“Second to the right and straight on till morning”

Image: view of Samoa.

From Oxford Languages: (etymology of “paradise”): Origin

In Sunday’s Observer, Donna Ferguson reported on newly unearthed correspondence between J.M. Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson. The following is extracted from her article:

“Dr Michael Shaw, a lecturer in Scottish literature at the University of Stirling, has discovered the lost letters of J.M. Barrie to Robert Louis Stevenson in an archive at Beinecke Library, Yale University. In Shaw’s forthcoming book, A Friendship in Letters, Barrie and Stevenson’s letters to each other are published together for the first time. “What’s revealed in these letters…is the influence that both Stevenson and the correspondence have on Barrie,” said Shaw.

…the young Barrie both adored and admired Stevenson, who was an older and more established writer…their friendship…was initiated by Stevenson…they never met…Stevenson had left their native Scotland in 1879 and was living in Samoa to improve his health.

Treasure Island had already been published when the two authors began corresponding in 1892; 12 years later, Barrie went on to write his own masterpiece, Peter Pan, about a dangerous amputated pirate, a young boy and a journey to a far-off fantasy island.

In reality, Barrie was held back from ever making that thrilling journey to Stevenson’s Pacific island paradise by his desire to stay near his frail, elderly mother – feelings he later explores intensely in Peter Pan…

Later, he recounts Stevenson’s whimsical directions to the island of Samoa (“you take the boat at San Francisco, and then my place is second to the left”), which seems to echo Peter Pan’s famous directions for the island of Neverland: “Second to the right and straight on till morning.”

Odd little phrases Stevenson used in his letters creep into Barrie’s stories, and Peter Pan was placed in the same imaginary world as Treasure Island. Long John Silver (who is known by his aliases of Barbecue and Sea-Cook in Neverland) is afraid of only one man, readers are told: Captain Hook.”

Anthony Lane wrote in the New Yorker of November 15, 2004:

“(Barrie) moved to London, and, in 1887, produced his first novel, which bore the title “Better Dead.” Within a few years, thanks largely to some sharp, rosy fictions set in Scotland and to “The Little Minister,” a quaint tale of a minister who falls in love with a Gypsy, he had acquired not just a solid readership but a serious reputation; all of a sudden, we find him in correspondence with Thomas Hardy and Robert Louis Stevenson. He started writing for the theatre, kicking off with a parody of Ibsen, and indulging in the traditional sport of losing his heart to the leading ladies. His most acute biographer, Andrew Birkin—whose “J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys” has been granted a timely reissue (Yale; $18.95)—digs up some astounding entries from Barrie’s private notebooks. Some are composed in the third person, as jottings toward a possible novel:

—Greatest horror—dream I am married—wake up shrieking.

—Even while proposing, the thought of how it wd read go thro’ him.

—He never has contact with a woman—If he had this might have made him exult less in making women love him.

In 1894, ignoring these self-cautions, Barrie married an actress named Mary Ansell, bestowing upon her, by way of a wedding present, a St. Bernard dog. The saga of Barrie is full of long-sufferers, the longest being Barrie himself, but nobody could follow its course and not spare a wealth of pity for Mary. Her husband loved many women, but the evidence suggests that the actual making of love lay outside his interests, or beyond his grasp. The creator of “Peter Pan” never had a child of his own. To us, the bewildering thing (and to Mary, surely the roughest insult) was that Barrie, far from burying his secret incapacities, dug them up like a pirate uncovering a treasure chest: “Grizel, I seem to be different from all other men; there seems to be some curse upon me… . You are the only woman I ever wanted to love, but apparently I can’t.” That comes from “Tommy and Grizel,” the tale of a devastated marriage which was published six years into Barrie’s own. At one point, the narrator says of Tommy, the fruitless husband, “He was a boy who could not grow up,” adding, of Grizel, “He gave her all his affection, but his passion, like an outlaw, had ever to hunt alone.”…”

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