Interesting facts about a much-loved writer
1. He was the first writer to kill off Sherlock Holmes. Before Conan Doyle ‘killed off’ Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Final Problem’ (1893), his friend (and fellow Scotsman) J. M. Barrie published a spoof tale in which the famous detective meets his demise. So, the author of Peter Pan was the first writer to kill off Sherlock Holmes.
Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary. – J. M. Barrie
2. When asked for some advice on a particular role, J. M. Barrie told an actor, ‘Try to look as if you had a younger brother in Shropshire.’ Barrie was something of an eccentric: he used to order Brussels sprouts every day for lunch purely because he enjoyed saying the words.
3. J. M. Barrie set up a celebrity cricket team featuring G. K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jerome K. Jerome, A. A. Milne, and H. G. Wells. They were named the Allahakbarriesin the mistaken belief that the Arabic phrase ‘Allah akbar’ means ‘heaven help us’ (it actually means ‘God is great’). They were active as a cricket team between 1890 and 1913.
4. Barrie didn’t invent the name Wendy – but he did give us the Wendy house. Or, at least, the name for it. Wendy Darling is often called the first Wendy, the girls’ name having originated in Barrie’s play – a nice fact, if only it were true. It’s true that Barrie arrived at the name by shortening ‘my fwiendy-wendy’, reportedly how the young Margaret Henley, who had trouble pronouncing her Rs, referred to Barrie. But the name Wendy had been used as a girls’ name since the nineteenth century (as a pet form of Gwendolyn) and there is even some evidence that, before Barrie popularised it as a female given name, it was used as a boys’ name. But ‘Wendy house’ is a Barrie coinage. The name originates in the small house that Peter Pan builds around Wendy Darling when she is shot by Tootles, one of the Lost Boys. The idea came from the washhouse outside Barrie’s own childhood home. As with Peter himself, the Wendy house had already appeared, under a different name, in The Little White Bird, in which fairies build a house around Mamie Mannering, Wendy’s prototype, to protect her from the cold. If Barrie hadn’t changed the name, children might now be playing in ‘Mamie houses’.
God gave us memories that we might have roses in December. – J. M. Barrie
5. He gave Quality Street chocolates their name. One of J. M. Barrie’s less well remembered stage works was the 1901 comedy Quality Street, set during the Napoleonic Wars. The play is not read or revived much now, but its lasting legacy was in providing the confectioners, Mackintosh’s, with a name for their new chocolates in 1936. Barrie’s own view of his mixed fortunes in the theatre was wittily summed up by his assessment that ‘some of my plays peter out, others pan out’.
We have more facts about Barrie’s most famous play in our post about Peter Pan, and have delved into the origins of a Wildean phrase he coined here.
If you enjoyed this literary trivia, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.
Image: J. M. Barrie by George Charles Beresford, 1902; Wikimedia Commons.