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J M Barrie (1860 - 1937)

One of Scotland’s greatest novelists and dramatists and remembered fondly by many as the creator of Peter Pan.

James Matthew Barrie

JM Barrie sits among the long list of distinguished literary alumni the University of Edinburgh continues to cultivate.

The likes of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and, more recently, best-selling author Ian Rankin and Man Booker International Prize winner Jokha Alharthi, demonstrate that the University endures as an enriching environment for budding writers.

Edinburgh’s influence

Barrie enrolled at the University of Edinburgh after leaving Dumfries Academy. While a student, he wrote theatrical reviews for the Edinburgh Evening Courant. After graduating in 1882, he moved to London to work as a journalist and pursue his literary ambitions. He published his first novel, Better Dead, in 1887 and after some success with fiction that dramatised the lives of rural populations in western Scotland, began writing plays in the 1890s.

The boy who never grew up

Barrie’s childhood has been analysed as a major catalyst behind his work. He was born in Kirriemuir, Forfarshire in 1860 and, as the son of a hand-loom weaver, his childhood was fraught with poverty.

At the age of 6, his elder brother passed away and his mother never recovered from the loss. Critics suggest that Barrie’s focus on feminine identity, immortality and exile in his fiction was the result of his fractured relationship with his mother and his early experiences of death.

The Llewellyn Davies family

From around 1894, Barrie’s friendship with the Llewellyn Davies family led to the formulation of the Peter Pan tales and, 10 years later, the play was staged in New York and London.

Barrie's fairytale about the innocence of childhood tapped into something universal and, since then, there have been hundreds of dramatisations, prequels, sequels and spinoffs including a Disney cartoon version in 1953 and, most recently, a film version in 2003.

Barrie playing Neverland with Michael Llewelyn Davies

Barrie’s legacy at Edinburgh

Following a successful career, Barrie was bestowed with a baronet and an Order of Merit and served as Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh from 1930 until his death in 1937.

The popularity of his novels and plays never ceases to endure. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Other Plays remains on the reading list for undergraduate students studying Scottish literature and, in 2014, Dr Jonny Murray, a Senior Lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, published a paper entitled The Boy Who Never Grew Up? J. M. Barrie and Cinema.

Read more

J M Barrie - the Dumfries Years (1873 - 1878) - The Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust

J M Barrie (1860-1937) - National Records of Scotland