"This journey through the house": re-centring the domestic space in the storytelling of J.M. Barrie
Nolan, Rosaleen Angela
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This thesis discusses the representation of domesticity in the fiction of J.M. Barrie. It concentrates on the ways in which the home space in novels and plays produced by Barrie between 1896 and 1920, is designed to facilitate a transgressive storytelling which works within – and against – the central narrative of each text. In fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the domestic sphere is overwhelmingly cast as the domain of women. It is commonly associated with ideas of knowability, security, comfort, and a heteronormative family structure comprised of benevolent patriarch, gentle mother and beloved children. These associations have been deeply ingrained in critical readings of Barrie's fiction, in which the spaces of home are superficially aligned with a set of conventional values in opposition to the seductive chaos of fantasy lands. Existing Barrie scholarship has concentrated its attention on the composition of these fantasy worlds in general, restricting its focus to Peter Pan and Never Land (1904) in particular; this approach has resulted in flawed and reductive conclusions about Barrie's professional treatment of subjects such as women, childhood and the development of identity. As a consequence, this thesis will address multiple texts and genres in its analyses. Furthermore, by prioritising discussion of the inherently feminine spaces of 'home' in his novels and plays, it will reveal the existence of a proto-feminist dimension to Barrie's writing. In each of these texts – Sentimental Tommy (1896), Tommy and Grizel (1900), Peter Pan (1904), Dear Brutus (1917) and Mary Rose (1920) – the realistic spaces of domestic life are juxtaposed with fantasy worlds. This thesis will examine such fantasy realms as its secondary focus, purely insofar as they illuminate and refract the concerns of home; that place from which characters seek to escape, and to which they must, in some form, return. My research will interrogate each text's relationship to their respective home-spaces, using Gaston Bachelard's treatise on the intersection of selfhood and domestic landscapes, The Poetics of Space (1958) as an approximate theoretical framework. Chapter One will offer a brief biographical and social context for Barrie's creative interest in the spaces of home, with a particular focus upon the relationship between women and domesticity. Chapters Two and Three are dedicated to the exposition of identity within the urban and rural home spaces of Sentimental Tommy and Tommy and Grizel which, for the purposes of thematic fluidity, will be discussed together. Chapter Four will trace the maturation of transgressive femininity in Barrie's work, by critiquing the figure of the mother-storyteller against the domestic environment of the night nursery in Peter Pan. Chapter Five argues that the plot, imagery and set architecture of the Dear Brutus drawing room supports an intertextual reading of the play which places it in a dialogue with Peter Pan. Under this interpretation, Dear Brutus exonerates the figure of the non-maternal woman by absolving Alice Dearth of unjust blame in the disintegration of her marriage. Additionally, it challenges romanticised literary presentations of the eternal child by tracing an affinity between the identities of the mysterious Lob, and Peter Pan. Chapter Six will position Mary Rose as apotheotic in Barrie's portrayal of the relationship between the domestic world and individual autonomy. Furthermore, in the play's climactic scene between Mary Rose and her son Harry, this thesis will assert that – contrary to critical consensus - Barrie effects a triumphant liberation of woman from the home-space within which she is routinely silenced and oppressed. Finally, the concluding section of this thesis will question the legacy of 'home' in Barrie's novels and plays, as well as summarising its relationship to concepts of identity, autonomy, and communication. As protagonists return from their respective fantasy realms, Barrie appears to align their restoration to the domestic world with the re-establishing of a social status quo. Yet this thesis will contend that within the parallel narratives conveyed symbolically through each text's depictions of cottage, farmhouse, nursery, or drawing room, Barrie enables a subversive storytelling which affords agency to characters marginalised, or altogether disempowered, by texts' 'official' plots.