who appeared also in Quality Street and Peter Pan. When she opened in The Little Minister in New York, Barrie came to the United States, taking the opportunity to deny the authorship of several sentimental and scandalous volumes that had been published there.

By 1903, Barrie’s reputation as a dramatist was something of a sensation. In that year, he had three plays on the stage–Quality Street, The Admirable Crichton, and Little Mary. In the following year, his outstanding success, Peter Pan, appeared; the play has endeared Barrie to generations of children and adults alike. It is important to remember that Barrie achieved critical acclaim–as well as popularity–as a dramatist as early as the production of The Little Minister in 1897. After that time, Barrie’s reputation with critics may have wavered somewhat, but it generally remained high.

Although he wrote many plays, only a few are memorable. The Admirable Crichton, which is (after Peter Pan) perhaps the most enduring of all Barrie’s work, was unusual at the time of its production, for no one had dreamed before of a play with a butler as the leading character. Novel as it was, the play was a success. Another play, Quality Street, illustrates the charm and whimsical grace that Barrie was able to introduce into his plays. Best known to the general public of all Barrie’s works is Peter Pan: Or, The Boy Who Never Grew Up, a play which grew out of games that Barrie played with his friends’ children. Out of the play has emerged a group of immortal characters: Peter Pan, Wendy, Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, and Nana the dog.

Two other plays by Barrie also deserve notice: What Every Woman Knows and Dear Brutus. The first play is a well-knit affair telling how a woman makes a success out of a dull husband; the latter is similar to Peter Pan in that it moves into a dream world in which its characters have a second chance at life. In Dear Brutus, as in other later works, Barrie preached his creed that one should prefer a heavenly failure to a too-worldly success.

Critical acclaim and a number of honors came to Barrie before his death. His alma mater, Edinburgh University, and Saint Andrews (of which he was rector from 1919 to 1922) conferred the LL.D. upon him. English universities were not to be outdone; Oxford and Cambridge both awarded him the honorary D.Litt. Barrie was made a baronet in 1913, and he received the Order of Merit in 1922, in recognition of his service to his country during World War I. He died in London on June 19, 1937.

BibliographyAsquith, Cynthia, Lady. Portrait of Barrie. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1955. Written by Barrie’s friend and secretary, this biography is a sympathetic portrait of an enigmatic man, his early life, his relationship with his mother, his friendships (notably with H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw), his unhappy personal life and its attendant depressions, his shyness, his genuine modesty, and his extraordinary generosity.Chaney, Lisa. Hide and Seek with Angels: A Life of J. M. Barrie. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006. Using interviews conducted with Barrie, along with his diaries and notebooks, Chaney provides readers with a fresh look at the life and works of this complex writer. The book delves into his precarious relationships with family members, as well as with the boys he helped raise, who served as inspiration for Peter Pan. Broken into twenty-five chapters, this volume sheds light on Barrie’s life as few others have.Dunbar, Janet. J. M. Barrie: The Man Behind the Image. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970. Because Dunbar had access to private papers, she was able to reveal more of Barrie’s life than had commonly been known. The book deals with the influence of various women in his life, including his mother, his wife, his secretary, and the mother of the five boys he adopted, one of whom became the model for Peter Pan. The relevant facts are used to show how they supplied Barrie with the material for his plays.Eaton, Walter Prichard. The Drama in English. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930. A chapter on the playwright, written by a distinguished critic of the day, attempts to define Barrie’s contribution to theater. Barrie has been accused of excessive sentimentality and escapism, but Eaton saw him as a satirist who used bitter humor to achieve reality without realism. Thus, The Admirable Crichton, a comedy of manners, is a subtle attack on the class system; Dear Brutus, a fantasy allowing people to have a second chance at life, shows that they would make precisely the same mistakes; and Peter Pan, a fantasy about a boy who can fly, proves that the world of grown-ups is so ugly that it is better to remain forever a child.Elder, Michael. The Young James Barrie. New York: Roy, 1968. An examination of Barrie’s childhood and youth. Illustrated by Susan Gibson.Geduld, Harry M. Sir James Barrie. New York: Twayne, 1971. An excellent study of Barrie’s plays and novels, which are reappraised following the decline in his reputation. The author, while admitting that Barrie may have been overpraised in his lifetime, nevertheless argues that modern critics have failed to appreciate the satirical elements in Barrie’s writings and have too often dismissed him as a sentimentalist.Hammerton, J. A. Barrie: The Story of a Genius. London: Sampson Low, Marston, 1929. Written eight years before Barrie’s death, this biography is a trifle too adulatory, but it offers a fair view of contemporary estimates of Barrie’s life and contributions. Particularly valuable for its illustrations.Hanson, Bruce K. The Peter Pan Chronicles: The Nearly One Hundred Year History of “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.” Secaucus, N.J.: Carol, 1993. A study of the story of Peter Pan, from its genesis with Barrie to its many adaptations. Bibliography and index.Jack, Ronald D. S. The Road to the Never Land: A Reassessment of J. M. Barrie’s Dramatic Art. Aberdeen, Scotland: Aberdeen University Press, 1991. A modern critical examination of Barrie’s plays. Bibliography and index.Mackail, Denis. The Story of J. M. B. London: Peter Davies, 1941. One of the best biographies of Barrie, with emphasis on the way Barrie’s life and art blended. The author discusses Barrie’s affinity for children, whom he understood as few adults do; it was this childlike quality that was the hallmark of his writing.Ormond, Leonée. J. M. Barrie. Scottish Writers 10. Edinburgh, Scotland: Scotland Academic Press, 1987. Ormond provides biographical information on Barrie as well as critical interpretation of his works. Bibliography and index.Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan: Or, The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. A scholarly examination of the story of Peter Pan as a fictional work for children. Bibliography and index.Wullschläger, Jackie. Inventing Wonderland: The Lives and Fantasies of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, J. M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame, and A. A. Milne. New York: Free Press, 1995. A study of the lives and fantasy literature of Barrie and several other nineteenth and twentieth century British authors. Bibliography and index.Yeoman, Ann. Now or Neverland: Peter Pan and the Myth of Eternal Youth: A Psychological Perspective on a Cultural Icon. Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian Analysts 82. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1998. A psychological approach to the Peter Pan character created by Barrie. Bibliography and index.
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