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Llewelyn Davies family

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The Davies boys: Nico (in father Arthur's arms), Jack, Peter, George, Michael (in front)
The Davies boys: Nico (in father Arthur's arms), Jack, Peter, George, Michael (in front)

The Davies family (the family used the double surname Llewelyn Davies primarily in formal contexts) consisted of Arthur (1863–1907) and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (1866–1910) (daughter of cartoonist/writer George du Maurier), and their five sons. The boys served as the inspiration for the characters of Peter Pan and the other boys of J. M. Barrie's Neverland works, and several of the main characters were named after them.

Barrie became the boys' guardian following the parents' middle-aged deaths to cancer, and they were publicly associated with Barrie and with Peter Pan for the rest of their lives. The three oldest served in the British military in World War I, one dying in combat. Two of the brothers died in their early twenties (George in combat, Michael other drowning), and a third (Peter) committed suicide when he was 63. The boys' early lives have been the subject (along with Barrie) of several biographies and two dramatizations.

They were:

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Together

Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the boys' mother
Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the boys' mother
Arthur Llewelyn Davies, the boys' father
Arthur Llewelyn Davies, the boys' father

Arthur was a barrister and Sylvia was the daughter of a successful cartoonist and writer; they were married in 1892. The boys were born from 1893–1903, and grew up in the Paddington and Notting Hill areas of London, where they enjoyed a comfortable middle class upbringing in a household with a few servants. They were befriended in 1897 by playwright/novelist J. M. Barrie, who first met George and Jack in Kensington Gardens during outings with their nurse (nanny) Mary Hodgson and infant Peter. He initially entertained them with his playful antics such as dancing with his saint bernard Porthos, wiggling his ears, and performing feats with his eyebrows, and further endeared himself to them with his imaginative stories. He became a regular part of their lives, whom they came to call "Uncle Jim".

In addition to the time the boys spent with Barrie in Kensington Gardens and at the Davies home, the family accompanied him to his retreat Black Lake Cottage, where George, Jack, and Peter were the subjects of The Boy Castaways, a photobook made by Barrie about their play adventures pretending to live on an island and fight pirates. The boys and their activities with Barrie provided him with much of the inspiration for the character of Peter Pan, introduced in The Little White Bird in 1901, and the characters of the Lost Boys and John and Michael Darling, introduced in Barrie's 1904 play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up and further immortalized in its 1911 adaptation as the novel Peter and Wendy.

After death of parents

Mary Hodgson, the boys' nurse
Mary Hodgson, the boys' nurse
J. M. Barrie, the boys' foster father
J. M. Barrie, the boys' foster father

Arthur died of a salivary sarcoma in 1907, and Sylvia died of lung cancer in 1910. Over the course of their illnesses, Barrie became more involved with the family, including providing financial support for them (which he could easily afford). Upon Sylvia's death, Barrie became the boys' trustee and unofficial guardian, along with their maternal grandmother Emma du Maurier, Sylvia's brother Guy du Maurier, and Arthur's brother Crompton Llewelyn Davies. Mary Hodgson continued to care for them, until increasing friction with Barrie and a confrontation with Jack's new wife led to her resignation when the boys were in their teens and twenties. Barrie, whose success as a novelist and playwright had made him wealthy, provided housing, education, and financial support for them until they were independent. Although Barrie and Hodgson were not particularly fond of each other, they served as surrogate father and mother to the boys... to some extent continuing the roles they'd had while Arthur and Sylvia were still alive.

Upon the United Kingdom's entry into World War I, Jack was already serving in the Royal Navy, and George and Peter volunteered to serve as officers in the British Army. George was killed in action in 1915. Michael drowned with his close friend Rupert Buxton at Oxford University in 1921. Peter, plagued by his life-long identification as "the real Peter Pan" and other personal troubles, committed suicide in 1960.

Relationship with Barrie

Arthur did not like Barrie, but tolerated his presence because Sylvia was very fond of him. The boys' relationships with Barrie varied. George and Michael were very close to him, and their deaths affected Barrie strongly. Jack enjoyed Barrie as a child, but harbored some resentment of him for taking his father's place during and after Arthur's illness. Peter's relationship with Barrie was ambivalent. Nico adored him.

Although there has often been suspicion about the nature of Barrie's relationship with the boys, there is no evidence that he engaged in any sexual activity with them, nor that there was any suspicion of such at the time. The scandalous gossip of the day chided him only for imposing himself on another family, with a mother and children who were not this own. Their father Arthur was troubled by Barrie's relationship with them, but that was based on its interference with his own relationship with them as their father, and he didn't care for the man personally.

As an adult, Nico flatly denied any inappropriate behavior or intentions by Barrie. "I don't believe that Uncle Jim ever experienced what one might call 'a stirring in the undergrowth' for anyone – man, woman, or child," he wrote to biographer Andrew Birkin in 1978. "He was an innocent – which is why he could write Peter Pan." In an interview taped in 1976, Conservative UK politician Robert Boothby, who had been a close friend of Michael during their teens, called his relationship with Barrie 'morbid' and 'unhealthy', but dismissed the notion that there was a sexual aspect to it.

Portrayals

The BBC produced an award-winning miniseries The Lost Boys in 1978, written by Andrew Birkin, and starring Ian Holm as Barrie, Ann Bell as Sylvia, and Tim Pigott-Smith as Arthur. It dramatizes with good historical accuracy the relationship between the Davies family and Barrie, from the time they met until shortly after Michael's death. The boys are each portrayed by a series of actors as they grow up. Birkin also wrote the biography J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys on the same subject.

A semi-fictional movie about their relationship with Barrie, Finding Neverland, starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet as Barrie and Sylvia, was released in November 2004. It covers in a condensed fashion the period from their first meeting until the debut of the play, but omits Arthur (who was said to have already died) and Nico (who was born during that time and was only an infant at the end of it). The boys are played by Nick Roud (George), Joe Prospero (Jack), Freddie Highmore (Peter), and Luke Spill (Michael).

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