P. L. Travers

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P. L. Travers
PL Travers.jpg
Travers in the role of Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, c. 1924
Born Helen Lyndon Goff
(1899-08-09)9 August 1899
Maryborough, Queensland, Australia
Died 23 April 1996(1996-04-23) (aged 96)
London, England, United Kingdom
Resting place St Mary the Virgin's Church, Twickenham, England, United Kingdom
Occupation Writer, actress, journalist
Nationality Australian
Citizenship Australian, British
Genre Children's literature
Notable works 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-born novelist, actress, and journalist who migrated to the United Kingdom and lived most of her adult life there.[1] She is known best for the Mary Poppins series of children's books featuring the magical English nanny Mary Poppins.

Upon emigrating to England in 1924, Goff began to write under the pen name P. L. Travers. In 1933 she began writing the novel Mary Poppins, first of the Poppins books. During World War II, while working for the British Ministry of Information, Travers traveled to New York. At that time Roy Disney contacted her about selling to Disney Studios the rights for a film adaptation of Mary Poppins, whose sequel Mary Poppins Comes Back was also in print. After years of contact, Walt Disney did obtain the rights and the Disney film Mary Poppins premiered in 1964. In 2004, a new, British musical theatre adaptation of the books and the film opened in the West End; it premiered on Broadway in 2006.

For services to literature, Travers was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.

Early life[edit]

Helen Lyndon Goff (known within her family as Lyndon) was born 9 August 1899 in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia to father Travers Robert and mother Margaret Agnes (née Morehead[clarification needed]). Her father was of Irish descent and born in Deptford, South London, England; her mother was Australian and the niece of Boyd Dunlop Morehead, Premier of Queensland from 1888 to 1890. A chronic alcoholic, Travers Goff was unsuccessful as a bank manager and was eventually demoted to the position of bank clerk.[2] Living in a large home with servants in Maryborough until Goff was five years old, the family relocated to Allora in 1905. Two years later, Travers Goff died at home of tuberculosis at the age of 43.[3]

Following her father's death, Goff, along with her mother and sisters, moved to Bowral, New South Wales in 1907, living there until 1917.[4] She boarded at Normanhurst Girls School in Ashfield, a suburb of Sydney, during World War I.


Lyndon Goff began publishing her poems while still a teenager. She wrote for The Bulletin and Triad and during that time began gaining a reputation as an actress under the stage name "Pamela Lyndon Travers". She toured Australia and New Zealand with Allan Wilkie's Shakespearean Company, before leaving for England in 1924. There she dedicated herself to writing under the pen name P. L. Travers.[5] 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 Sussex thatched cottage.[2] It was here, in the winter of 1933, that she began to write Mary Poppins.[2]

Travers greatly admired and emulated J. M. Barrie, author of the 1911 novel Peter and Wendy, which bears many structural resemblances to the Mary Poppins series. Her first publisher was Peter Llewelyn Davies, Barrie's adopted son and widely regarded as the model for Peter Pan.[2]

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.[6]

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.[7][8] After the war, she became Writer-in-Residence at Radcliffe College and Smith College.[9]

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.

Mary Poppins[edit]

Published in London in 1934, Mary Poppins was Travers' first literary success. Sequels followed (the last in 1988).[10]

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.[11] 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.[12][13]

Disney version[edit]

Main article: Mary Poppins (film)

The musical film adaptation Mary Poppins was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1964. Primarily based on the original 1934 novel of the same name, it also lifted elements from the 1935 sequel Mary Poppins Comes Back. Travers was an adviser in the production, but she disapproved of the Poppins character in its Disney version, with harsher aspects diluted; she felt ambivalent about the music; and she so hated the use of animation that she ruled out any further adaptations of series.[14] 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.[15] Disney responded by walking away, saying as he did, "Pamela, the ship has sailed."[15] Enraged at what she considered shabby treatment at Disney's hands, Travers would never agree to another Disney adaptation of Poppins, though Disney made several attempts to persuade her to change her mind.

Travers disliked the Disney adaptation, and the way she felt she had been treated during the production, so much that when producer Cameron Mackintosh approached her about making the British stage musical – when the author was in her nineties – she acquiesced only on conditions that English-born writers alone and no one from the film production were to be directly involved.[16] 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.[17] These points were even stipulated in her last will and testament.[18]

The 2013 movie Saving Mr. Banks is a dramatised story about both the working process during the planning of Mary Poppins and also that of Travers' early life, drawing parallels with Mary Poppins and that of the author's childhood. The movie stars Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

Personal life[edit]

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. Their friendship, in the words of one biographer, was "intense," but also equally ambiguous.[19]

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 was unaware of his true parentage or the existence of any siblings until the age of 17, when Anthony Hone, his brother, 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, following an argument with Travers, went looking for his brother and found him in a pub on Kings Road.[19][20][21]

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. "[22]

Her son Camillus died in London in November 2011.[23]



  • 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, London: Collins. 1988.


  • Stories from Mary Poppins, 1952


  • Moscow Excursion, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1934
  • George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, 1973
  • About the Sleeping Beauty, London: Collins, 1975
  • What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story, 1989


  1. ^ PL Travers (British author). Encyclopedia Britannica.
  2. ^ a b c d Picardie, Justine (28 October 2008). "Was P L Travers the real Mary Poppins?". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  3. ^ David Jones (25 October 2013). "Exploits of P L Travers that you won't see in new film Saving Mr Banks". Daily Mail. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Lawson 1999.
  5. ^ "P. L. Travers", Notable biographies 
  6. ^ Lawson 2005, p. 185.
  7. ^ Burness & Griswold 1982.
  8. ^ Witchell, Alex (22 September 1994). "At Home With: P. L. Travers; Where Starlings Greet the Stars". New York Times. Retrieved 21 November 2013. 
  9. ^ Lawson 2006, p. 290.
  10. ^ Cullinan, Bernice E; Person, Diane Goetz (2005), Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, Continuum, p. 784, ISBN 978-0-82641778-7, retrieved Nov 2012 
  11. ^ Plomley, Roy (21 May 1977). "P L Travers". Desert Island Discs. BBC. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Kevin Nance (2013-12-20). "'Mary Poppins, She Wrote' author discusses P.L Travers, 'Saving Mr. Banks'". Chicago Tribune. p. 2. Retrieved 2014-01-12. 
  14. ^ Newman, Melinda (7 November 2013). "‘Poppins’ Author a Pill No Spoonful of Sugar Could Sweeten". Variety. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  15. ^ a b http://www.vulture.com/2013/12/saving-mr-banks-pl-travers-fact-check-mary-poppins.html
  16. ^ Ouzounian, Richard (13 December 2013). "P.L. Travers might have liked Mary Poppins onstage". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 6 March 2014 ; Rainey, Sarah (29 November 2013). "Saving Mr Banks: The true story of PL Travers". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  17. ^ Rochlin, Margy (6 December 2013). "A Spoonful of Sugar for a Sourpuss". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  18. ^ Norman, Neil (14 April 2012). "The real Mary Poppins". Daily Express. Retrieved 14 May 2015 ; Fryer, Jane (11 April 2012). "A spoonful of spite: New film set to reveal truth about Mary Poppins' creator... she was a vile woman and abusive mother". Daily Mail. Retrieved 14 May 2015 ; Erbland, Kate (26 December 2013). "The Dark, Deep and Dramatic True Story of 'Saving Mr. Banks'". Film.com. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  19. ^ a b 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. 
  20. ^ Minus, Jodie (10–11 April 2004), "There's something about Mary", The Weekend Australian: R6 
  21. ^ Kelleher, Lynne (19 January 2003). "Mary Poppins writer took baby because she 'loved Ireland'; Sugar & spice not so nice for twin separated from brother by author". The Sunday Mirror. London: The Daily Mirror. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  22. ^ Rochlin, Margy (5 January 2014). "Not Quite All Spoonfuls of Sugar". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  23. ^ Rice, Katy (14 July 2012). "In a most delightful way". The Argus. Retrieved 12 December 2013. 

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