The above painting, L’absinthe, is by far one of my favorite Degas’. I like it more than any one of his ballerinas. This is probably because of the raw emotion it exhibits or maybe because I can identify more with a drunk than I do a ballerina… This painting illustrates the addict, the drunk, at her lowest. As I look at the piece, I can hear the clamoring and clinking of glasses— the commotion of the bar is so loud yet she hears none of it as she sits there in a world of her own. Maybe she stopped by the bar for a drink after working her day away at a hazardous industrial era mill. No wonder she looks so miserable…
Absinthe has an interesting history and is not legal in the United States. It is a bright green colored alcoholic beverage made from wormwood that is traditionally poured over a sugar cube before drinking because of it’s bitter flavor. The drink was popular with poets and the artists of the post-impressionist era like Van Gogh. Artistic minds favored this drink and believed it’s hallucinogenic properties inspired creativity. The drink itself is known for it’s very high alcohol content, but that is not what makes absinthe absinthe. It is calamus which brings the drink’s effect beyond that of an alcoholic stupor to something more on par to the effects of a narcotic.
Nicknamed la fee verte (the green fairy), absinthe was a popular drink in the 1850’s and beyond. It was served during the “green hour” between 5- 7 PM because it was considered an aperitif. But why was absinthe called the “green fairy?” And is this from which the concept for Tinkerbell was derived? After all, she is green and she is a fairy...
J.M Berry, the author of both The Lost Boys and Peter Pan was born in Scotland during the era that absinthe was at the height of its popularity in Europe. Is it possible that he was influenced and was possibly under the influence of the drink himself? And if he used Tinkerbell as a metaphor for the green fairy is it possible that Peter Pan and The Lost Boys, all children who never grew up, are metaphors for sufferers of substance-induced arrested development?
Some of absinthe’s nicknames stem directly from the artists and writers who were using it for inspiration. Besides The Green Fairy, absinthe was nicknamed the Green Goddess and the Green Muse by creative thinkers of the time. In actuality, Absinthe was the drink of the bohemians in 19th century France and was considered an important part of the creative process. The Green Fairy was actually considered some type of usher that brought the artist out of reality and into a creative sphere, One artist writes of absinthe use at that time, “It was the Green Fairy who guided him — and his fellow poet and partner Paul Verlaine — on their quest to escape the conventional reality of their time into the sanctuary of the surreal.” Just like how Tinkerbell traveled with Peter Pan in and out of his adventures to and from Never Never Land.
It appears that the woman in Degas’ painting is in her own personal Never Never Land, a place that is impenetrable by the outside world. And what about the Lost Boys who literally live in Never Never Land and because of it have never grown up. Are The Lost Boys truly metaphors for addicts at the bar? Addicts whom because of arrested development never truly grew up? That was my hypothesis. What I found was quite surprising, unexpected and even more interesting than my above theory.
When J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan was six years old, his older brother died in a tragic accident. His mother took it very badly as Barrie acknowledges, his brother was her favorite not Barrie. In order to placate his mother and make her feel better, Barrie would dress up in his brothers clothing and carry on a charade for his mother, pretending to be his late brother.
According to Wikipedia, “Barrie’s mother found comfort in the fact that her dead son would remain a boy forever, never to grow up and leave her.” It appears that the idea of the deceased son remaining a boy forever could’ve been the inspiration for Barrie’s concept of The Lost Boys, boys who remained boys forever. That’s probably about half of it. The other half stems with Barrie himself. It is speculated that the trauma of losing his brother “induced “psychogenic dwarfism, and was responsible for his short stature and apparently asexual adulthood“ It is interesting to note that Barrie was only about 5′ tall as an adult.
Though that information kind of blows my theory of substance-induced arrested development out of the water, it is still likely that Tinkerbell aka the green fairy is still a reference to absinthe, a favorite drink during the time these books were authored. No matter how I look at it, I still think alcohol use remains references in the story itself.
As for The Lost Boys, though they are unlikely to be products nor metaphors for arrested development in the way I theorized, they are still truly representative of arrested development. Though their development was not arrested in the sense I envisioned, induced by way of addiction or alcohol, they were still inspired by it both literally and figuratively. There was Barrie’s trauma induced arrested development and the literal arrest of his brother’s development via a tragically shortened life . The idea for The Lost Boys was inspired by the tragic lives of Barrie and his brother and sprung from the imaginations of grief stricken mother and son; a somber elegy forever immortalized in print.