Monday, 14 May 2012

You need never read this book

Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter PanNeverland: J.M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

First off, I finished reading this book out of pure altruism: so you won't have to. All right, it's also because I paid for the damned thing. I found it in the bargain bin of my local bookstore and it certainly looked interesting.

And it's not a boring read, it's just a really really really irritating read. I was about a third of the way through when I pulled Andrew Birkin's J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys out of my shelves to remind myself what a good book on the subject is like. (And seriously, Andrew Birkin's book is what you need if you want a better picture of the truly eerie story of James Barrie and his relationship with the five young Llewellyn-Davies brothers; trust me, the film Finding Neverland is nowhere near what really happened.)

Then I found myself reading other, totally unrelated books because I was wasting too much time hurling this one across the room.

Finally, I forced myself to finish it and will now try to get Piers Dudgeon's general arguments in a nutshell. This will not be easy because his book swings back and forth like a pendulum, between the DuMaurier family -- particularly Daphne DuMaurier, author of Rebecca and The Birds among many other things, and her grandfather George DuMaurier, creator of Svengali -- and Barrie himself. (Daphne's aunt Sylvia DuMaurier was the mother of the five Llewellyn-Davies brothers.)


James Barrie, author and playwright and creator of Peter Pan, was Satan.

He used his plays and books as "alchemic texts" to ensnare and mesmerize Sylvia and her vulnerable sons, as well as Daphne DuMaurier and her handsome and shallow father Gerald DuMaurier. This was apparently done by Barrie's imagining what he wanted his targets to become (inspired by the works of George DuMaurier, even though there is no evidence that the two authors met -- although Dudgeon thinks they did and says so repeatedly) and then writing them into his plays and novels, thus gaining power over them: "Theatre-goers lapped up his supernatural plays, but never quite understood why," Dudgeon claims, even though he states in a later chapter that Peter Pan is the one work by Barrie that has endured. Are we to gather by this that only early-twentieth-century audiences were susceptible to Barrie's demonic machinations?

Furthermore, J.M. Barrie was apparently responsible for the deaths of:
a)his brother David (no actual evidence, but Dudgeon thinks it's likely);
b)his sister's fiancé (Barrie gave him the horse that threw him);
c)Captain Robert Scott (Barrie apparently planted the idea in Scott's mind that he was a heroic explorer and dissuaded him from using dogs in his fatal expedition to the South Pole);
d)Arthur and Sylvia Llewellyn-Davies (who both died of cancer four years apart, but Dudgeon assures us that Daphne DuMaurier killed off Gertrude Lawrence the same way, also by the use of "alchemic texts");
e)Michael, Peter, and Jack Llewellyn-Davies (possible suicide, definite suicide, ill heath -- but Barrie, by then long-dead, had never liked Jack that much...)

Remarkably, Dudgeon does not seem to blame Barrie for the falling in battle during the First World War of his favourite Llewellyn-Davies brother, George, nor for the demise of his producer Charles Frohman who was on his way back to England at Barrie's request on the Lusitania which was torpedoed by the Germans.

At one point, Dudgeon quotes Daphne DuMaurier's biographer Margaret Forster who criticized Daphne for mixing documentary fact 'in the most awkward fashion with entirely imaginary suppositions, greatly to [the book's]detriment'. That sums up this book perfectly. Go read Birkin's book instead.

Now, I'm going to toss this into the give-away box, but not before marking it up in pencil to warn the unwary. Then I'm going to read something by someone who writes well, has a good editor, and doesn't use speculation instead of research.

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Lisa Guidarini said...

I'd put Neverland on my to be read list at some point or other, so you've saved this reader much aggravation. Good thing you got it on sale...

Persephone said...

Lisa, my work is done.