Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Sentimental Tommy: J.M. Barrie

Tommy Sandys has no character of his own, so he becomes other people. Sometimes for fun and sometimes for advantage. He is very good at it. He can put himself in another person's shoes and articulate their feelings better than they can themselves.  It is a heartless exercise- an exercise of empathy without love.  He is a trickster, a fantasist, an egoist and- like his no-good, dead father- a "masterful man". He is qualified to become one of two things, some sort of criminal or some sort of artist.

Grizel loves him. Grizel is as tough as he is (with as horrid a back story)- but earth and water to his air and fire. She has protections up against his magic. Then there's Elspeth (Tommy's younger sister). She loves him too- worships him, rather- and Tommy values and protects her as the guardian of his ego. Grizel and Elspeth are mortally jealous of one another. At the climax of the novel Tommy is placed in the position of choosing between them. He can't do it. And a deus ex machina rescues him in the nick of time. This story is to be continued...

Sentimental Tommy is Barrie's David Copperfield. But where Dickens dodged self-examination and let his avatar drift into his profession without explanation, Barrie is unsparing in his picking over of the qualities (verging on psychopathology) that go to the making of a writer. 
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