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208 10. Colonising Neverland: British Motherhood as Imaginative Play in J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy RODNEY M. D. FIERCE In the play Peter Pan (1904) and its 1911 novelisation, Peter and Wendy,1 J. M. Barrie presents a socio-politicised portrait of both childhood and motherhood in a way that allows him to support and uphold the domestic ideals and values of ‘Britishness’ while simultaneously criticising the class elitism that he considered to be a hallmark of ‘Englishness’. The terms ‘Englishness’ and ‘Britishness’ are not interchangeable in this essay; rather, they appear as a way to distinguish between Barrie’s use of domesticity to demonstrate both his patriotism and the colonising power of the British Empire (Britishness) and his criticism of the hypocritical class system that was bolstered by imperialism, which he codes as specifically ‘English’ through characters such as Captain Hook. In the novel Barrie may have Wendy tell the Lost Boys that ‘We hope that our sons will die like English gentlemen’ (192) but he does not provide any positive examples of English manhood (gentlemanly or otherwise) within the text. Mr Darling and Captain Hook are both tragic-comic figures, whereas Wendy and Mrs Darling use their domestic power to transform the wild Lost Boys into responsible citizens who are reabsorbed into the British Empire. Though domesticity and childhood are politicised in the original stage play, they are more explicitly so in the novel Peter and Wendy, and it is largely the latter text on which this chapter draws in exploring how Barrie’s texts inhabit a unique imaginative space in forging associations between ideas of creativity and childhood and those related to broader questions of national, political, and gendered identities. Barrie’s promotion of the virtues of British domesticity in Peter Pan is emblematic of an allegiance to the larger socio-political entity in which Scotland played an increasingly large role throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.2 Barrie uses the Darling nursery, and the 209 british motherhood as imaginative play in peter and wendy imaginative play that serves as the source of Wendy and her mother’s narrative power, and their control and manipulation of language, to open up the story’s socio-political dimensions. The Darlings are English characters ,3 but Barrie uses imaginative power to draw a distinction between Wendy and Mrs Darling – who embody the wholesomeness of maternity and domesticity in spite of their shabby-genteel middle-class status – and Mr Darling and Captain Hook, whose obsessive focus on their place within the English class system undermines their power and occasionally renders them comic. Barrie not only politicises motherhood in Peter Pan but also aligns childhood – specifically boyhood – with the concepts of wildness and ‘otherness’, suggesting that only the female domestic presence represented by Wendy and her mother is capable of producing civility within male children. Ultimately, he grants Wendy and Mrs Darling power through the use of domesticity-as-play to facilitate their re-fashioning of the Lost Boys – whose identity is eroded or ‘othered’ through their experiences in Neverland – into model British subjects who grow up, go to an office, and are loyal to the king. The Darling nursery functions within the narrative as a reflection of Mrs Darling’s merit, imaginative power, and triumph over class inequity, the dictates of which imply that her children have no right to the same type of nursery enjoyed by upper-middle class families. In the play’s stage directions , Barrie takes the reader on a tour of the Darling household, and he remarks that ‘the door to the right leads into the day nursery, which she has no right to have, but she made it herself with nails in her mouth and a paste-pot in her hand’.4 Throughout the play’s first act and the novel’s opening chapters, Barrie consistently mocks Mr Darling’s class pretensions and ‘passion for being exactly like his neighbours’ (16) – which his meagre finances preclude – but praises and rewards Mrs Darling’s desire ‘to have everything just so’ (16) by imbuing her with the fortitude to create a wonderful dream-space for her children in spite of financial hardship. The Darling’s nursemaid, for instance, is a Newfoundland dog named Nana who is all that they can afford. Barrie remarks in the play that ‘though this may shock the grandiose, the not exactly affluent will make allowances. The Darlings could not afford to have a nurse, they could not afford indeed 210...


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