Mary Poppins: the larger-than-life character we all know from the books and, of course, the famous Disney movie; the mysterious nanny who appears from nowhere and finds order from chaos; the strict, yet lovable woman who makes even the most mundane chores magical and fun.
We see a cheery character, the smile of Julie Andrews, singing along as she works, but P.L. Travers’ creation was vastly different. In the Poppins books, the nanny is blunt to the verge of rude, domineering and vain, with an affinity towards animals. She is based on a combination of Travers’ fantasies and the women who raised the author, and the movie version is only a loose interpretation of the complicated character of the books. Travers had very little input into the final depiction of the Poppins characters in the movie.
Poppins’ creator is just as mysterious as her most well-known fictional character. Raised in Australia, Travers never saw herself as Australian and moved to London as soon as she was able.
This biography focuses on the impact Travers’ life and the people surrounding her had on the characters of Mary Poppins. Broken into three parts, taken from the stages Travers used to define a woman’s life – the Nymph, the Mother and the Crone – Lawson has written a detailed account of the entirety of her subject’s life.
Beginning with the birth of Helen Lyndon Goff in 1899, through to her transformation into Pamela Lyndon Travers and the beginning of her writing career, the adoption of her son, Camillus, and finishing not with her death but the fitting acknowledgement that Travers lives on through her work.
This is the life of a woman who lived several lives in one, who transformed herself over and over again in an attempt to find her way. She lived in many different cities and undertook various types of work in order to survive and raise her son.
Travers was a paradox of herself in many ways. She asked for complete privacy and would only discuss her work, never her personal life. She said she did not want her life written about after her death, yet her son and Lawson found boxes of information and keepsakes, all stored, well organised and labelled in order for others to look through.
The book has been written in a journalistic fashion, suited to Lawson’s background. The facts of Travers’ life are interesting, but the details do make for a slow effort through the pages at times.
In all, Mary Poppins She Wrote is a fascinating account of a life that most of us know little about. One of our own, who wished to be elsewhere.