gratitude and love that Peter should play with her. Peter is touchingly unaware that her little heart is so full of him that she would like to be his slave – she would, literally, die for Peter.
We also see him playing with two boys, pretending to be Athos, Porthos and Aramis in Dumas’s The Three Musketeers , and Natty Bumppo in James Fenimore Cooper’s famous frontiersman novels, rousing tales of adventure about American Indians and early pioneers of the American West. While alone he would engage in island fantasies, his favourite book being Robinson Crusoe and next favourite The Swiss Family Robinson.
But the real fun comes in the nearby Bois de Boulogne, not at all the pristine park it is now, and in particular beside a lake called the Mare d’Auteil, surrounded on three sides by ‘a dense, wild wood … The very name has a magic from all the associations that gathered round it at that time.’
How interesting, therefore, that Peter Ibbetson enjoyed boyish adventures in the park and the Mare d’Auteil just like du Maurier’sgrandchildren, Sylvia’s boys, did with Barrie, in Kensington Gardens and by the Black Lake in Surrey. And islands are his delight.
More uncanny still, Peter Ibbetson even had an Uncle Jim figure in his life in the Bois de Boulogne, who captivated him with fairy tales.
Le Major Duquesnois lives on the edge of the park and befriends Peter: ‘He took to me at once, in spite of my Englishness, and drilled me … and told me a new fairy tale, I verily believe, every afternoon for seven years. Scheherazade could do no more for a Sultan, and to save her own neck from a bowstring!’
Again like Barrie, when he is tired of fairyland Duquesnois would tell Peter and his young French friends tales of adventure and high heroism (some of which he had, unlike Barrie, actually lived), ‘of Brienne, of Marengo, and Austerlitz; of the farewells at Fontainebleau, and the Hundred Days – never of St Helena; he would not trust himself to speak to us of that! And gradually working his way to Waterloo, he would put his hat on, and demonstrate to us, by A+B, how, virtually, the English had lost the day, and why and wherefore.’ On the little party of Duquesnois’s followers, as on Barrie’s young followers in Kensington Gardens, a solemn, awestruck stillness would then fall.
At some point Sylvia will surely have recognised Barrie as the man in the park that George and Jack had told her about, the little man who would hypnotise with his eyebrows, enchant them with his fairy stories and amuse them boxing with his St Bernard dog. And because she knew the story of Peter Ibbetson well, she may even have addressed Barrie as Le Major Duquesnois that very night.
But she wouldn’t have exposed him. It was in Sylvia’s nature only to have mocked him gently. She would have loved that he was so ardent a fan of her father’s dreamland. That Peter Ibbetson was Barrie’s source remained their little secret.
11 D. H. Lawrence, who corresponded with Barrie, knew Mary Ansell, and met him at least once in London.
12 A copyright performance was a pre-production performance of a new play, usually acted before an invited audience, and in this instance a number of friends, and friends of friends.
13 The Little White Bird (1902).
14 Introduction to Peter Ibbetson and Trilby (1947 edition).
15 In Bohemia with George du Maurier (1896).
1897â99: Lost Boy
A FTER THEIR FIRST meeting the two families began to see a great deal of one another, though mainly when Arthur was out at work. Everyone knew of the association and began to speak of the Barries and the Davieses in the same breath. Barrie and his wife would walk the boys home from the park almost every day, Mary Ansell befriending Sylvia while her husband continued his fun and games with the boys upstairs in the nursery.
At the start Sylvia seems to have treated him a bit like a useful second nanny, who would keep her children amused for hours on
Ricky Fleet, Christina Hargis Smith