Peter Llewelyn Davies
|Peter Llewelyn Davies|
25 February 1897|
|Died||5 April 1960
|Known for||foster son of J. M. Barrie|
Peter Llewelyn Davies MC (25 February 1897 – 5 April 1960) was the middle of five sons of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, one of the Llewelyn Davies boys befriended and later informally adopted by J. M. Barrie. Barrie publicly identified him as the source of the name for the title character in his famous play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. This public identification as "the original Peter Pan" plagued Davies throughout his life, which ended in suicide.
Davies was an infant when Barrie befriended his older brothers George and Jack during outings in Kensington Gardens, with their nurse Mary Hodgson and him in a pram. Barrie's original description of Peter Pan in The Little White Bird (1902) was as a newborn baby who had escaped to Kensington Gardens. However, according to family accounts, his brothers George and Michael served as the primary models for the character as he appeared in the famed stage play (1904) and later novel (1911), as a pre-adolescent boy.
In 1904, the year when Barrie's play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, debuted at London's Duke of York's Theatre, the Davies family moved out of London and went to live Egerton House, an Elizabethan mansion house in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. Their time there lasted only three years; in 1907, Davies's father died of cancer and his mother took Davies and his brothers George, Jack, Michael, and Nico back to London. She too developed cancer and died in 1910, whereupon Barrie became the de facto guardian of Davies and his brothers. Hodgson continued to serve as nurse and surrogate mother for him and his brothers. Davies, like his brothers (apart from Jack), attended Eton College.
Davies volunteered along with his brother George to serve in World War I, and received a commission as an officer. He was a signal officer in France and spent time in the trenches; at one point he was hospitalized with impetigo. He ultimately won the Military Cross, but was emotionally scarred by his wartime experience. His brother George was killed at 21 in the trenches in 1915.
In 1917, while still in the military, Davies met and began to court Hungarian-born Vera Willoughby (a watercolour painter and illustrator, as well as a costume and poster designer), a married woman 27 years older, with a daughter older than he was. He stayed with her when on leave, which scandalized Barrie and caused a rift between the two. His former nurse and mother figure Mary Hodgson disapproved strongly as well. The relationship continued at least through the end of his military service in 1919. In 1926 he published an edition of George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer featuring illustrations by her.
His brother Michael drowned at the age of 20 while at Oxford University in 1921 with Michael's best friend Rupert Buxton.
In 1926, Davies founded a publishing house, Peter Davies Ltd, which in 1951 released his cousin Daphne du Maurier's work about their grandfather, illustrator and writer George du Maurier, The Young George du Maurier: a selection of his letters 1860-67. He married Margaret Ruthven in 1931, and had three sons with her: Ruthven (b. 1933), George (b. 1935) and Peter (b. 1940).
He grew to dislike having his name associated with Peter Pan, which he called "that terrible masterpiece". Upon Barrie's death in 1937, most of his estate and fortune went to his secretary Cynthia Asquith, and the copyright to the Peter Pan works had previously been given in 1929 to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. Although Davies (and his surviving brothers) received a legacy, some have speculated that this drove Davies to drink — he eventually became an alcoholic. Davies' son Ruthven later told an interviewer:
"My father had mixed feelings about the whole business of Peter Pan. He accepted that Barrie considered that he was the inspiration for Peter Pan and it was only reasonable that my father should inherit everything from Barrie. That was my father's expectation. It would have recompensed him for the notoriety he had experienced since being linked with Peter Pan — something he hated."
On 5 April 1960, after lingering at the bar of the Royal Court Hotel, 63-year-old Davies walked to nearby Sloane Square and threw himself under a train as it was pulling into the station. A coroner's jury ruled he had killed himself "while the balance of his mind was disturbed". At the time of his suicide, he had been editing family papers and letters, assembling them into a collection he called the Morgue. He had more or less reached the documents having to do with his brother Michael's possible suicide. Other possible contributing factors in his suicide were ill health (he was suffering from emphysema), as well as the knowledge that his wife and all three of their sons had inherited the usually fatal Huntington's disease. Newspaper reports of his death referred to him in their headlines as "Peter Pan".
In the 2004 film Finding Neverland he was portrayed as a child by Freddie Highmore, presenting him as a child troubled by his father's death, who is drawn out of his shell by Barrie; Highmore received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for his performance.
In the 2013 play Peter and Alice by John Logan, he was portrayed by Ben Whishaw as a troubled individual who had been hurt by his fame and his past. Whishaw received commendation by critics for his performance.
- Edwards, David (28 October 2004). The Tragic True Story Behind Peter Pan
- Birkin, Andrew: J M Barrie & the Lost Boys (Yale University Press, 2003)
- Hastie, Scott (1999). Berkhamsted: an Illustrated History. King's Langley: Alpine Press. p. 63. ISBN 0-9528631-1-1.
- audio of Gerrie (Mrs John) Llewelyn Davies about Peter after the War
- Birkin, Andrew: J. M. Barrie & the Lost Boys (Constable & Co., 1979; revised edition, Yale University Press, 2003)
- Victoria and Albert Museum web site
- Leicester Galleries
- audio of Gerrie (Mrs John) Llewelyn Davies about Vera Willoughby
- Vera Willoughby at Visual Telling of Stories