When Peter Pan grew up

Ever wondered what Peter Pan would have been like, had he grown up? Peter Pan’s creator, James Barrie, knew, because that is how he described his friend Bernard Freyberg.

Barrie, a successful playwright, met Freyberg while the latter was recovering in a London hospital from war wounds in 1916-17. They formed a firm friendship, thought later by Freyberg’s son to be in the fashion of a father-son relationship. Barrie, nearly thirty years’ Freyberg’s senior, became the supportive father that Freyberg had been denied in his own youth.

It was thanks to Barrie that Freyberg got interested in writing, discovering he had a passion for it – penning his war experiences which remains unpublished today. Barrie kept a room for Freyberg in his third-floor flat on Robert Street (Adelphi Terrace), where Freyberg spent time writing: Barrie encouraged him, declaring that Freyberg had a ‘great natural gift’ for it. Freyberg leaped into it with the same enthusiasms he showed for every new interest, and began penning a war memoir at a great rate, talking to Barrie about his style and about reducing the adjectives, all the while ‘waving manuscripts’. In a sense, such an effusion of words was therapy. But there was no question about his ability as a writer. Freyberg, it seems, was a man of wide talent. ‘Barrie days’, Freyberg called this time, and he found himself dreaming about it, later. They remained friends to the end. When Barrie lay dying in 1937, Freyberg sat vigil, along with their mutual friend, Cynthia Asquith.

So what was it about Freyberg that made Barrie describe him as ‘Peter Pan grown up’? Kindness, empathy, a deeply sharp intellect – all wrapped in an almost child-like view of the world, a sense of joy at life. For more, you’ll need to check out my book Freyberg: a life’s journey – click to buy from the publisher, or at any good bookshop.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2020


4 thoughts on “When Peter Pan grew up

  1. I’m really starting to be fascinated by this man!
    Btw, allow me to congratulate you, and all of New Zealand, for a simply superb result in the election. I wish we had a Jacinda Ardern at the helm here in Australia.

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    1. I’ve been fascinated with Freyberg for years – the more I discover about the guy, the more intriguing it’s clear he was! One thing I discovered writing this bio of him, in particular, is just how close a life’s story is to writing a novel. Of course that doesn’t mean making anything up, but the techniques of showing (not telling) the character at the heart of the book are much the same. The metaphor, I guess, is that while a novellist could be considered a painter and has some leeway to create, the biographer is more like a photographer – they have to work with what they’ve got in front of them, immutably, but there is still a good deal of skill required to properly frame and compose the picture.

      Thanks for your thoughts on the Ardern victory. I confess to some concerns about it. Yes, anything else would have been a disaster – a New Zealand under the Crusher’s National party would simply have re-run the failed neo-liberal revolution and likely also ended up with the pandemic ripping through the place. But what isn’t clear from overseas is just how flat useless Ardern’s last administration was internally – they didn’t initiate anything that worked and despite lip-service remained firmly neo-liberal/centre-right in practical economic position. Of course that’s hit its social use-by date but the entrenched business interests don’t want it to change, and the Ardern administration went along with that. Now that her party has the seats to govern alone that might change, but they’ll get a pounding next election if they don’t deliver, and deliver in genuine ways.

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      1. I’ve read very few memoirs/biographies in my life but the good ones have a narrative that sucks you in and keeps you there until the end. I’m thinking of Dirk Bogarde’s Postillion Struck by Lightning. It’s an autobiography but still one of the most beautifully written narratives I’ve ever read. Doesn’t hurt that he was my pin-up many decades ago. lol
        I hope that Jacinda Ardern is prioritising rather than procrastinating. Govts get slammed if they do nothing but also if they try to do too much. Kevin Rudd had vision and drive & got us through the GFC, but like Whitlam, he tried to hammer through too much.
        Ardern strikes me as being a very competent woman, and women know how to juggle to get the best over all result. I hope that’s what she’s doing.
        Given how absolutely NOTHING is changing for the better /here/, I’d say even a little change for the better is better than none. 😦

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  2. “Ever wondered what Peter Pan would have been like, had he grown up?” – I watched Hook in 1991, Peter Pan became a corporate lawyer.

    But yes, the Ardern victory was celebrated a big deal here. I’d certainly like her to run England, as the Tories here are just steering from one total disaster to the next. 11 years of this hasn’t been fun.

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