Sentimental Tommy – James M. Barrie
To turn from George Elliot’s Tom Tulliver to Sentimental Tommy is to encounter the maladies of the soul. It is to leave the firm and solid ground of ordinary boyhood for the quicksands of a character that is almost feminine in its subtlety, hard to understand, and harder still to love. Tommy, in his shifting moods, his substitution of feeling for principle, his delight in his own exceeding cleverness, is at times more girl than boy. Even his kindness of heart, his gentleness, his constitutional disregard of truth, his supreme emotionalism, his desire to be masterful, not by riding roughly and gayly through life, but by holding and handling and hurting the hearts of those who love him—all these interesting attributes savor a little of femininity. Only his peculiar innocence, untarnished, almost untouched by his broad and premature knowledge of evil, proclaims him still the boy. It would seem at first sight that London ought to be a better field than Thrums for so versatile a genius, yet it finds its really harmonious setting in the Scotch hamlet. Even the most wonderful of little scamps is lost in the vast scampishness of the world’s greatest city; but in Thrums Tommy’s remarkable gifts win instant recognition. His one grand London exploit at the supper for juvenile criminals is not half so telling as his simpler device of outwitting the schoolmaster by cutting off Francie Crabbe’s curls. Nor could he, in the London slums, have lived so thrillingly that double life—by day a schoolboy, insignificant, unknown; by night, under the friendly moon, a royal exile, whoso handful of brave followers have sworn to restore to him the throne of his ancient and ill-fated race …
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J. M. Barrie’s literary career (from Wikipedia):
Barrie knew that he wished to follow a career as an author. However, his family attempted to persuade him to choose a profession such as the ministry. With advice from Alexander, he was able to work out a compromise: he would attend a university, but would study literature. Barrie enrolled at the University of Edinburgh where he wrote drama reviews for the Edinburgh Evening Courant. He graduated and obtained an M.A. on 21 April 1882.
Following a job advertisement found by his sister in The Scotsman, he worked for a year and a half as a staff journalist on the Nottingham Journal. He then returned to Kirriemuir. He submitted a piece to the St. James’s Gazette, a London newspaper, using his mother’s stories about the town where she grew up (renamed „Thrums“). The editor „liked that Scotch thing“ so well that Barrie ended up writing a series of these stories. They served as the basis for his first novels: Auld Licht Idylls (1888), A Window in Thrums (1890), and The Little Minister (1891).
The stories depicted the „Auld Lichts“, a strict religious sect to which his grandfather had once belonged. Modern literary criticism of these early works has been unfavourable, tending to disparage them as sentimental and nostalgic depictions of a parochial Scotland, far from the realities of the industrialised nineteenth century, but they were popular enough at the time to establish Barrie as a successful writer. Following that success, he published Better Dead (1888) privately and at his own expense, but it failed to sell. His two „Tommy“ novels, Sentimental Tommy (1896) and Tommy and Grizel (1900), were about a boy and young man who clings to childish fantasy, with an unhappy ending.
Meanwhile, Barrie’s attention turned increasingly to works for the theatre, beginning with a biography of Richard Savage, written by Barrie and H. B. Marriott Watson; unfortunately, it was performed only once and critically panned. He immediately followed this with Ibsen’s Ghost (or Toole Up-to-Date)(1891), a parody of Henrik Ibsen’s dramas Hedda Gabler and Ghosts. Ghosts had been unlicensed in the UK until 1914, but had created a sensation at the time from a single „club“ performance.
The production of Ibsen’s Ghost at Toole’s Theatre in London was seen by William Archer, the translator of Ibsen’s works into English. Apparently comfortable with the parody, he enjoyed the humour of the play and recommended it to others. Barrie’s third play Walker, London (1892) resulted in him being introduced to a young actress named Mary Ansell. He proposed to her and they were married on 9 July 1894. Barrie bought her a Saint Bernard puppy, who played a part in the novel The Little White Bird. He used Ansell’s given name for many characters in his novels. Barrie also authored Jane Annie, a comic opera for Richard D’Oyly Carte (1893), which unfortunately failed. He begged his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to revise and finish it for him.
In 1901 and 1902, he had back-to-back successes; Quality Street was about a respectable, responsible old maid who poses as her own flirtatious niece to try to win the attention of a former suitor returned from the war. Following that, The Admirable Crichton was a critically acclaimed social commentary with elaborate staging, about an aristocratic family and their household servants shipwrecked on a desert island. Under these difficult circumstances, a male household member seems better suited to taking on the responsibilities of leadership than the lord of the manor.
The character of „Peter Pan“ first appeared in The Little White Bird. The novel was published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton in 1902, and serialised in the US in the same year in Scribner’s Magazine. Barrie’s more famous and enduring work Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up had its first stage performance on 27 December 1904. This play introduced audiences to the name Wendy; it was inspired by a young girl named Margaret Henley who called Barrie „Friendy“, but could not pronounce her Rs very well. The Bloomsbury scenes show the societal constraints of late Victorian and Edwardian middle class domestic reality, contrasted with Neverland, a world where morality is ambivalent. George Bernard Shaw described the play as „ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children but really a play for grown-up people“, suggesting deeper social metaphors at work in Peter Pan.
Barrie had a long string of successes on the stage after Peter Pan, many of which discuss social concerns, as Barrie continued to integrate his work and his beliefs. The Twelve Pound Look (1921) concerns a wife divorcing a peer and gaining an independent income. Other plays, such as Mary Rose (1920) and Dear Brutus (1917), revisit the idea of the ageless child and parallel worlds.
Barrie was involved in the 1909 and 1911 attempts to challenge the censorship of the theatre by the Lord Chamberlain, along with a number of other playwrights.
In 1911, Barrie developed the Peter Pan play into the novel Peter and Wendy. In April 1929, Barrie gave the copyright of the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital, a leading children’s hospital in London. The current status of the copyright is somewhat complex.
His final play was The Boy David (1936), which dramatised the Biblical story of King Saul and the young David. Like the role of Peter Pan, that of David was played by a woman, Elisabeth Bergner, for whom Barrie wrote the play.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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