Though the Mary Poppins children's book series, first launched in 1934, and the 1964 movie starring Julie Andrews have become international classics in their genres, author Pamela Lyndon Travers (1889-1998) has remained at best a shadowy presence. Valerie Lawson's Mary Poppins, She Wrote corrects that puzzling omission with a biographical portrait of a remarkable author. Its contents are surprising: Who among us knew that Travers moved in the literary circles of William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot? An eye-opening life of the woman an American magazine once dubbed "this unknown Englishwoman."
The original Mary Poppins was not as "saccharine" as the movie character, says Lawson, and her bittersweet biography of the supernanny's elusive creator, Travers (1899-1996), convincingly portrays a writer who created her character out of the childhood sorrows that haunted her. Drawing on archival sources and private papers, Lawson, a writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, sensitively traces Travers's emotionally deprived girlhood in Australia, where she was raised largely by an elderly aunt; her early career as an actress and columnist; and her 1924 emigration to London, where she worked as a journalist and theater reviewer. Emphasizing how Travers's desire for the father who had died when she was seven affected both her life and work, Lawson explores mythological and literary influences on the six Mary Poppins stories, written over 54 years (the first was published in 1934). Never married, Travers adopted an Irish baby boy; Lawson movingly reveals the emotional fallout of their failed relationship. After detailing Travers's fussy movie negotiations with Walt Disney and the downplaying of her authorship in the 1964 hit film, Lawson captures the melancholy of Travers's retreat into isolation and old age. 2 photo inserts. (Oct. 14) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Sydney Morning Herald writer Lawson's preface to her biography of P.L. Travers (1899-1996), the creator of Mary Poppins, reads like an introduction to a mystery. This is fitting, since Travers preferred to keep the facts of her personal life hidden; luckily, Lawson is superb at excavating the details. Travers, we learn, held a cherished belief that women experience three phases of life: maiden, mother, and crone, so Lawson divides the book into three corresponding sections. Drawing on archival sources and private papers, she covers Travers's relationship with the poet AE (George William Russell), her dealings with film producer Walt Disney, and her adoption of a son while a single woman. Many pages are devoted to Travers's lifelong spiritual journey, which involved meditation, Zen Buddhism, and several gurus, of which the controversial Gurdjieff became the most influential. At times when discussing Travers's spiritual search, Lawson applies an unfortunate layer of sarcasm. Thankfully, this tendency does not detract significantly from the arresting life revealed here. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries. Stacy Russo, California State Univ. Lib., Fullerton Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Lawson (The Allens Affair, not reviewed) offers an intriguing, surprisingly rich literary life of the fairly obscure Australian author best known for her cheery children's series featuring nanny Mary Poppins. The Disney film based on Travers's well-loved flying English nanny was not made until 1963, 30 years after Mary Poppins was originally published. Here, Lawson uncovers Travers's various disguises. Born in Maryborough (Queensland) in 1899, Helen Lyndon Goff absorbed fanciful stories and poetry told by her English-Irish father, a banker who drank heavily and was eventually demoted from bank manager to clerk. With his death, Travers fell under the supervision of her stalwart spinster aunt, Ellie, in Bowral (New South Wales), and our smart young heroine, known then as Pamela, eventually set out for Sydney with the short-lived plan of making her name as an actress. Travels to England and Ireland whetted her appetite for becoming a writer, and correspondence with George William Russell, "AE," the older married editor of the Irish Statesman, had both romantic and literary implications. AE introduced her to Yeats and encouraged her to publish; her first stories about the Banks children and their dictatorial, magical nanny Mary Poppins first appeared in 1926. Travers traveled extensively as a journalist and seems to have latched onto older, powerful male figures all her life: Besides AE, there was Alfred Richard Orage, Armenian guru G.I. Gurdjieff and Irish critic Francis Macnamara. Travers wrote her many Mary Poppins adventures over the course of 54 years, with delicate drawings by Mary Shepard; with Disney's film adaptation, Travers became a rich woman, though not a famous one. Her adoptionof a Dublin twin, Camillus, allowed her finally someone to "love and control," and she settled comfortably into the role of New Age disciple. She died in 1996. Lawson ably encompasses the life of this mysterious, many-sided author, from nymph to mother to crone. Agent: Alison M. Bond/Alison M. Bond Ltd.