Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon

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Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon

Category: Biography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: An intriguing if sometimes slightly far-fetched psychological study of J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, and his infatuation with the du Maurier family.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099520450

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According to D.H. Lawrence, J.M. Barrie has a fatal touch for those he loves. They die.

Barrie had an extraordinary fascination with a childlike world of innocence and young boys who never grew up. Had it merely stopped at creating Peter Pan, all well and good. Unfortunately this obsession manifested itself in an unhealthy involvement with others, notably the du Maurier family. Dudgeon argues that it was because he was childless and impotent, and wanted to belong to their family because he saw them as sharing a family secret which promised the eternal youth that Barrie had been denied. It began with his devotion to Trilby, the novel by George du Maurier, which told the story of a man's control of a young artist's model. George's grandsons were the four Llewelyn Davis brothers, the original models for the Lost Boys of Neverland in Peter Pan. The boys' parents died relatively young, and Barrie became their unofficial trustee and guardian, providing financial support for them until they were able to do so themselves.

Two of the boys died young, one in the First World War and one in what was apparently a suicide pact with a fellow Oxford student not long afterwards. A third later deliberately threw himself under a train, although he was admittedly seriously if not terminally ill at the time. Dudgeon argues that the boys had been psychologically programmed, and that their deaths were partly to be explained by a determination to escape from Barrie's control.

Even the boys' cousin, Daphne du Maurier, became implicated, albeit rather more tenuously. It is suggested that as Rebecca's supernatural spirit was the spirit of a boy, she was writing Jim's demon boy into her life . (Barrie was always 'Uncle Jim' to the next generation). Still driven by the demon boy, she went on to have two affairs with women. Hmm.

It doesn't stop there. Captain Scott of the Antarctic, it appears, also fell under Barrie's malign influence, and believed himself to be a hero, otherwise he would never have embarked on his fatal quest for the South Pole. And Barrie's elder brother was killed in a skating accident at the age of 13, largely because his sibling knocked him down on the ice, a tragedy from which their mother never recovered. Did this make him the first of his brother's victims? Dudgeon suggests perhaps it did, and maybe D.H. Lawrence would not have disagreed.

I was left with the feeling that the author's theorising is a little far-fetched in places, that he tends to make assumptions and jump to psychological conclusions rather too readily. May God blast anyone who writes a biography of me, Barrie once wrote. (Mr D, you can't say you weren't warned). He certainly reveals his subject as a rather unpleasant individual, a mind-controlling hypnotist who possessed the Davies brothers and Daphne du Maurier, even beyond the grave. Nevertheless, when he talks about him trying to hypnotise the boys, and goes on to explain about a cognitive social context in which the roles of hypnotist and subject are constantly reinforced, my eyes tend to glaze over. But for all its flaws, this is a fascinating, even captivating read.

Our thanks to Vintage for sending a copy to Bookbag.

If you enjoyed this, why not also try The Sunlight on the Garden: A Family in Love, War and Madness by Elizabeth Speller.

Buy Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland by Piers Dudgeon at Amazon.com.


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Jude O'Reardon said:

I agreed wholeheartedly with the unrealistic emphasis on hypnosis & its powers to take one outside of reality. We all know that hypnosis can only take people where they WANT to go. Kicky & Barrie were allowed to drown in their own self-imposed hypnotic escapes.