Costumes of English Literary Characters: Peter Pan


Figure 1.--This charming sculpture by George Frampton of Peter pan is probably the most beloved sculpture in the world. It is located in London's Kensington Gardens. Barrie arranged for the sculpture to be erected overnight so that children visiting the park the following day would think that it had appeared as if by magic.

Perhaps the most beloved literary characters of all time is Sir James Barrie's Peter Pan. It was first presented on stage in 1904. Peter is a imaginary boy, leading the nursery-bound Darling children through exciting adventures. Peter is remembered for the Peter Pan collar. This was an existing fashion, but acquired the name because of illustrations for the book and theatrical costuming used in for Peter. Barrie wrote Peter Pan as a kind of tribute to the sons of his friends Sylvia and Arthur Llewelyn Davies. It was notably different than his earlier, more mature, realistic works that he had written and was to write. Peter Pan was more of a fantasy work, but it was not an ordinary fairy tale. Like Peter Pan himself, Barrie was a boy who refused to grow up. All of Barrie's ealirer work pailed in comparison to his next work--Peter Pan. His other works paled into minor footnotes in stage history when Barrie received iunstant fame in 1904 after the spectacularly successful production of Peter Pan. The poetic fairy tale received universal acclaim and has been continually produced in stage and movie versions--including the Disney animated version. It has been translated and produced in countless foreign language versions.

The Author

Peter Pan was written by Sir James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937), Scottish dramacist and novelist. He was born at Kirriemuir, Forfarshire. I have little information on his childhood or what he wore as a boy. James for the first 6 years of his life, lived in the shadow of his elder brother David. Just before his 14th birthday, David was killed in a skating accident. James gradually came to the realization that, by dying so young, David would remain a boy forever in the minds of all those who had known him. Barrie was educated at Edinburgh University. Barrie began writing for the Nottingham Journal in 1883 and 2 years later settled in London where he wrote for the St. James Gazette and other periodicals. His first published volume Better Dead appeared in 1887. Auld Licht Idylls, a collection of humerous and pathetic sketches of life in Barrie's native village, appeared in 1888 and its sequel, A window in Thrums, a year later. He published The Little Minister in 1891, a romantic tale of love and adventure, containing a sympathetic account of the life of poor village weavers. The novel Sentimental Tommy was published in 1895 and its sequel, Tommy and Grizel in 1900. Barrie's first play, "Walker, London", was produced in London during 1893 and proved a success. It was followed by the comedy, "The Profesor's Love Story" in 1895. Three furthur plays in 1903, but all these paled into minor footnotes in stage history when Barrie received instant fame after the spectacularly successful production of "Peter Pan". The poetic fairy tale received universal acclaim and has been continually produced in stage and movie versions--including the Disney animated version. It has been translated and produced in countless foreign language versions. Barrie by the late 1890s was a successful writer both in Britain and the United States. He was married to the actress Mary Ansell but they had no children, which was a great tragedy of his life because he so loved children.

Wendy

The fact that he had no children of his own, didn't stop him from meeting children. One of these was a 4-year-old girl called Margaret who called Barrie "my friendy". Because she couldn't pronounce her "r"'s, the word "friendy" often sounded like "fwendy" or "wendy". Margaret tragically died when she was only 6 years old, but Barrie immortalised her in Peter Pan by calling his heroine Wendy. Barie did not create the name Wendy, but he certainly popularized it. A few girls were called Wendy in the 19th century. It appears to have been derived from Gwendolyn. Surprisingly, it was also used a boy's name, I'm not sure what the boy's name was derived from. [SDSTAFF Czarcasm] Thus while Barie did create the name, the huge popularity of his Peter Pan books made Wendy an emensely popular name for girls in both Britain and America.


Figure 2.--Actual photographs confirm that the Llewellyn-Davies boys were dressed in smocks, knickers, and floppy hats for informal play around the house. This photograph shows George and Jack in 1897. This was the year Peter was born.

The Llewellyn-Davies Children

Barrie's London home was very close to Kensington Gardens and it was here that he first met the Llewellyn Davies boys - George, Jack and Peter. He described their mother as "the most beautiful creature I had ever seen" and soon he was a frequent visitor to their house where he would tell the boys stories. One of these stories was about the youngest boy, Peter, who, according to Barrie, would one day fly away to Kensington Gardens so that he might be a boy forever. When children died, Peter would take them on a journey to a place called Never Never Land. When George heard the story, he said that "dying must be an awfully big adventure!". Barrie wrote the words down. They would later became the most famous words spoken in Peter Pan. The Llewellyn Davis family were quite progressive in outlook, and therefore dressed their sons in a more free and easy 'Frenchified' style. This contrasted with the more buttoned up English fashions for children at the time. The outfits in the TV program depicted here appear to be loosely based on family photographs. One of the Llewellyn Davies children, Peter, is generaly believed to have been the inspiration for Peter Pan. Peter grew up to be a publisher, but at 63-years of age in 1960, commited suicide by throwing himself under a train at London's Sloane Square tube station. The BBC in the late 1970s in its TV production of the The Lost Boys, delt with the relationship between J.M. Barrie and Llewellyn-Davies family. The BBC usually makes an effort to deal accurately with costuming. The boys show how a middle class English family may have dressed their young sons for play around the house and perhaps a leisurely outing in the park in the early 1900s: loose smocks, a beret-style hat, and matching knickerbockers.

The Victorian-Edwardian Nursery

Peter Pan begins in the Darling family nursery. Victorian and Edwardian parents had a very different attitude toward child rearing than modern parents. The relationship was much more formal. Affluent parents would basically have hired staff raise the children. Small children would spend much of their early life in the nursery where they would be raised by a nannie. Many of the grown children had much founder memories of their nannies than their mothers. Some parents, such as Queen Victoria, would go for extended periods without visiting their children. Other parents would regularly visit the nursery or have the children brought to visit them. In many cases these could be rather formal visits. This formality, however, was not always the case.

Stage Productions

Barrie wrote the story of Peter Pan several times before he decided to turn it into a play. He first wrote of Peter Pan in 1902 in a novel titled The Little White Bird. The book contained six chapters about Peter which were later extracted and published as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. It was also published as Peter and Wendy. The book is simolar to the plot of his play, forecasting the wild seductive spirit of his story. The first stage production of Peter Pan opened in London in 1904. That same year, the play opened in the United States. The play's producer thought it would be a disaster but the story of The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up was an instant success. It was the play which was first performed in 1904 that captivated the public and and earned Peter a permanent place in children's mythology around the world. It was then performed every year until its run was interrupted by war in 1939-1940. It then continued until 1969. The play in England is usually performed at Christmas time.


Figure 3.--This 1930s edition of "Peter Pan", using the a derrivation of the "Peter and Wendy title is one of the countless books that have been published around the world. Here Peter and Wendy are pictured in the Darling family nursery. Peter wears the tunic that is commonly used, but not the wide collar that he made into a popular children's style. I'm not sure who the illustrator was. Wendy in the image here is sewing Peter's shadow back on (to the sole of his foot). He lost it on an earlier visit to the nursery when Nana (the dog) almost caught him and did get his shadow. This is a major event at the beginning of the story. Notice Tickerbell in the background.

The Story

Peter Pan is the enchanting story of the boy who never wants to grow up! As Barrie explains, "All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was 2 years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end." Peter and Tinkerbell take the nursery-bound Darling children on their magical journey off to Neverland where the innocence of childhood never grows old. The encounter and outsmarts Captain Hook and his pirate band. They rescues an Indian Princess (Tiger Lily) and brings the lost boys home.

Kensington Gardens

Barrie erected a statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. He did it in the middle of the night so that people would think it had appeared by magic. The statue was based on the photographs Barrie had taken of Michael Llewelyn Davies.

The Costuming

I am not sure how Peter Pan was costumed in the Barie stage productionds. The Peter Pan sculpture in Kensington Gardens wears a smock-like tunic with a wide collar. This suggests that this was how he was constumed in the stage production. Our modern image of Peter Pan is very strongly influenced by the popular Disney animated production in which Peter wore a kind of green tunic. We have noted a variety of outfits in the many printed editions of the Peter Pan. Here we see what looks to be 1930s edition of Barrie's book. Peter looks to wearing a kind of leafy brown tunic and red stockings. Also notice the matching cap. Rather than a wide Peter Pan collar he wears a small cillar cut in wedges. Other editions show a variety of other costumes.

Stage Play

Barrie produced Peter Pan as a stage play in 1904. It was a huge success, first in London and then in other cities.

Books

It would be a major undertaking to list the many different editions of Peter Pan. It is complicated not only because there have been so many of them, but because there was so many translations and publication in so many different countries. A book was a second thought for Barries. Only 8 years after producing the stage play did he publish the book in 1912. He called the book Peter and Wendy. It was an instant success. Many more editions appeared, most reverting to the Peter Pan title. Given the many different editions, quite a number of illustrators have worked on the book. It has been translated into many languages and charmed childrn around the world. We notice a 1921 edition published by Dean Co Ltd (who have published many wonderful children's books). It is on thick newsprint quality paper. There were Black and white images as well as colour plates. The illustrator who did the art work was Mabel Lucie Attwell. The 1930s edition of Peter Pan and Wendy here is one of the countless editions of Barrie's work that has been published around the world. Here Peter and Wendy are pictured in the Darling family nursery. Peter wears the tunic that is commonly used, but not the wide collar that he made into a popular children's style. I'm not sure who the illustrator was. Wendy in the image here is sewing Peter's shadow back on (to the sole of his foot). He lost it on an earlier visit to the nursery when Nana (the dog) almost caught him and did get his shadow. This is a major event at the beginning of the story. Notice Tickerbell in the background.

Illustrators

Few books have been illustrated by so many different illustrators. This is of course because there have been so many different editions published in so many different countries. We have very limited information on illustrators at this time. I am not sure yet who did the original illustrations Peter and Wendy (1912). Mabel Lucie Attwell illustrated a 1921 edition. She is not an illustrator that we know much about yet.

Foreign Countries

Barrie's books were translated into many languags and read by children around the world. The nook has never been out of print. A French reader writes, "Peter Pan was very popular for French children. It was one of the most extraordinary adventure stories. When I was a little boy, this was one of my most beloved books." I remember Peter Pan has a little girl in America. My daddy read it to me. We looked over the wonderful illustrations as we read it. It was a locely childhood experience. I still remember it." The Barrie books are still being read around the world. A HBC reader from Kuwait tells us that his students love reading about Peter and Wendy. "We were having a library period and one of the pupils found an old book. It was J.M Barrie's Peter and Wendy. It was published by Dean Co Ltd on thick newsprint quality paper. Published date 1921."

Sources

Birkin, Andrew. The Lost Boys.

SDSTAFF Czarcasm. "Was the name Wendy invented for the book "Peter Pan"?" The Straight Dope, December 17, 2002.






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Created: March 17, 1999
Last updated: 3:54 PM 4/12/2010