P. L. Travers
|P. L. Travers|
|Born||Helen Lyndon Goff
9 August 1899
Maryborough, Queensland, Australia
|Died||23 April 1996
London, England, United Kingdom
|Resting place||St Mary the Virgin's Church, Twickenham, England, United Kingdom|
|Occupation||Writer, actress, journalist|
|Notable work(s)||Mary Poppins book series|
|Children||Camillus Travers Hone
Pamela Lyndon Travers, OBE (born Helen Lyndon Goff; 9 August 1899 – 23 April 1996), was an Australian-British novelist, actress and journalist. In 1924, she emigrated to England where she wrote under the pen name P. L. Travers. In 1933, she began writing her series of children's novels about the mystical and magical English nanny Mary Poppins. During the Second World War, while working for the British Ministry of Information, she travelled to New York where Roy Disney first contacted her about selling the Mary Poppins character to the Disney studio for film use.
For services to literature, Travers was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Elizabeth II in 1977. Her popular books have been adapted many times, including the 1964 film starring Julie Andrews and the Broadway musical originally produced in London's West End.
Helen Lyndon Goff (she was known within her family as Lyndon) was born in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, the daughter of an unsuccessful bank manager (later demoted to bank clerk) named Travers Robert Goff, who was of Irish background, but born in Deptford, south London, England. Her mother was Margaret Agnes, née Morehead, the niece of Boyd Dunlop Morehead, who was Premier of Queensland from 1888 to 1890. Travers Goff's job took the family to Allora, Queensland in 1905, where he died of influenza two years later, aged 43, after a long battle with alcoholism. Following this, Lyndon Goff and her mother and sisters moved to Bowral, New South Wales in 1907, and lived there until 1917. She boarded at Normanhurst Girls School in Ashfield, Sydney, during World War I.
Lyndon Goff began publishing her poems while still a teenager and wrote for The Bulletin and Triad while also gaining a reputation as an actress; she soon adopted the stage name "Pamela Lyndon Travers". She toured Australia and New Zealand with a Shakespearean touring company before leaving for England in 1924. There she dedicated herself to writing under the pen name P. L. Travers. In 1931, she moved out of a rented flat in London that she shared with her friend Madge Burnand, and the two set up home together in a thatched Sussex cottage. It was here, in the winter of 1933, that she began to write Mary Poppins.
Travers greatly admired and emulated J. M. Barrie, the author of the 1911 novel Peter and Wendy, which bears many structural resemblances to the Mary Poppins series. Indeed, Travers' first publisher was Peter Llewelyn Davies, Barrie's adopted son and widely regarded as the model for Peter Pan.
While in Ireland in 1925, Travers met the poet George William Russell (who wrote under the name "Æ") who, as editor of The Irish Statesman, accepted some of her poems for publication. Through Russell, Travers met W. B. Yeats, Oliver St. John Gogarty, and other Irish poets who fostered her interest in and knowledge of world mythology. She had studied the Gurdjieff System under Jane Heap and in March 1936, with the help of Jessie Orage (widow of Alfred Richard Orage), she met the mystic George Gurdjieff, who would have a great effect on her, as well as on several other literary figures.
At the invitation of her friend, US Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, Travers spent two summers living among the Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo peoples studying their mythology and folklore. After the war, she became Writer-in-Residence at Radcliffe College and Smith College. She returned to England, making only one brief visit to Sydney in 1960 while on her way to Japan to study Zen mysticism.
Travers' literary output other than Mary Poppins and its sequels included other novels, poetry collections and works of non-fiction.
Published in London in 1934, Mary Poppins was Travers' first literary success. Sequels followed (the last in 1988).
While appearing as a guest on BBC Radio 4's radio programme Desert Island Discs in May 1977, Travers revealed that the name "M. Poppins" originated from childhood stories that she contrived for her sisters, and that she was still in possession of a book from that age with this name inscribed within. Travers' great aunt, Helen Morehead, who lived in Woollahra, Sydney and used to say, 'Spit spot, into bed' is a likely inspiration for the character.
The Disney musical adaptation was released in 1964. Primarily based on the first novel in what expanded into a series of eight books, it also lifted elements from the sequel Mary Poppins Comes Back. Although Travers was an adviser to the production, she disapproved of the dilution of the harsher aspects of Mary Poppins' character, felt ambivalent about the music, and so hated the use of animation that she ruled out any further adaptations of the later Mary Poppins novels. At the film's star-studded première (to which she was not invited, but had to ask Walt Disney for permission to attend), she reportedly approached Disney and told him that the animated sequence had to go. Disney responded by walking away, saying as he did, "Pamela, the ship has sailed." Enraged at what she considered shabby treatment at Disney's hands, Travers would never again agree to another Poppins/Disney adaptation, though Disney made several attempts to persuade her to change her mind.
So fervent was Travers' dislike of the Disney adaptation and of the way she felt she had been treated during the production, that when producer Cameron Mackintosh approached her about the stage musical when she was into her 90s, she acquiesced on the condition that only English-born writers and no one from the film production were to be directly involved with creating the stage musical. This specifically excluded the Sherman Brothers from writing additional songs for the production. However, original songs and other aspects from the 1964 film were allowed to be incorporated into the production. Contrary to popular belief these points were not stipulated in her last will and testament. A section in her will (section 5-c) directs the trustees to follow her wishes regarding exploitation of her literary estate, but these wishes have not been made public.
Though Travers had numerous fleeting relationships with men throughout her life, she lived for more than a decade with Madge Burnand, daughter of Sir Francis Burnand, a playwright and the former editor of Punch. They shared a London flat from 1927 to 1934, then moved to a thatched cottage in Sussex, where Travers published the first of the Mary Poppins books; while on holiday in Italy, Burnand photographed Travers topless on the beach. Their friendship, in the words of one biographer, was “intense,” but also equally ambiguous.
At the age of 40, two years after moving out on her own, Travers adopted a baby boy from Ireland whom she named Camillus Travers Hone. He was the grandchild of Joseph Hone, W. B. Yeats' first biographer, who was raising his seven grandchildren with his wife. Camillus had a twin brother named Anthony, but Travers chose only Camillus, based on advice from her astrologer. Camillus was unaware of his true parentage or the existence of any siblings until the age of 17, when Anthony came to London and knocked on the door of Travers' house. He had been drinking and demanded to see his brother. Travers refused to allow it and threatened to call the police. Anthony left but soon after, Camillus, after arguing with Travers, went looking for his brother and found him in a pub on Kings Road.
Travers was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1977. She lived into advanced old age, but her health was declining toward the end of her life. Travers died in London on 23 April 1996 at the age of 96. According to her grandchildren, Travers "died loving no one and with no one loving her."
Her son Camillus died in London in November 2011.
- Mary Poppins, London: Gerald Howe, 1934
- Mary Poppins Comes Back, London: L. Dickson & Thompson Ltd., 1935
- I Go By Sea, I Go By Land, London: Peter Davies, 1941
- Aunt Sass, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941
- Ah Wong, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943
- Mary Poppins Opens the Door, London: Peter Davies, 1943
- Johnny Delaney, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944
- Mary Poppins in the Park, London: Peter Davies, 1952
- Gingerbread Shop (1952)
- Mr. Wigg's Birthday Party (1952)
- The Magic Compass (1953)
- Mary Poppins From A to Z, London: Collins, 1963
- The Fox at the Manger, London: Collins, 1963
- Friend Monkey, London: Collins, 1972
- Mary Poppins in the Kitchen, New York & London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975
- Two Pairs of Shoes, New York: Viking Press, 1980
- Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane, London: Collins, 1982
- Mary Poppins and the House Next Door, New York: Delacorte Press, 1989
- Stories from Mary Poppins (1952)
- Moscow Excursion, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1934
- About the Sleeping Beauty, London: Collins, 1975
- What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story (1989)
- George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff
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- Shae McDonald (18 December 2013). "PL Travers biographer Valerie Lawson says the real Mary Poppins lived in Woollahra". Wentworth Courier (The Daily Telegraph). Event occurs at 12:30PM.
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- Last will and testament
- Jones, David (25 October 2013). "How the sexual adventuress who created Mary Poppins wrecked the lives of two innocent boys". The Daily Mail (online ed.) (London). Retrieved 25 October 2013.
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- "Not Quite All Spoonfuls of Sugar". The New York Times. 5 January 2014. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
- "In a most delightful way". The Argus. 14 July 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
- Brody, Paul (2013). The Real Life Mary Poppins: The Life and Times of P. L. Travers. CreateSpace (published 20 February 2013). ISBN 978-1482075038.
- Burness, Edwina; Griswold, Jerry (Winter 1982). "P. L. Travers, The Art of Fiction". The Paris Review (63).
- Demers, Patricia (1991). P.L. Travers. Twayne Publishers. ISBN 978-0805770056.
- Dooling Draper, Ellen; Koralek, Jenny, eds. (1999). A Lively Oracle: a Centennial Celebration of P. L. Travers, Creator of Mary Poppins. New York: Larson Publications.
- Lawson, Valerie (1999). Out of the Sky She Came: The Life of P.L. Travers, Creator of Mary Poppins. ISBN 0-7336-1072-2.
- ——— (2005). Mary Poppins She Wrote. Aurum Press. ISBN 1-84513-126-6.
- ——— (2006), Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers, Simon & Schuster, p. 290, ISBN 978-0743298162.
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- P. L. Travers at Find a Grave
- Travers, PL (1970–71), "Gurdjieff", Man, Myth and Magic: Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, London: Purnell, 12 vol., reprinted on the International Gurdjieff Review.
- "Papers of P. L. Travers" (PDF), Finding aid, New South Wales: State Library.
- Flanagan, Caitlin (12 December 2005), "Becoming Mary Poppins: P. L. Travers, Walt Disney, and the making of a myth", The New Yorker.
- Lawson, Valerie (February 2006), "Secret Life of a Letter to the Editor", Columbia Journalism Review[dead link]
- Bostridge, Mark, "Hail Mary", The independent (London).