by Angela Moser, dramaturg
Peter Pan might have refused to grow up, but Wendy Darling has certainly grown and changed since she made her appearance in J.M. Barrie’s novel. Set in the Victorian era, Wendy Darling was created to perfectly fit the values of that society. The “cult of the little child” became a true literary trend of the time, which mirrored the Victorian attitude toward life. Many writers of the time, including Barrie, were fascinated with the childish status and even envied the innocence and purity that belongs to the little ones. Books written through the eyes of children for an adult audience became a way to escape everyday life.
Wendy became a literary icon for the Victorian age. In many ways she was groundbreaking. Female characters at the time were not written about or even relevant to the audience. Wendy not only becomes a relevant character in Barrie’s novel, but she also gets to escape and explore a new world with the boys. The story relies on the power of make-believe to escape to a different world without ever losing grasp of reality. This caught the reader’s attention and helped women relate to Wendy. Women could relate to her by playing the same game, escaping with their mind to a different place and then coming back to their home duties. The character of Wendy was capable of converging the fantastical adventures of Neverland with the mundane expectations of society.
In the Victorian era, womanhood was associated with motherhood. Wendy has innate maternal instincts; she does not need to find them, they are intrinsic in her being. She plays mother to the Lost Boys in Neverland, and when she comes back home she is ready to actually take on the future path of motherhood. Women of the time related to Wendy and were inspired by her character.
Fast forward to the present time and Wendy Darling is still relevant and inspiring. She actually becomes the protagonist of her own story, thanks to the adaptation by Ella Hickson written in 2008. The values of today’s society have shifted and Wendy does not need to think only about motherhood anymore. She does not have to think about herself only in a relationship to a man. Wendy does not need to rely on the aid of other characters for growth. The most powerful lines that come out of her mouth, surely are, ”I’m Wendy Darling. I am brave and I am strong and I am going on an adventure.” These inspiring words capture the effort of our modern society to encourage women to follow their dreams and feel empowered. This new tale sees Wendy more in charge of her actions and her destiny. She becomes brave, not because she has no fear but because she dares to try and be more than what she is. Wendy is the heroine of this decade as much as she was in the Victorian age. It will be interesting to see what more she will become for future generations.