Captivated by Piers Dudgeon: Review

So what is Captivated by Piers Dudgeon about? The full title is Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland. It's right there in the title- a non-fiction look at Barrie's influence over the du Maurier family.


It all starts with Grandpapa du Maurier: George "Kicky". Kicky (that's what they call him) was an art student in Paris who was into hypnotism (oh, and drugs). I mean really into hypnotism. He'd hypnotize anyone (mostly women) including himself. He then moves to London where he marries Emma Wightwick. She's not very impressed with the hypnotism or how he kicks it bohemian style and tells him to act like a gentleman.

He ends up writing 2 novels involving hypnotism, one of which becomes The DaVinci Code of it's day: Trilby. Trilby features a tone deaf artist's model and a hypnotist named Svengali. This book makes him very famous. Even though he promises the wife not to dabble in his occult hobby, he joins a club that includes notables like Henry James, Thomas Hardy and Arthur Conan Doyle- all dabblers themselves. It seems like you couldn't walk down a London street without some author jumping out and trying to hypnotize you.

Barrie and Sylvia

What's this got to do with Barrie, you may ask? That's tricky. Dudgeon suggests that he was fixated on Kicky and his talent with hypnotizing. Barrie comes off as a manipulative creepy weirdo. It's too late for him to attach himself to Kicky (he dies) but he gets the next best thing, his kids Sylvia and Gerald.

Remember Finding Neverland? That charming Johnny Depp movie? It's not so charming. Sylvia (the mom) gets taken in by Barrie. He writes Peter Pan and everyone thinks it's a children's fantasy, but Dudgeon points out the darker undertones. And Peter Pan wasn't named after Sylvia's son, but another character in Kicky's novel: Peter Ibbetson which is all about sex and hypnotism. Creeptastic!

After Sylvia dies, he tricks everyone into thinking she gave him her boys. And no one protests because they are afraid of him. Then there are lots of vague comments about what he was doing with them. Let your mind take you to the worst imaginings but one suggestion is that he was hypnotizing them and making them his puppets.

Gerald and Daphne 

What about Gerald, Daphne's father? Barrie was bankrolling his career as an actor. He even wrote an inappropriate father/daughter scene for Gerald to play that sent Daphne running from her seat crying. There was some messed up stuff going on between the three of them that is vaguely hinted at. Later, Dudgeon suggests, Daphne leaves clues in her stories and novels.

Daphne, having been manipulated by Barrie, becomes manipulative and cynical herself. She thinks of people as 'pegs to hang emotions on' and uses them as fodder for her stories. Her lovers, both male and female, mean very little to her. She comes off as stone cold.

Captivated has a definite agenda. If Dudgeon could have blamed World War I on Barrie, I think he would have. Would the du Maurier's been a happy, mentally stable family without Barrie? Erm, they had problems anyway. I'm not saying Barrie wasn't a weirdo but laying all the du Maurier's issues at his feet is unfair. Dudgeon makes some great leaps when trying to make a point. And I don't buy the whole mind control angle. The narrative is also a bit jumpy. This is an interesting look at the family and I'll never be able to read Daphne's stories without Barrie in them ever again. Still, I'd read this book with a BIG grain of salt.

I am adding Trilby to the TBR list. Sounds like a crazy read!

Picked this one up at the library for the Daphne du Maurier Challenge.

BookBlips: vote it up!


  1. I used to want to read this book, but the more I hear about it, the more I think "no thanks". It sounds incredibly sensationalistic.

  2. ...I was trying to find the review that first made me change my mind about it and I have finally managed to:

  3. Sensationalistic is definitely the word. There was a point when I started to question the author's motives. He really had it out for Barrie.

    I hadn't read that review but he is spot on.

  4. Wow, I think I am confused by how many du Mauriers there were and how they were related! Who is Daphne, for example?

    I am not sure I want to read this book, either, particularly if things are merely "hinted at" instead of the author having a real reason to believe what he does. That DOES seem sensationalist.

  5. The fact that the author seems to have an agenda turns me off.

  6. I didn't know there was a connection between JM Barrie and the du Maurier's. Interesting stuff. I loved reading your synopsis here - it's given me a great overview of the novel and now I don't have to worry about not reading the book! To agree with Nymeth, it's a bit too sensationalist for me.

  7. Ugh to reminds me of all those conspiracy theorists who make mountains out the tiniest of coincidences (and yes, I know I'm messing up the metaphor).

  8. I agree with your comments-the main captivator is Dudgeon himself who skilfully draws you in and keeps you hanging on with a promise until....nothing-a very flimsy concoction based on a subjective interpretation of the evidence and a very outmoded understanding of psychology-indeed his interpretation of the fiction is itself an example of Freudian 'projection.'If it were a PhD thesis it would be thrown out-as it is he has made a few pennies-a pity after all that research.


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