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Thursday, 23 September 2021

The Real-Life Tragedy of Peter Pan

Intriguingly, it could be said that Peter Pan and Captain Hook are buried close together at the church of St John-At-Hampstead.   Hampstead has long been a place for the rich and famous of London to live, away from the hustle and bustle. Its location is on a hill elevated above the city with natural spring waters. It is thought there has been a site of worship here since after 986AD when Hampstead was given to the monks of Westminster Abbey. The first record of a church here 1312 with a bishop by the name of John de Neuport.

In 1812, the churchyard became too full and an over-spill graveyard just the other side of the street was procured. It is in one corner of this quiet graveyard that you will find the family grave of the Llewelyn-Davies family.   Arthur (1863-1907) and Sylvia (1866-1910) Llewelyn Davies had 5 boys: George, Jack, Peter, Michael and Nicholas. George and Jack were out walking one day in 1897 with their Nanny in Kensington Gardens when they met J M Barrie, future author of Peter Pan. Barrie went on to befriend the whole family and became a big part of their lives. They went on holidays together and he supporting them financially and emotionally after Arthur’s death. After Sylvia’s death in 1910 he became the children’s guardian and was known to them as ‘Uncle Jim’.

The Llewelyn-Davies family became his inspiration for the Darling family in Peter Pan with the title character of Peter being named after Peter Llewelyn-Davies. The character of Peter, Barrie said, was an amalgamation of the five boy’s personalities.

Tragically the Llewelyn children had generally unhappy and short lives. George died at the age of 21 as a soldier in the First World War and Michael drowned at the age of 20 in 1921 (thought to be a suicide). Peter also took his own life in 1960 at the age of 63 by throwing himself under a train. He was taunted at Eton for the connection with Peter Pan and believed that Barrie had exploited him. He called Peter Pan ‘that terrible masterpiece’ and it is thought that the association led him to alcoholism and depression.

Captain HookThe story of Peter Pan was, to begin with, a play and was first performed in 1904 at the Duke of York’s theatre in the West End. The villain, Captain Hook, was played by Gerald Du Maurier. You can find him buried right by the Llewelyn-Davies family grave. But why are they buried so close? Gerald was the brother of Sylvia Llewellyn-Davies and uncle to the Llewelyn-Davies boys. Gerald’s daughter was the author, Daphne du Maurier.    Credit: LivingLondonHistory.Com

I'm listening to the fabulous Joni Mitchell singing one of her very lovely songs from the album BlueYou can listen to Carey here.


Parnassus said...

Apparently it is a mistake to include children in fictional (or other) writing using their real names. I think in Hels' blog there was a discussion of the torments that the real Christopher Robin Milne went though. It is not hard to imagine the kids at school ridiculing these whimsical characters. Barrie's writing seems odd and over the top to me, but in his day he seems to have been much appreciated. In the U.S. there is a humorist coincidentally named Dave Barry who is very good writing about the humorous things in his daily life, but when his son was growing up he told all kinds of embarrassing or funny stories about him. I wonder about how Rob Barry feels about or has been affected by this incidental fame.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - interesting post about the family. It always fascinated me about the fact that In 1929, J. M. Barrie donated the copyright to Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital - which does so much for very sick children, and has been at the forefront of children's care.

Thanks ... we can learn so much from those early graveyards ... all the best - Hilary

hels said...

I don't know of I worried about Barrie because of his Peter Pan stories, or because of the analyses that I read of the author later. Did Barrie actually root the Davies boys? Probably not, but his values (substituting for the mother; admiring and encouraging childhood instead of maturity etc) were really worrying.

I worked for Victoria's Child Maltreatment programme for a very long time.

bazza said...

Jim: Many comedians use their relatives for humorous purposes but I always assume/hope that they have been given a false persona. I know of Dave Barry but he's very low profile in the UK.
It seems that many sons and daughters of famous people grow up with strong resentment towards their famous parent.

bazza said...

Hilary: I chose not to show the photos of those graves although, admittedly, they are interesting. The royalties from Peter Pan have been granted to GOSH in perpetuity!

bazza said...

Hels: I share your concerns but, as there has never actually ever been any hint of wrong-doing, I didn't mention it. I do feel that he may have used the children in a selfish way. I feel in a similar way about Lewis Carol/Charles Dodgson & Alice Liddell.

Sherry Ellis said...

How fascinating that there was a real Peter and a family that inspired Peter Pan!

bazza said...

Sherry: I suppose that many works of fiction have been inspired by real-life people and events.