Sir James Matthew Barrie was a Scottish novelist and playwright, best remembered today as the creator of Peter Pan. He was born and educated in Scotland before moving to London. After graduating from Edinburgh University in 1882, Barrie worked as a journalist. He published his first novel, Better Dead, in 1887. Barrie soon had several popular Scottish novels.
After this success, Barrie began writing plays in London in 1890s. His play, Walker London, was warmly received. The comedy poked fun at the institution of marriage. He got married himself in 1894 to actress Mary Ansell, but it didn’t turn out to be a happy union, ending in divorce.
Perhaps to escape his difficult home life, Barrie took to going out for long walks in London’s Kensington Gardens, where he met the five Llewelyn Davies brothers in the late 1890s. They inspired him to write about a baby boy who has magical adventures in Kensington Gardens (included in The Little White Bird), then to write Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, a “fairy play” about an ageless boy and an ordinary girl named Wendy who have adventures in the fantasy setting of Neverland.
Barrie would later become the boys’ guardian after the death of their parents.
Although he continued to write successfully, Peter Pan overshadowed his other work, and is credited with popularising the then-uncommon name Wendy.
Barrie was made a baronet by George V in 1913, and a member of the Order of Merit in the 1922 New Year Honours. Before his death, he gave the rights to the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, which continues to benefit from them.
After Peter Pan, Barrie continued plays, mostly darker work aimed at adults. The Twelve-Pound Look (1910) offers a glimpse inside an unhappy marriage and Half an Hour (1913) follows a woman who plans on leaving her husband for another man, but she decides she must stay when her husband severely injured in a bus accident. His last major play, Mary Rose, was produced in 1920 and centered on a son visited by his mother’s ghost.