Book Release: There Are Some Secrets

Many thanks to Sara Sass for providing the following guest post:

At the center of a world spinning with the Terry acting family, Barrymore acting family, Red Cross founding, Punch illustration and casual cricket is the playwright and Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie. But who did Barrie rely on for advice as he became a baronet and his career spanned continents? Who was the only person Barrie trusted to write a complete obituary for his beloved ward Michael Llewelyn Davies in 1921? His confidant was E. V. Lucas.

Lucas’ life, beginning in a large British Quaker family in 1868 and ending in a London club in 1938, is covered by my book There Are Some Secrets. Lucas had one daughter, Audrey Lucas, who is still remembered by historians as the lover of Evelyn Waugh. Lucas was a publisher at Methuen, and Evelyn’s father was a publisher at Chapman & Hill. Lucas’ daughter Audrey and “E. V. L.” as he was referred to by his contemporaries and family alike were members of a glittering Edwardian social circle. This group wrote theatre programs featuring Ellen Terry for the newly formed Red Cross effort in World War I. This group also put a mystery writer, A. E. W. Mason, up for election to Parliament as a lark and pulled it off successfully. They spent evenings in and out of London’s Adelphi Terrace, haunted by prostitutes of both genders and all ages.

Barrie the playwright and E. V. the author attended author Maurice Hewlett’s dinner party in 1901. Barrie was a close friend to Hewlett, Hewlett played on the Allahakbarries and Barrie named one of the pirates in Peter Pan “Cecco” after Hewlett’s son. According to the authorized biography of J. M. Barrie by Denis Mackail, “E. V. had so much that Barrie admired. Wit that was too keen and authentic for jealousy. An incredible memory for the incredible amount that he had read. A dry, sympathetic and flattering sense of fun. An encyclopedic knowledge and love of cricket.” Barrie would write after this dinner party, “E. V. Lucas is the only man I’ve met of late years that I specially took to.”  Soon Audrey Lucas and Lucas’ wife Elizabeth Lucas were in Barrie’s “magic circle”.

The magic circle was untouchable in some ways. Audrey Lucas attended early Peter Pan performances with the Llewelyn Davies boys, Barrie’s wards. The group traveled around the United Kingdom, playing cricket in magnificent country estates, fishing in Scotland and drinking in the Scottish myth that would lead to the haunting play Mary Rose (1920). Audrey socialized with the Waugh family, G. K. Chesterton, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame. She was photographed by Barrie in white dresses in white heat, on cricket pitches around England. Her mother decorated Barrie’s houses and flats. American born Elizabeth Lucas managed to make somewhat of a career of interior decoration in the 1920s and 1930s, according to the recollections of the Prime Minister’s daughter-in-law, Lady Cynthia Asquith.

Gloom surrounded Barrie, as D. H. Lawrence remarked that everyone the Peter Pan playwright loves,  dies. This gloom is pierced through in records left by the Lucas family. For example, Barrie’s favorite Michael Llewelyn Davies drowned in 1921 while attending Oxford. Whether it was a suicide pact made between Davies and his friend, Rupert Buxton, or two young men getting caught in the weir is still murky. However, light is shone on Michael’s state of mind during that time. In 1921, Mrs. Elizabeth Lucas lived in Paris after volunteering with Barrie’s financed Red Cross effort during World War I. Michael Llewelyn Davies visited Elizabeth Lucas in Paris before he drowned. Elizabeth Lucas seemed to be something of a maternal figure after Michael Llewelyn Davies’ lovely mother Sylvia died in 1910. Barrie did not like to have Michael far from him and insisted on education at UK-based Oxford for all Llewelyn Davies boys. But Michael was different, separate. According to the recollections of his younger brother Nico, Michael wanted to paint in Europe like his grandfather, celebrated cartoonist Gerald du Maurier did. Michael insisted on continental education. This, Barrie could not allow. Michael was his muse and even his occasional copy editor. Barrie said he created Peter Pan by rubbing all of the Llewelyn Davies boys together. But Michael’s was the one whose portrait hung in his study. Barrie relied upon Michael’s comic timing while going through scripts. And there were deeper, darker pulls. Barrie adored Michael.

So when Michael was pressured back to Oxford in 1920, it was not without a fight. This impact of Mrs. Elizabeth Lucas – who appears to have never lived again in England after World War I – was previously unexplored.

Despite this, Barrie remained close to Mrs. Elizabeth Lucas throughout his life. Barrie trusted Elizabeth Lucas, even if her marriage with E. V. was faltering as the two lived apart for most of their marriage. When Barrie’s own marriage to actress Mary Ansell fell apart in 1909, it was Elizabeth Lucas he called upon to redecorate at least one of his three houses. According to Barrie’s secretary until his death, Lady Cynthia Asquith, Elizabeth Lucas harbored ill will towards Barrie’s ex-wife. Asquith writes that Elizabeth Lucas in 1923 asserted the former Mary Barrie (Mrs. Mary Cannan at that time, she married her second husband artist Gilbert Cannan in 1910) wanted a second chance with Barrie and so routinely tried to live near him.  This spooked Barrie to the extent that he forbade any of his party guests at country estate Stanway to visit the entire village, Broadway, his ex-wife stayed in. Asquith, to make this gossipy claim, is relying on sources other than the official record. Barrie annually had dinner with his ex-wife on their wedding anniversary. Barrie paid her an annuity, even during her tumultuous marriage with Cannan.  Barrie helped pay for her final home in Biarritz, a lovely pink washed residence. Barrie thought so highly of his ex-wife she was present at his deathbed. Asquith, as the heiress to the bulk of the Barrie estate, had her own reasons for isolating Barrie. The question also arises of what big a part Mrs. Elizabeth Lucas played – she was also the origin of the idea of giving the Peter Pan copyright to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, where it remains.

There Are Some Secrets is available from various booksellers:

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