Peter Pan and Literature for the Child

Confusion of tongues
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)


J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy was published in 1911. It was the only attempt which Barrie ever made to write Peter Pan as a narrative for children. Peter Pan was a children’s classic before it was a children’s book. Barrie himself seems to have been in no hurry to close up the gap between the two: ‘Mr. Barrie has often been asked to write a short narrative or libretto of his immortal child’s play and has as often refused’ (The Bookman, January 1907, p. 161).1


Fairy Tale Child Reader Short Narrative Adventure Story Concrete Impression 
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  1. 3.
    Responses to modern writers of children’s fiction confirm this interdependency between the classification of children’s books and narrative technique; see David Rees, ‘Beyond Childhood’ (review of Aidan Chambers Dance on my Grave) (Rees, 1982)Google Scholar
  2. and Josephine Karavasil, ‘A Psychological Friend’ (review of Helen Cresswell’s Dear Shrink) (Karavasil, 1982): ‘Although said to be for “younger teenagers”, the target market for Dear Shrink is in fact difficult to determine because [of] the shifting identity of the first-person narrator’ (p. 794). Aidan Chambers also suggests that William Mayne places himself outside the range of the child reader by his use of distancing narrative techniques (Chambers, 1977, esp. pp. 73–4) (see also note 4 below).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    For other contemporary parodies of literary convention, see Andrew Lang, Prince Prigio (Lang, 1889)Google Scholar
  4. and Alice Corkran, The Adventures of Mrs. Wishing-to-be (Corkran, 1883);Google Scholar
  5. Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth (Juster, 1962) is often described as a contemporary Alice, but I see it more as a sophisticated moral fable (parody of the world and its dislogic, but also a celebration of the virtues of endeavour and fortitude — Dischord and Dynne banished, Rhyme and Reason restored — which at many points brings it closer to Bunyan than to Carroll).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    E. Salmon in Juvenile Literature as it is (Salmon, 1888), quoting from a questionnaire of 2000 boys and girls, lists Dickens, Kingston, Scott, Verne and Marryat as the five most popular writers for boys, Dickens, Scott, Kingsley, Charlotte Yonge and Shakespeare for girls;Google Scholar
  7. also The Boys’ Own Paper is cited as the second favourite magazine for girls after The Girls’ Own Paper; see also Amy Cruse, The Victorians and their Books (Cruse, 1935, Chapter 14: ‘A Young Victorian’s Library’)Google Scholar
  8. and Eleanor Farjeon, A Nursery in the Nineties (Farjeon, 1935).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Charlotte Yonge in What Books to Lend and What to Give (Yonge, 1887) includes a separate chapter on books for boys, but not for girls: ‘Boys are here treated as a separate subject. The mild tales that girls will read simply to pass away the time are ineffective with them. Many will not read at all’ (Yonge, 1887, p. 29). The statement is all the more remarkable in that Charlotte Yonge was herself one of the most popular writers for girls (see note 8 above). However her comment can be misleading. The construction of girls’ books as a ‘miscellany’ — the absence of the adventure story and the lack of an equivalent institution for girls to the boys’ public school which was to become the basis of a whole literary genre (see Chapter 5, note 6 below) — can easily give the impression that books for girls are somehow undetermined or without history. In fact the book for girls can be traced right back to the beginnings of children’s fiction in the eighteenth century (Sarah Fielding, The Governess or The Little Female Academy, 1749); in Mrs Sherwood’s The Fairchild Family (Sherwood, 1818) the pedagogic format is picked up and domesticated (Mrs Fairchild educates her children at home); the domesticated/moral stories associated with girls’ writers of the nineteenth century could be seen, therefore, as giving continuity to this earlier literary history.Google Scholar

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© Jacqueline Rose 1992

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