Saturday, July 20, 2019

. . . And Research Rabbit Holes

I thought I would check in because I've been a somewhat-busy little bee. I won't say I've been "busy" because that would probably sound way more impressive than it is. My work ethic has been modest at best. The fact that I've binged like 4 shows in the last few weeks can attest to the fact that I haven't exactly been devoting every waking hour to writing/researching . . .

In any case, I've been getting progressively deeper into the story of the Llewelyn Davies boys. The Llewelyn Davies boys were the five brother who, to a greater or lesser degree, inspired J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. That's the most basic form of the story, but it's much, much more complicated than that, and much more complicate than Finding Neverland (movie or stage play) would have you believe. In some sense, it's a very tragic story: the boys were orphaned at a young age when their father, then their mother, died of cancer. The eldest, George, was killed at 21 during World War I. Michael died five years later, at the age of twenty, having drowned in the Thames outside of Oxford (no one will ever know whether it was accidental or suicide). And, many years later, Peter committed suicide at the age of 63 (there were a lot of factors that contributed to that, many of them not at all related to Peter Pan or Barrie).

But it's not all tragedy, and I just find the strange, multifaceted relationships here to be endlessly fascinating.

My interest has manifested itself in a novel-in-progress. I'm about 50k words in, and we've just reached the Great War (sigh). I won't get too deep into the conceit for the ms, but it's told in first person from the perspectives of George, Michael, Peter, and their mother, Sylvia. I'm really enjoying it. It can be slow work to keep referring to my source materials or to have to pause to look something up. I usually don't write about real people, so the only research I usually have to do is about the period and situation in general; I don't have to contend with getting a real person's life right.

So what're some of these rabbit holes I've tumbled down, mostly willingly?

Well, just last night I found a page affiliated with the Imperial War Museum that gave a brief outline of George Llewelyn Davies's service in WW1. He enlisted as soon as Great Britain declared war and was in the King's Royal Rifle Brigade, then the Rifle Brigade (somewhat confusingly, these are separate units). On that page, there was also a picture of what looked like a button adorned with a badge: a hunting horn hanging from a string that formed a triangle with the curved horn. I figured it had something to do with his unit, so I spent some time poking around Google, especially its image searches. I found a bunch of badges in the shape of a cross, but no horn. However, I eventually realized the horn emblem was part of the cross badge, embedded into it.

Another rabbit hole was info gleaned from records relating to George's grave (in France). The official records record his dates of birth and death and his rank and unit. But there was also a document attached to the grave records that gave, I suppose, "next of kin". Peter, George's brother, who was also in the army, was listed, and the address given (presumably by Peter) was Adelphi Terrace, J.M. Barrie's home. So Peter, though an adult, listed Barrie's residence as his own home.

I also managed recently to find a book that contains a full chapter on Peter's military service (Famous 1914-1918). I knew he'd served and that he was awarded the Military Cross, but I'd been having difficulty finding any additional information. I was thinking I'd have to contact, perhaps, the Imperial War Museum for help. But then I found this book while performing a Google search. Peter's experience in the war is pretty crucial to him as a character in the WIP; it most certainly affected him as a person. I was able to read a lot of the chapter online but ordered the book in order to read the whole chapter and be able to mark it up with pen and pencil. As a bonus, it has chapters on some other famous and semi-famous WW1 soldiers, which will be interesting in and of themselves. Alas, the book has yet to arrive, and I'm anxious for it to get here already.

I still want to learn more about George's war experience. I know he was slightly wounded in the leg and didn't mention it to Barrie in his letters. I also know he was killed almost instantly while he and other officers were being briefed about a coming movement. That's a bit sketchy.

Speaking of George, I wanted to learn a little more about his time at Cambridge (Trinity College). I knew he was in the Amateur Dramatics Club and that he enrolled 1912 and left for the war 1914. I also inferred that he was in the Office Training Corps (my information is mostly from Andrew Birkin's wonderful book Lost Boys). I contacted Cambridge University, and the only info they had was his date of enrollment. They directed me to Trinity College, whom I contacted but haven't heard back from. I was also pointed towards the ADC's archives, but it's difficult to navigate and it appears most the records are kept in Cambridge. I'm in the US, so the chances of me getting there to view those records are slim. Still, I might take another stab at finding out more about Cambridge when I get a chance.

Oh, and since I mentioned Adelphi Terrace, I happened to stumble upon an image of the floor plan of Barrie's flat there. However, it was from an architectural site in the UK, and to view the image, I would have to buy a print of the image or pay for a license to view/use the image. I took the least expensive option, an A4-size print. That, too, is still in the mail, and I'm awaiting it with bated breath. I only hope that size/quality are good enough for me to read what all the various rooms are! Or else my money will have been wasted.

I also found, some time back, that huge amounts of material related to the Llewelyn Davies family and Barrie are kept in the Beinecke Library at Yale. I'm not entirely clear how it all ended up at Yale, but it's lucky for me that it did, because it's only a six-hour train-ride from me in the DC area. They have letters and photos that I'm VERY interested in seeing, and they even have the only surviving copy of The Boy Castaways, a book of pictures of the boys that Barrie had professionally bound. The captions tell the boys' story of being "shipwrecked". Only two copies were ever made, and one was, ahem, "lost" by the boys' father, who might not have liked Barrie's intrusion into his family's life.

As you can tell, I've been having a good time with my research rabbit holes, and there are plenty more to pursue.