chapter  12
16 Pages

‘A secret pleasure in being mastered’

Pleasure and Power in the Work of J. M. Barrie
WithSarah Green

Just as the Edwardian period was far more culturally complex than is generally supposed, so it is difficult to read some scenes and maintain the popular perception of J. M. Barrie as a straightforwardly sentimental or naive writer. The exploration of pleasure's relationship to power in Barrie's work is the thematic corollary to this attraction to tonal play. The main plot deals with the relationship between a girl, Babbie, and a young minister, Gavin, and is set in the Scottish town of Thrums, overtly modelled on Barrie's hometown of Kirriemuir. The Little Minister can be read as a Darwinian narrative, in which Babbie's desire to be 'mastered' leads her to a better husband, the uncompromisingly virtuous. It is a narrative that would be particularly acceptable in late nineteenth-century Britain, where popular understanding of Darwinian sexual roles was widely used to justify gender difference, as in Patrick Geddes and J. Arthur Thomson's hugely popular The Evolution of Sex.