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This essay argues that both Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan offer studies of eternal male children and their consciousness because studies of congenital inversion and childhood were linked in the late Victorian period. Representing the coalescence of three late Victorian fields—developmental psychology (then called Child Study), sexology, and Greek studies—Wilde's Dorian and Barrie's Peter Pan embody perceptions of queerness, hedonism, and arrested development theorized as congenital inversion yet paradoxically understood as the free-floating desire of youth before a "proper" love object is chosen.

[S]ome other, older and younger, gentlemen were present [at the café]; some of them were with their lovers and among them were several military officers. I found myself as if I was in fairyland. How unhappy I had felt before. . . . And now all this cheerfulness, this elated mood, and carefree enjoyment of life. Friendly eyes looked at me understandingly and that very evening I met someone who made me forget, at least for some time, all the suffering I had endured [for desiring men].

—Anonymous case quoted in Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis (Oosterhuis, Stepchildren of Nature 193)

Michael Bronski asserts that the above description of a homosexual man feeling "in fairyland," upon finding a café where desire for men could be expressed, echoes the reason for Peter Pan's appeal to "the gay sensibility." Bronski argues that because homosexuality evokes nonreproductive sexual pleasure and therefore threatens dominant culture, Peter Pan taps into the queer fantasy of escaping the confines of homophobic, reproductive-obsessed culture (54-55). It is hardly a historical coincidence that this fantasy of escape is synonymous with the fantasy of prolonging childhood or the undesirability of growing up. Even though the character Peter Pan is a boy who seems to eschew sexuality entirely while myriad other characters project desires onto him, Peter's mixed feelings about the Darlings gesture to J. M. Barrie's appropriation of an explicitly gay 1891 text that features a boy's desire for an older boy named Carol Darley, nicknamed "Miss Darling" by his Eton mates. I am referring here to Howard Overing Sturgis's novel Tim: A Story of School Life, which focuses on the difficulties of a boy named Tim who falls in love with his neighbor and fellow Etonite, Carol of Darley Court manor. Complicit with the conventions [End Page 177] of literature in the 1890s, Tim recognizes that his love for the older, athletic, masculine Carol, although "passing the love of woman" (186; original emphasis), cannot reach the privilege of an adult relationship, so he eventually removes himself from Carol's life and facilitates the latter's marriage.

Importantly, in Sturgis's novel Barrie would have encountered the narrator's insistence on the delicate Tim's perennial childhood; not only is he at twelve no different from "nine or eight or seven" (83)—and therefore unfit for the "seeming heartlessness of a big public school" (84)—but his homosexuality evokes the consequence that he cannot grow up: "It is circumstances and events that make people young or old, not the years that pass over their heads. Some few happy people never grow up, but are boys and girls at heart all their lives" (83). Tim's love for his friend Carol keeps him a boy, and the happiness of youth marks his orientation, as does the world's refusal to accept such love in the adult. It is impossible for one familiar with Sturgis to read Barrie's opening words to his novel, "All children, except one, grow up," without Tim in mind, even though the character of Peter Pan is nothing like the delicate Tim, whom his father deplores as acting the part of a silly schoolgirl toward Carol. Nevertheless, the homosexual boy of the Eton novel stands behind the "one" of Barrie's sentence, particularly given the context of Neverland's domination by Hook, a character preoccupied with his own Eton pedigree.

However, another 1891 publication gives even more weight to a historically produced conflation between homosexuality and childhood, a conflation I press in this essay as not just an isolated allusion to Tim, but as a broader aesthetic pattern of expressing queer desire as reveling in youth. Oscar Wilde's 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and Barrie's 1911 novel Peter and Wendy, following seven years of Peter Pan on the stage, provide rough bookends to a period that increasingly queered the child and infantilized the queer. That is, the child was increasingly viewed as something naturally alien to civilization: both practically, as children were removed from the labor force; and psychologically, as the field of developmental psychology took root. The period was marked by the exchange of ideas between writers and psychologists, both of whom began to focus on child consciousness and perception as the principle difference between children and adults. For example, influential British psychologist James Sully in Studies of Childhood (1896), a developmental textbook noteworthy for its foregrounding of children's art and imagination in addition to the usual early textbook topics such as senses, intellect, will, and morality, cites R. L. Stevenson's 1878 essay "Child's Play" for its theory of perceptual differences between adults and children. Stevenson writes, "Children, for instance, are able enough to see, but they have no great faculty for looking," because the practical demands of play and the need for props and concrete stimulus take precedence over children's intellectual and empathic capacities (1). In an inverse narrative that emerged in sexology discourse in the 1880s and '90s, the sexual "invert" was increasingly seen as congenitally predisposed—whether neurotic or not—yet developmentally damaged: trapped in arrested development and [End Page 178] therefore occupying the zone of childhood experimentation (including play) viewed as "naturally" preceding the choice of a "proper" reproductive object.

Advancing the congenital argument, British physician and sexologist Havelock Ellis in Sexual Inversion (1897, published with John Addington Symonds) quotes the commonly circulated idea that the sexual instinct in early youth is not yet specialized regarding object choice, citing studies of 1867 and 1894 as well as rhetoric about "vice" in schools as merely describing "a simple indecision of frontier between friendship and love, still undifferentiated in the dawn of the awakening heart" (124-25). For Sigmund Freud, who built upon the work of Ellis and others, "the sexual instinct and the sexual object are merely soldered together" (14), inspiring a developmental approach: "The conclusion now presents itself to us that there is indeed something innate lying behind the perversions but that it is something innate in everyone, though as a disposition it may vary in its intensity and may be increased by the influences of actual life" (37; original emphasis). A coalescence of three late Victorian fields— developmental psychology (then called Child Study), sexology, and Greek studies—provides an opportunity to understand how Wilde and Barrie offer case studies of youths conceived as psychologically queer and almost passively trapped in infantile worlds of pure hedonism. In his analysis of Peter Pan's relationship to the decadent 1890s, Paul Fox emphasizes Peter's unique ability to live in the moment and forget the past as his personification of art for art's sake; not only does Peter surpass Dorian's modeling of the British Decadent Movement, because Dorian is a "failed aesthete" unable to disregard his past and future (Fox 24), but also Peter is the essential artist who "dominates every scene" and stages novelty to the extent that "the entirety of life [on the island] thrills to the aesthetic will of Peter" (Fox 28). Wilde's presentation of Dorian prefigures and haunts Barrie's creation of the ambiguously aged—infantile yet adolescent—Peter Pan, symbol for the "gay and innocent and heartless" (Barrie 148, 153), not only because he is Hedonist but also because he encapsulates late Victorian associations between queerness, the pursuit of pleasure, and the refusal to grow up. Like Dorian, Peter is essentially the amoral child of "ecstasies innumerable" (Barrie 140): what Freud would call the id (see Egan), but which prepsychoanalytic psychologists were discussing as a "primitive" unconscious in myriad ways.

Both Dorian and Peter take vows of eternal youth and attract the longings and projective desires of all who see them; they become seductive forces luring others into their hedonistic worlds, not because they have pernicious motivations but because they are queer, precivilized objects for others to play with in their games of pursuing pleasure. Figured as a "charming boy" (Wilde 14), a "lad" (17) with "[a]ll the candour of youth . . . as well as youth's passionate purity," "unspotted from the world" (23), Dorian seeks "the creation of such worlds" as would be free from social habits and weariness,

that our eyelids might open some morning upon a world in which things would have fresh shapes and colours, and be changed, or have other secrets, a world in [End Page 179] which the past would have little or no place, or survive, at any rate, in no conscious form of obligation or regret, the remembrance even of joy having its bitterness, and the memories of pleasure their pain.


This world is realized in Barrie's Neverland, introduced as the geography of the chaotic and unmappable child mind but also a place one can experience, however briefly, by taking a journey with Pan. Just as Wilde self-consciously tapped into the trope of Greek love—giving special significance to the Dorians, whom Symonds had equated with Greek love in his "A Problem of Greek Ethics"—Barrie centered the pursuit of pleasure on an inaccessible Greek god who becomes a trickster, cruelly sporting with the romantic desires of Wendy and other female characters just as he sports with Hook.

Barrie opens the chapter "The Mermaids' Lagoon" with a provocative echo of Dorian's fantasy world: "If you shut your eyes and are a lucky one, you may see at times a shapeless pool of lovely pale colours suspended in the darkness; then if you squeeze your eyes tighter, the pool begins to take shape, and the colours become so vivid that with another squeeze they must go on fire" (73). The orgiastic "heavenly moment" of arriving in Neverland (73) is offset by the dangers and perpetual demands of play. The perpetual and exhausting demands of Peter's games are highly reminiscent of Dorian's insatiable demands for exotic objects and stimulation. Peter would invent a game "that fascinated him enormously, until he suddenly had no more interest in it, which, as you have been told, was what always happened with his games" (71). Similarly, Dorian experiences sudden ennui after the saturation of a particular fad in his endless pursuit of beauty, shown most poignantly when his zest for Sybil Vane's acting so abruptly ends because she has not given him satisfaction. Just as Basil and Lord Henry must pretend to be similarly delighted with Sybil, when Peter invents a game of sitting and doing nothing, "John and Michael had to pretend to be delighted also; otherwise he would have treated them severely" (71). Fond of sport for only a limited amount of time and fundamentally narcissistic, Peter is unstable, something the Darling children discover in the very moment they fly with him. Peter laughs when they fall asleep in the air and, although he catches them, "you felt it was his cleverness that interested him and not the saving of human life. Also he was fond of variety, and the sport that engrossed him one moment would suddenly cease to engage him, so there was always the possibility that the next time you fell he would let you go" (38). Paradoxically, however, Peter's lack of memory and social responsibility presents the trope of adult unfulfilled longings: "We too have been [to Neverland and] we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more" (9). The tragedies of these two stories lie in how the beautiful boys slowly destroy the people who truly love them; Wendy's and Basil's attraction to heartless "innocence" and their projections of desire lead to an idolization bound to disappoint. Basil understands his dangerous idolatry of Dorian, his woodland muse; Wendy discovers her danger only gradually. [End Page 180]

Whereas Barrie's text has been understood by a number of critics as presenting arrested development in terms of tragedy (see Lurie; Rose; Avery; Griffith; Rotert; Kiley; Hamilton; Kincaid; Chassagnol; Zipes; and Wilson), Neverland's actualization of Dorian Gray's fantasy allows us to trace the convergence of multiple ideas, a project initiated by Fox's reclaiming of Peter as aesthete and Bronski's situating of Barrie's work as gay canon. First, the field of Child Study—born of Charles Darwin in 1877, when he published "A Biographical Sketch of an Infant" and inspired many others to do the same observational work—increasingly sought to measure and understand the consciousness of the child as an index to evolution, an idea that would blossom in Freud's psychological Darwinism as he theorized the repression of savage nature in civilization and its discontents (see Sulloway). Second, the field of sexology increasingly turned to the childhood development of "inverts" to prove, study, and proselytize the congenital view of homosexuality. German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Ellis, and others circulated numerous case studies of sexual inversion as "nature," and same-sex desire as a naturally occurring "anomaly," "perversion," "variation," or instance of racial "degeneracy," depending on their point of view, since classificatory terms were still in flux (see Oosterhuis, Stepchildren). Their scientific efforts parallel Child Study psychologists' increasing concern with explaining the peculiarity of child "nature" and developing methodological tools to study the child "naturally." The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite literally concerned with how a picture of a youth comes into being, both artistically and psychologically; the role of Lord Henry in both influencing and analyzing Dorian like a psychological case study explicitly gestures to the novel's interest in the intersection between artistic method and psychological science. Barrie's study of Peter's world and motivations, however, demonstrates the shift from detached observation to psychoanalytic excavation, complicit with changing notions of child sexuality as well as with the association between inversion and arrested development suggested by Ellis and later articulated by Freud.

The third field I consider is Greek studies; underscoring the presentation of both Dorian and Peter is a commentary on the Victorian age's immersion in myth and lost Greek poetics. Greek art and architecture were unearthed throughout the period, and a mythologized Greece was increasingly viewed as the childhood of Western civilization. This rhetoric echoed the Child Study view of the precivilized child as the key to understanding the development of Western civilization through recapitulation. The way in which German activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Symonds, and Wilde, among others, rhetorically used the Greek reverence for the beautiful boy and the attachment between older male and "blossoming" boy underscores the queerness of both Dorian and Peter, who present longings experienced by other characters but are themselves ultimately unfixable and alien to the people seeking to define them. The crux of this adult longing involves longing for a state of unfixed desire, because upon adulthood nonreproductive desires were redefined as pathological; for example, Max Dessoir claimed that "an undifferentiated sexual feeling is normal, on the [End Page 181] average, during the first years of puberty—i.e., from 13 to 15 in boys and 12 to 14 in girls—while in later years it must be regarded as pathological" (qtd. in Ellis 125). This sentiment was commonly accepted in Germany as well. If queerness was fascinatingly normalized as developmental for children but pathological for adults, a queer longing for childhood freedom and experimental play seems inevitable. This distinction in how researchers regarded queerness in children and adults explains the main difference between Peter and Dorian as not age but the extent of their suffering; Peter ponders the riddle of his existence only in dreams, whereas Dorian descends into incessant neurosis and paranoid fear, mocked by the portrait that created his Greek "nature." Bronski maintains that the queerness of Barrie's text is unconscious, but its unconscious desire can be brought into our critical consciousness by considering Neverland's hedonism as the portrait of Dorian Gray that lives on long after its subject's death.

The Nature of Neverland

Both Dorian Gray and Peter Pan are at once idealized and feared in the narrative stance. Both novels provide studies of the consequences of valuing youth over and above social responsibility. To stay young and beautiful is to shed the trappings of a false civilization, associated in both texts with women and marriage, both of which are repeatedly attacked by Lord Henry, and shown to be ridiculous in the opening pages of Peter and Wendy when everything from Mr. Darling's courtship to Mrs. Darling's crusade to keep her babies is satirically presented. Like the "coming of Pan" to the "happy family" revealed to be anything but happy, the entrance of the romanticized Dorian brings to the unhappy and lonely Basil the ability to capture his "plain woodland" landscape with a perfection and beauty he has never had before—"the wonder I had always looked for, and always missed" (18). Just as Pan is an antidote to a pretentious social world that has lost touch with the wholeness of body and spirit, Dorian is perceived as a remedy for a world that Lord Henry asserts has falsely separated body and spirit and therefore needs a perfect hedonism to realize itself. Both texts posit the irresistibility of youths to everyone who beholds their faces; other characters project visions and needs upon youth, which evokes their longings, their memories of innocence, and their perverse desires to possess it (which would destroy it). Quite properly, the wishes to stay young do not come from the youths exclusively; both boys make those wishes in response to suggestions by others that they will become men. Peter hears his mother discussing his manhood, and Dorian learns from Lord Henry that while he himself will become old, his portrait will mock him by staying young. Therefore, their vows register not their own heartlessness, but the heartless view of the world: that youths are not people so much as temporary and transitory states of being that do not really exist, except as shadows and ideals (or, in Greek study, as fragmented statues). [End Page 182]

Both boys are first glimpsed as entrancing and terrifying visions by others, suggesting the dangers of the transitory tabula rasa. We first learn of Dorian from Basil's perspective of their first meeting: "When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself" (13). Mrs. Darling's first glimpse of Peter includes a similar emphasis on the terrifying quality of entrancing youth:

While [Mrs. Darling] was dreaming the window of the nursery blew open, and a boy did drop on the floor . . . She started up with a cry, and saw the boy, and somehow she knew at once that he was Peter Pan. . . . he was very like Mrs. Darling's kiss. He was a lovely boy, clad in skeleton leaves and the juices that ooze out of trees; but the most entrancing thing about him was that he had all his first teeth. When he saw she was a grown-up, he gnashed the little pearls at her. [chapter break] Mrs. Darling screamed.


Just as Peter embodies Mrs. Darling's "kiss"—a certain longing that no one in her family can satisfy—Dorian and the picture he inspires reveal the undisclosed secret of Basil's soul (12), such that Basil feels he cannot exhibit his portrait of Dorian for fear of revealing too much of himself. Just before Peter surfaces, Mrs. Darling dreams of him: "she thought she had seen him before in the faces of many women who have no children. Perhaps he is to be found in the faces of some mothers also" (12). Nana cuts off Peter's shadow just as Basil's picture tears Dorian's soul from his form. Also corresponding is the glimpse we receive of Dorian's past, romanticized through stories of his deceased mother, just as Peter narrates a particular feeling about the mother he would visit and the pain he felt when her window was shut. We first meet Dorian through the mind of Basil as he meditates on Dorian's hold over him as presence and muse; similarly, Mrs. Darling has already met Peter in the minds of her children as she roves through their thoughts at night. Wendy, the most desirous of Peter sexually (especially his kiss), has the name "Peter Pan" scrawled throughout her mind as a repeated and greatly desired nightly visitor. Both Peter and Dorian embody "the romance of art" greatly desired by the world (Wilde 19); just as Peter plays his pipes in the traditional figuration of Pan, Dorian plays music but basically "doesn't do anything" (14) but sit and inspire merely by his presence. Similarly, Wendy explains to her mother that "Peter sometimes came to the nursery in the night and sat on the foot of her bed and played on pipes to her" (11).

It is Basil's "blazoning" of him to Lord Henry that changes Dorian into an object of exchange "between men" (in Sedgwick's paradigm), rather similar to how Wendy's mental desire for Peter makes Mrs. Darling remember Pan from her own childhood. While Peter "breaks through" the forces of the superego, as Michael Egan argues (43), he does so by breaking through the mother-daughter dyad established in the opening, thus becoming an object "between women." In Wilde's novel, the tendency for characters to project desires onto Dorian is [End Page 183] most dangerous for the young woman Sybil Vane, who imagines him as her Prince Charming, just as Wendy imagines Peter as her husband and the lost boys as her children. These projections are doomed to failure because the boys, as imaginative as the girls, seek to prolong the hedonistic imagination rather than end the game. Dorian wants to keep seeing Sybil on the stage in roles that excite, and Peter wants Wendy for her exciting stories. The splitting of Dorian Gray into picture/soul and sensual body parallels the splitting of Peter Pan into boy and shadow, and the locations of these splittings are similar. Dorian decides to hide his portrait in his boyhood schoolroom, just as Pan loses his shadow in the Darling nursery, where Mrs. Darling carefully rolls it up and places it in a drawer. The correspondence between soul and shadow is apparent when Mrs. Darling asserts Nana's knowledge of the children's souls, after which she exhibits Peter's shadow (18).

Wilde explores the long splitting of soul and body in the immortal youth, whereas Barrie reunites the shadow and body but uses the window to the Neverland to suggest escape. The projection of Basil the painter into the picture closely parallels the sexual projections of Wendy onto Pan as she stitches his shadow back on, a symbol for the romance she continually projects upon him and which he resists. Basil similarly loves Dorian with a closeted love, providing a moral sensibility and an invitation for Dorian to develop in character, which the latter resists; Basil's death in the schoolroom, a murder that protects Dorian's vow of boyhood, parallels Wendy's decision in Neverland to leave Pan because he will never fulfill her desire for a partner (we could read this as death, either hers or his). In this pivotal scene, Wendy tells her lost boy-children the story of the Darling children's flight and return, changing the story to her story and thereby choosing to give up on Pan and leave him as a child. This is the moment she is vulnerable to Hook, a man responding to her decision to become a woman. Neither Peter nor Dorian really wishes to be separated from his shadow/soul; the riddles of their existences—as people, yet youthful objects of others' projections—haunt them, but Dorian is bothered incessantly and Peter only in his unconscious: "Sometimes, though not often, [Peter] had dreams, and they were more painful than the dreams of other boys. For hours he could not be separated from these dreams, though he wailed piteously in them. They had to do, I think, with the riddle of his existence" (181). Dorian, a pre-Freudian study, wails piteously throughout Wilde's novel, but he sleeps particularly well after murdering Basil.

Both Basil and Wendy are doomed because they love a loveless being who has merely been an object of projection. Barrie passes judgment on the cruelty of youth, which cannot return love, when he says we are all effectively brats who skip off like heartless things and expect mothers to wait with open windows; similarly, Wilde both marvels at and passes judgment on the slow deterioration of the willful child who refuses social contracts and abducts many innocent people into his sensual Neverland, where they are forever lost to the social world. However, we are never to blame the boys themselves; for one thing, they only [End Page 184] encapsulate a world that cannot tolerate or properly appreciate them. Dorian's playboy extravagance only mirrors the shallow social circle charmed by him, and Peter's vicious demands only symbolize Barrie's view of shallow modern life, depicted on the opening pages and in lines that uncomfortably enfold "us" into the circle of thoughtless children.

Both Dorian and Peter explore a dominant concept, sketched by R. L. Stevenson and expanded by James Sully, regarding play as the result of the child's suggestibility; Sully, in an effort to uncover how play was part of the human organism's supreme adaptability, theorized that the child was essentially suggestible: "The playing may start from a suggestion supplied by the sight of an object. . . . It is surely to misunderstand the essence of play to speak of it as a fully conscious process of imitative acting. . . . It seems sufficient to say that when at play [the child] is possessed by an idea, and is working this out into visible action" (37). The childlike Dorian takes up whatever fad he wishes, collecting beautiful objects from the Orient and roving through passions for exotic books, myths, art, tapestries, furniture, etc. Zest for these various things overwhelms his consciousness for short periods in precisely the mode of play described by Sully, whose theory specifies that play is not so much activity as passive possession by an overwhelming stimulation or idea, underscoring the curious way in which—as Kevin Ohi has analyzed—things become animate and people become acted-upon things in Dorian Gray. Sully's theory of play is uncannily similar to the arguments of Ulrichs, Ellis, and Freud that sexual (including homosexual) desire was not so much active as passive possession by an overwhelming urge or instinct, contingent upon powerful developmental stimuli or fetishes. Homosexuality was sometimes grouped with fetishism, especially in French psychology, and Ellis's argument of same-sex desire as a powerful, natural urge held forensic value even if it denied agency. Lord Henry gives Dorian a certain French book of sexual and exotic escapades, and the book possesses Dorian to the point where he feels he has read his whole life in it. Dorian is created by this text just as he is created by Basil and Lord Henry, akin to mother and father in the opening pages. This theory of the essentially "suggestible" play of children finds expression in many modern texts of child consciousness.

The radically amoral—because suggestible—nature of the child mind interests Barrie; he argues that "the Neverland" or child mind contains swirling images of gnomes, rivers, coral reefs, school, religion, hangings, and murders, all alongside chocolate pudding day (9). The radical equalizing of these influences suggests the influence of Williams James's theory of stream of consciousness. Barrie's narrator comments: "Children have the strangest adventures without being troubled by them. For instance, they may remember to mention, a week after the event happened, that when they were in the wood they met their dead father and had a game" (10). The "stream" of consciousness becomes antithetical to moral development or to the educational model of childhood. However, both Peter and Dorian confront the quandary of their existence through longing for [End Page 185] original female objects, Peter for his mother and Dorian for Sybil Vane, both of whom are left but then blamed for closing windows or possibilities for return. Leave-takings from these women serve as primal scenes for both characters; in retaliation, both boys steal daughters from mothers. Peter forbids the subject of mothers among the lost boys, just as Dorian forbids the subject of Sybil to Lord Henry and Basil. After these windows are closed, there is no return for either of these youthful characters—only immersion in the stream of consciousness.

While these two novels purport to be studies of the essentially infantile condition of the human being, unable to return love, the worlds they leave are ultimately unlovable and therefore unworthy of the beautiful boys. The ridiculous marriages of the Darlings and of Lord Henry preoccupy opening pages, and the latter winds up divorced. His view of women, with a similar thought pattern to Peter's blaming of his mother, is that "[w]omen, as some witty Frenchman once put it, inspire us with the desire to do masterpieces, and always prevent us from carrying them out" (93). Mr. Darling, quite similarly, is figured as an infantile type who "might have passed for a boy again if he had been able to take his baldness off" (136), akin to the pirates who likewise need a mother. Partly, the novels' emphasis on the mythical boys Pan and Dorian whom everyone wants suggests, as Viviana Zelizer writes, the time period's alteration in the role of children from "useful" laborers to priceless and decorative objects—a shift Lisa Makman has traced in George MacDonald's Diamond, a beautiful boy whom people wish to collect. Dorian is collected and has no useful purpose, like the objects with which he identifies and the men who inspire his decadence. Ironically, however, childhood as a suggestible state of being, seen as a primitive period anticipating the rise of human will, defined the child as of new use to developmental psychologists—unlocking "the Neverlands" of precivilized man.

Efforts to capture child nature and the nature of inversion stemmed from a new scientific interest in observing nature from an evolutionary perspective. W. B. Drummond's optimistic summary of thirty years of Child Study, The Child, His Nature and Nurture (1901), captures the spirit of the movement in seeking to understand child nature and its implications. On the other hand, educators such as F. H. Hayward, seeking to summarize Child Study research for pedagogical application, expressed a profound ambivalence about how to regard nature:

Why do I call Wordsworth's view "nonsensical"? For the reason that ever since Darwin's Origin of Species was published, thinking men have no longer been able to regard nature in herself as wholly wise or kind. There is a calmness, a callousness—one might almost say a cruelty and wastefulness—about her that precludes the reflective man from holding this view. There goes on everywhere in Nature a "struggle for existence," and the "fittest" who survive are not necessarily the most loveable creatures, but rather those that are strongest, or at any rate those that are most adapted to their special circumstances.

(Hayward 26) [End Page 186]

The cruel child Peter Pan, whose voice "no woman has ever yet been able to resist" (26), whose first teeth melt all females who see him, even the Neverbird who has to put up with his mischievous behavior, attracts others in the guise of the Byronic hero. Mermaids treat everyone except Peter badly; the stars— though victims of his play—adore his games; and Tinker Bell takes poison for him. Such a child is fit to survive. The child cast as an "innocent" and "heartless" seducer, to whom Wendy will even give her own children, owes his legacy to the face of Dorian, who "charmed everybody. It was a pleasure even to see him" (140). Basil asserts to Dorian: "Mind you, I don't believe these rumours at all. At least, I can't believe them when I see you. Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man's face" (172). The irony in this line is that Basil is the creator of Dorian's beautiful face; he had painted the portrait enabling Dorian's prolonged adolescence, just as Wendy projects her own romantic ambitions onto the face that appears at her window. Peter's name "scrawled all over" her mind, and her effort to restore his shadow, echo Basil's denial that body and soul may be separate matters.

Just as Dorian has ruined the reputations of the young men who are not welcomed back into society after associating with him, Peter collects boys who have fallen into Neverland but polices their growth and prohibits social return: "The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out" (47). Peter "does some things to you, and after that you fit" in his underground terrain, which "was trying, but you simply had to follow his lead" (67, 69). A similarly Dionysian character, Dorian fills men with "a madness for pleasure" (174)—perhaps opium, perhaps sodomy (the novel is vague on these points). Yet the most sinister resonance between Dorian and Peter is the way in which both youths evoke memories of innocence in the more experienced characters; just as Peter evokes memories in Mrs. Darling and the grown Wendy, concretizing the pain of mortality and inability to return to youth, Dorian "has always the look of one who had kept himself unspotted from the world. Men who talked grossly became silent when Dorian Gray entered the room. There was something in the purity of his face that rebuked them. His mere presence seemed to recall to them the memory of the innocence that they had tarnished" (148). Likewise, Mrs. Darling remembers Peter Pan from her own childhood; his status as memory and psychic construct in Wendy's mind suggests a similar reading—that youth only exists insofar as others give it meaning.

By investigating methods of Child Study offered in Dorian's and Peter's cases, we can mark shifting questions about psychological method as well as about the nature of nature, whether Wordsworthian or Darwinian. Characters' inability to uncover the essence of Peter and Dorian mirrors the vexing contemporary question of how scientists and psychologists would objectively study the child, the figure that had become instrumental to the study of evolution, human psychology and development, and homosexuality. Researchers such as [End Page 187] Bernard Perez, in his call for further research on early childhood, argued that psychologists must scientifically observe and interpret the child, since none can accurately remember childhood and become, even for the moment, as a child (xiii). James Sully, in his introduction to Studies of Childhood, might humorously reflect on the contemporary call for scientists to enter the world of the nursery for the key to understanding Western civilization, but his serious point is that objective observations of children cannot be left to nurses and the women who govern nurseries. As Darwin acknowledges in his sketch, the pressing need to study children rendered methodology a problem.

The older forms of psychological introspection were not effective in learning about child consciousness, and techniques of observation and interpretation were equally troublesome. In 1901 Drummond would look back upon a fruitful thirty years of Child Study and comment upon the still difficult problem of method: "Side by side with direct observation of the child must go interpretation. This is the province of the science of psychology. This is the most difficult branch of child study and the most fascinating. He who would undertake it must be gifted not only with the power of observing with scientific accuracy, but with what has been called his scientific imagination" (16). Elsewhere I have demonstrated that the detached contemplation of childhood paralleled and possibly helped drive the new modernist method of novels such as What Maisie Knew and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, methods of observation and interpretation of interior consciousness that similarly parallel Jamesian theories of the art and the novel, particularly the need for the artist to stand apart from moral reference (James, "Preface," 7). Scientists called for the study of children apart from moral reference; similarly, Ellis continually made the point that the moral disgust typically accompanying the subject of inversion has no place in scientific case study, because it does not enable learning about the subject.

Dorian's sentiment about becoming the queer subject of Lord Henry's and his own detached observation prefigures other childlike characters, such as James's Maisie, and registers the predominance of the scientific case study. Dorian says, "To become the spectator of one's own life, as Harry says, is to escape the suffering of life" (128). Likewise, Maisie's "sharpened sense of spectatorship was the child's main support. . . . It gave her often an odd air of being present at her history in as separate a manner as if she could only get at experience by flattening her nose against a pane of glass" (82). The scientific method's separation from moral life enabled a new aesthetic in studying the human being objectively. Harry Oosterhuis's uncovering of the homosexuals who shared their autobiographies with Krafft-Ebing demonstrates the extent to which medical objectivity proved a method of self-interpretation. The writers offered Krafft-Ebing descriptions of their childhoods and sexual fantasies as "objective data" to reflect "the true nature of the inner self" (Stepchildren 179). Their detached contemplation of their queerness shows an identification with the medical case history genre (180), but such a case history approach to the self also patterned what would become the standard coming-out narrative, rooted [End Page 188] in "a peculiar way of feeling and acting during childhood and puberty" (220). This brought coherence, as "[t]he most diverse personality traits and activities took on meaning in terms of one's sexual inclination: the kind of games one played as a child, hobbies, spending patterns, the preference for certain books and music," and so forth (235).

The method of interpretive psychological study of youth can be seen in Lord Henry's stance toward Dorian as a case study in observation and experimentation:

[Lord Henry] began to wonder whether we could ever make psychology so absolute a science that each little spring of life would be revealed to us. . . . It was clear to him that the experimental method was the only method by which one could arrive at any scientific analysis of the passions; and certainly Dorian Gray was a subject made to his hand, and seemed to promise rich and fruitful results. His sudden mad love for Sibyl Vane was a psychological phenomenon of no small interest. There was no doubt that curiosity had much to do with it, curiosity and the desire for new experiences; yet it was not a simple but rather a very complex passion. What there was in it of the purely sensuous instinct of boyhood had been transformed by the workings of the imagination, changed into something that seemed to the lad himself to be remote from sense, and was for that very reason all the more dangerous. It was the passions about whose origin we deceived ourselves that tyrannized most strongly over us.


Lord Henry's detached contemplation of Dorian's case—essentially, his analysis of Dorian's projections onto, and play with, Sybil—is viewed as a study that will yield profitable understanding of the human race, not to mention amusement. The same tone is often taken by Sully, who argued that not only would the study of children advance scientific knowledge, but it also would be pleasurable: "And the beginnings of a human mind, the first dim stages in the development of man's God-like reason, ought surely to be most interesting of all. And infancy has its own peculiar charm. There is an exquisite poetry in the spontaneous promptings of the unsophisticated spirit of the child" (iii). This stance strongly mirrors the pleasure Lord Henry takes in observing Dorian and expressing wonder at his perpetual youth and beauty. He simply does not recognize his own culpability in creating a parodic puppet in the boy. Ironically, then, while taking such "delight" and "wonder" in watching him (70), Lord Henry misses the fact that Dorian has looked upon "Harry" with equal fascination, fashioning himself in the image of the progenitor. His wife, however, immediately recognizes Lord Henry's influence when she hears his words coming from Dorian, just as Basil immediately concedes losing Dorian to him after their introduction.

The studies of child consciousness offered by other authors, such as James's of Maisie and Twain's of Huck, similarly uncover the problem that studying the child is actually studying the inherently social nature of consciousness. Similarly, "the Neverland" of the child mind is both the savagery of child "nature" and a mix of social elements that constitute the child mind. For Barrie, Peter [End Page 189] "rules" the generalized concept of the "child mind" that mothers attempt to sort when children are asleep, rearranging the "evil passions" and "discoveries sweet and not so sweet" that reside there in a complex heap of stored memories and experiences (8). The long list of child fantasies and internalized observations from the world suggests the child mind as a repository for the world's violence, confusions, and pleasures. Barrie's child mind is similar to James's in What Maisie Knew: "[Maisie] found in her mind a collection of images and echoes kept for her in the childish dusk, the dim closet, the high drawers, like games she wasn't yet big enough to play. . . . A wonderful assortment of objects of this kind she was to discover there later, all tumbled up too with the things, shuffled into the same receptacle, that her mother had said about her father" (22-23). The difference is that Maisie grows and Peter cannot, so that in his case the jumble of worldly pleasures takes on a perpetual life of its own, the chaos of role-playing and side-changing in fights, tinged with the curious obsession with honor and good form in the fair fight. The endless flow of play in Neverland is invisible to the domestic Wendy, who seeks to sort through it like her mother before her:

[Peter] often went out alone, and when he came back you were never absolutely certain whether he had had an adventure or not. He might have forgotten it so completely that he said nothing about it; and then when you went out you found the body; and, on the other hand, he might say a great deal about it, and yet you could not find the body. Sometimes he came home with his head bandaged, and then Wendy cooed over him and bathed it in lukewarm water, while he told a dazzling tale. But she was never quite sure, you know.


Child consciousness is essentially queered not only because it is neither adult nor organized, but because it is alien even to the child himself. Carolyn Steedman has demonstrated that by 1900 childhood had become synonymous with the unconscious, as something interior to adulthood; but childhood was never an interiority that anyone could actually possess, and it was never really "nature" but a portrait mirroring the social world.

Greek Love

The stance of the scientist actually enjoying the "spontaneous poetry" of the child takes on specific meaning when we consider that Dorian is figured as a Greek Adonis or Narcissus and that Peter Pan is, well, Pan. Both novels offer commentary on the centrality of child consciousness in psychology, which had begun to think about the child as analogous to primitive man, and on the pleasure Victorians took in early Greek myth, seen as similarly primitive. Sully, whom Freud cited in his Interpretation of Dreams (Taylor 93), offers the basic, widely accepted theory that the child mind is analogous to precivilized man:

The child, in his early stage of worldliness, is egoistic and (therefore) anthropomorphic. He confers upon animals and even upon inert matter those [End Page 190] psychological properties which he dimly perceives in himself. . . . [A] number of the child's hypotheses are strikingly similar to those shared by older and more primitive cultures. . . . Children, for example, think of the world as a disc, covered by the bowl-shaped heavens. . . . All events are assumed to be the consequence of an animated (intelligent) agency—often one which resembles parents, at least in regard to powers and motives.


We may call this the anthropocentric idea, the essence of which is that man is the center of reference, the aim or target, in all nature's processes. This anthropocentric tendency again is shared by the child with the uncultured adult. Primitive man looks on wind, rain, thunder, as sent by some angry spirit.


The evolutionary principle that the child enabled study of early man, along with the rise of will and civilization, underscores Dorian's sense that his descent into primitive sensory pleasures and beauty is likewise a return to the beauty of early Greece, seen also in the Victorian period as a lost poetic principle rather like the "spontaneous poetry" of the child.

For example, Walter Pater, whose theories of the aesthetic influenced Lord Henry's "New Hedonism" and cast a wide influence "over the literature and thought of the last twenty-five years of the nineteenth century and the early years of Modernism" (Fox 29), argued that Greek myth—in this case, that of Persephone—contained at root the primitive views of a "childlike people" and "the primitive stage" of "instinctive influences" remodeled but not completely quenched by "literary and artificial influences" over time (Pater 125-26). Pater enjoyed the organic, unorthodox, and local quality of Greek myth and religion, inspired by the unearthing of Greek manuscripts, shrines, and artwork that were likewise inspiring many Victorians. Victorian sensibilities had already been excited by antiquities such as the Elgin Marbles, brought to the British Museum between 1801 and 1812: "[t]o an age which had been brought up on the Belvedere Apollo and the Venus de Medici the effect was spectacular: the sculptures seemed so strong, so romantic, so passionate" (Jenkyns 83). Their effect on poets such as John Keats is legendary; likewise, the effect of excavated art on Winckelmann and subsequent German writers needs no gloss. Mania for Greece as authentic antiquity shifted Virgil from his "position of unparalleled authority" in early eighteenth-century Germany to a fall from grace by the century's close (Atherton ix). England gravitated to Greek over Latin sources, producing many books on Greek history and very few on Roman, with the critics of the age turning "genuinely hostile" toward Virgil (Turner 71).

Greek sources likewise drew Symonds to interpret homosexuality in Greek culture; inspired Ulrichs to christen men desiring women as "Dionings" and men desiring men as "Urnings," terms modified from Plato's Symposium; awakened the sexual and political vision of Edward Carpenter, who wrote of "the intermediate sex" at the turn of the century (Bronski 25); and came to operate as a Hellenic code of homosexuality in England, as argued by Louis Crompton in Byron and Greek Love and Linda Dowling in Hellenism and Homosexuality. The Greek precedent was most famously articulated by Oscar Wilde during [End Page 191] his trial, when he constructed the love of boys as the most noble and pure form of Greek love. In Germany, writer and activist Adolf Brand launched the journal Der Eigene ("the unique one"), which after 1898 evolved into a literary and artistic homosexual journal for readers who, "as Brand declared, would be men who 'thirst for a revival of Greek times and Hellenic standards of beauty after centuries of Christian barbarism'" (Oosterhuis, "Homosexual" 3). Indeed, some in Germany preferred to contemplate a Nordic rather than a Greek ideal because the latter was too firmly associated with homosexuality.

The relationship between an idealized Greece and childhood had already been articulated as a Romantic principle. For example, German classicist Johann Joachim Winckelmann had in 1778 equated Greece with childhood and youth (Butler 77), and this idea was commonly reflected in classical studies. K. O. Müller's History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (1840) depicted the mythic imagination of ancient Greeks as "most simple and natural in the childhood both of nations and individuals" (qtd. in Louis 12). George Grote's 1846 A History of Greece similarly finds the state of mind producing early Greek myth as "analogous to our own childhood" (qtd. in Louis 12). Viewed as embodying a beautiful primitiveness that had become encapsulated in children and evolution, Greece also served as an operative metaphor for noble love found between men and boys, legitimating same-sex attachments for a range of writers including Lord Byron, Symonds, Ulrichs, and Wilde, all of whom praised the natural and noble affinities between men and boys in Greek culture (see Crompton; Dowling). A general love of boyhood is evident throughout Ulrichs's writings as well as Symonds's discussion of the two types of eros in Greek culture: the noble higher love achieved between men and boys versus the cruder physical form, a distinction certainly operating in Dorian Gray between the noble love of Basil, who idolizes and paints the boy, and the cruder sensualities of Lord Henry, whom Matt Cook discusses as a veiled homosexual (106-07). Henry's moral corruption of Dorian contrasts with Basil's persistent moral high ground. One is improper and the other proper love for the youthful form cherished in classical arts.

It is poignant to add to this discussion the obsession of Peter Pan and Hook with one another, a relationship that supersedes Peter's capacity to consider anyone else (and contrasts with his ability to remember anyone else). The portrayal of the effeminate "man of feeling" Hook—also an artistic Byronic hero educated at Eton, certainly one of the schools accused of "vice"—includes an almost perverse obsession not only with his clothing and form but with the boy who drives him crazy. Regardless of whether or not he is a stereotype of the predatory, homosexual dandy (complete with a nervous condition, sensitivity to beauty, and effeminate fear of his own blood), Hook's function for Peter mirrors that of Lord Henry for Dorian, the older man persistently getting his hooks into the beautiful boy: "It was Pan he wanted . . . chiefly Pan. Peter was such a small boy that one tends to wonder at the man's hatred of him. . . . The truth is that there was a something about Peter which goaded the pirate [End Page 192] captain to frenzy" (106). Much of the imagery surrounding Hook's fury at Peter's cockiness—which tortures Hook's sleep and disturbs his "nerves" (106), making him feel he is fighting a "fiend" or "darker suspicions" (130)—could be interpreted as desire or perversion. At the very least, Barrie emphasizes the projective personality of Hook, who regards even the "tiny jet of smoke" coming from Peter's chimney as a defiance gesture (109). If Peter offers a case study of the "savage" child mind, Hook offers a study of a nervous condition, which would have been associated in the late Victorian mindset with the condition of "overcivilization," commonly feared by many psychologists (for example, G. Stanley Hall) as responsible for nervousness and effeminacy.

Barrie emphasizes that it is Pan that Hook wants, whereas Wendy wants Peter, a human partner who does not really exist. Barrie's decision to use the name "Pan" suggests the same paradoxical yearning for Greek art and sensory/ sensual primitive childhood that Basil finds in Dorian as a woodland figure who inspires his deepest art. Pan was the most popular of Greek gods in English poetry between 1880 and 1914, and he always embodied a crucial paradox as half beast and half man or god (Merivale 84). The Pan of Wordsworth exists in Arcadian childhood pastoral, yet Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Pan is "earthy, shaggy, potentially sinister" (Merivale 85). In Victorian works by Algernon Charles Swinburne, Thomas Carlyle, and Stevenson, Pan was viewed as "all" or as universal nature, which would include terror as well as beauty and joy (Merivale 98). This is the Pan of Clemenceau's 1896 Le Grande Pan. Peter Pan declares himself to be youth and joy even as he sends Captain Hook to his death, suggesting an eerie rewriting of Dorian's death before the youthful, joyous portrait. G. K. Chesterton equates Pan with a primitive, Greek sense of wonder, associated with Dionysus, sex, wine, and the mysticism of the forest. The Pans of Lawrence are perhaps the most famous, but a lesser-known Pan, seen in a childhood vision, anchors Barrie's friend Maurice Hewlett's The Lore of Proserpine. Playgoers and readers in Barrie's time would have understood the sexual tradition of Pan. For example, the popular The Crock of Gold by James Stephens explicitly links a Dionysian Pan with a young girl's development into womanhood. Like Wendy, she chooses to leave him, but "so strong was the hold of Pan upon her that when she was free her body bore the marks of his grip, and many days passed away before those marks faded" (45). This scene has the same type of imagery that Wilde uses to communicate Dorian's tragic murder of Basil, the one man who truly loves him, but also the one whose love cannot be returned or eradicated, for the portrait is as much Basil's soul as it is Dorian's. Therefore, it remains in the closet of the schoolroom, turned by worldly experience into vice although it began as Greek beauty.

From embodying the apex of Greek art, Dorian descends into primitive savagery, which he redefines as a beautiful hedonism after his corruption by Lord Henry, a symbol for the cruder Greek love that Symonds discusses as purely physical and therefore no longer noble. Symonds's distinction between primitive and Hellenic love accords with the paradoxical way in which inversion [End Page 193] was seen as degeneracy (often viewed as the result of overcivilization or decadence), yet equated with highly intellectual writers and artists (see Oosterhuis, Stepchildren). Hook may be seen as embodying the same type of corruption, appealing but decadent and bent solely on turning attractive youth into bad form. Pater's view, that the heroic spirit of male-male affection in Greece had become corrupted by outside influences, was mirrored by Victorians' general sense that many of the more beautiful poetic forms of Greece had been corrupted over time. In fact, the resurgence of interest in the Eleusinian Mysteries and in Demeter, who turns against Olympian gods, was due to the fact that late Victorians had also turned against those gods (Louis 16). The corruption of the stunningly beautiful and initially innocent Dorian provides a similar parallel, just as his beautiful portrait becomes hideous over time.

Barrie's representation of Peter Pan's savagery—he is Dorian without a portrait to upbraid him—provides a more psychoanalytic model of the mind by its focus on the Oedipus story, as Egan has traced. A broader view of the late Victorian period, which drew a portrait of childhood upon which Freud would build, suggests that the fusion of the unconscious with Greek tragedy is likewise the convergence of the multiple fields I have discussed. Readings of Hook as the castrating father with the phallic hook, whom "youth . . . joy" displaces (130), could be leaving out the queerer elements of the story, the story oedipal norms struggle to contain: What if desire circulated between boys and men? What if the hook were not phallic but the dandy's cane? While it is true that Peter gets to play house with his "mother" Wendy and defeat the archetypal Father, it is also true that he is never interested in female characters, repulsed or indifferent until the bitter end:

"You don't feel, Peter," [Wendy] said falteringly, "that you would like to say anything to my parents about a very sweet subject?"


"About me, Peter?"



This emphatic "no" follows Peter's triumph over Hook: presumably a triumph of masculinity, but, as Fox interprets, also a stab at the fop or failed aesthete (41). Read as a permutation of the Lord Henry figure or even as Dorian himself—both of whom are figures of "unethical and failed aestheticism" (Fox 41)—Hook reveals a certain discomfort that authors of fairy tales, a genre beautified by Wilde, might have felt in the wake of Wilde's trials, in which the story of Dorian Gray played an eerie role.

Recently, U. C. Knoepflmacher has demonstrated the uneasy relationship between Wilde and aestheticism appearing in Kenneth Grahame's Toad; the haunting of Wilde in British fantasy could be as instructive as seeing the growth of childhood studies between Darwin and Freud, especially since Dorian brings these matters together. If a certain connection between queerness and development had become a tolerated norm—even while it was expected that [End Page 194] most people would "grow out" of same-sex affection or, like Sturgis's Tim, die unrequited—then it just may be that the queerness of the men in myriad children's fantasy worlds, whether named Neverland or Oz (see Pugh; Kidd and Abate), is a legacy of Dorian and his creator. Although but twenty years old, the youth studied by Basil and Lord Henry distills the confluence of early developmental psychology and homosexuality, two fields that would increasingly come out together in the twentieth century.

Holly Blackford

Holly Blackford is a professor of English at Rutgers University-Camden, where she teaches and publishes literary criticism on American and children's literature. Her books include Out of this World: Why Literature Matters to Girls (2004), Mockingbird Passing: Closeted Traditions and Sexual Curiosities in Harper Lee's Novel (2011), The Myth of Persephone in Girls' Fantasy Literature (2011), and the edited volume 100 Years of Anne with an 'e': The Centennial Study of "Anne of Green Gables" (2009).

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