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Mary Poppins, She Wrote


The Real Mr. Banks

Helen Lyndon Goff had two fathers. One was real. The other she imagined. The traces of both men can be found in a third father, the completely fictional George Banks, the melancholy head of the household in the adventures of Mary Poppins. Mr. Banks was a banker, but he represented more than a pillar of the City of London with bowler and furled umbrella, grumbling about his personal finances and the chaos of his Chelsea household. Mr. Banks hired Mary Poppins to create order from that chaos, and, though he never went with her on one of her heavenly adventures, he knew instinctively that Mary Poppins was magic.

Helen Lyndon Goff said she invented both George Banks and the practically perfect Mary Poppins “mainly to please myself.” Mr. Banks fulfilled many roles. He was the father, and lover, Lyndon wished she had, this whimsical bank manager who lives with his family at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London, where, one fantastic day, Mary Poppins flew in with the East Wind.

But instead of Mr. Banks, Helen Lyndon had Travers Robert Goff. He was nowhere near good enough. Lyndon took the best of him, though—what she remembered from her childhood—and enhanced the rest. The result was a composite Irish hero: glamorous, languid and charming, a father she later described to others as the handsome supervisor of a sugarcane plantation in far away, subtropical Australia, “the deep country,” as she called it. Born in Ireland, this idealized, imagined father strode the cane fields of northern Queensland in a white silk suit, floppy white hat, gold earrings and scarlet cummerbund, surrounded by faithful servants and with a barn stocked with every sort of conveyance: a four-wheeler, hansom cab, old howdah, and an elegant sledge along with carts, wagons and sulkies.1

In truth, her father was a bank manager before he was demoted to bank clerk. He died in his early forties, his life unfulfilled, his family left destitute and forced onto the charity of rich but emotionally chilly relatives. Travers Robert Goff drank too much and wanted too much that he never attained. His legacy was establishing in his daughter’s mind the idea that she was not Australian at all, but a misfit in the Antipodes, a woman destined to spend her life in search of the fairy tales, poetry and romance of her father’s Irish fantasies. She even took his first name as her surname. As a journalist, writer and actress she used the pseudonym Pamela Lyndon Travers.

Travers Goff was a bamboozler. The tales he told his family and friends grew more romantic the more he drank. He liked to boast that his life was drenched in the Celtic Twilight, in the land of Yeats and George William Russell. But as much as he admired the poets and dramatists of the nineteenth century, he was most in love with the myths of ancient Ireland, and of the fictional personification of Ireland, immortalized in a play by William Butler Yeats, Cathleen ni Houlihan. Fairies, pixies and elves meant everything. The Great Serpent of his adopted land meant nothing. Even in Australia “he had Ireland round him like a cloak very much the way James Joyce wrapped Dublin around him even when he was in Paris.”2

Helen Lyndon Goff followed Mary Poppins’s greatest precept: Never Explain. She certainly never explained why she favored the cane-field version of her father’s life. It may have been a case of simple snobbery. Lyndon preferred to be the daughter of a gentleman farmer in the tropical outback than the daughter of a pen-pusher in the back office of a provincial bank. Whatever the reason, false versions of her father and her own early years in Australia shadowed her through life, and even after her death. Her obituary in The New York Times claimed that she was the daughter of a sugar planter, while the Guardian’s obituary writer believed she was the granddaughter of the premier of Queensland, who was also the founder of one of Australia’s biggest companies, Colonial Sugar Refining.

The confusion was understandable, considering Goff’s own reluctance to reveal his origins, even to his wife. She told the doctor who signed his death certificate that he was born in County Wexford, Ireland. Lyndon herself said, “My father came from a very old Irish family, Irish gentry, what we call landed people…He was a younger son, and younger sons were sent to explore the world…what made him go to Australia I don’t know. He was Anglo Irish, and the Irish are great wanderers.”3

Goff was born at home in Queens Road, Deptford, London, in December 1863, the second son of a shipping agent, Henry Lyndon Bradish Goff, and his wife Charlotte Cecilia. He did have Irish connections, though, with relatives whose surname was Davis-Goff, who lived in both County Wexford and near Galway, in the west of Ireland.

As a young man, not yet twenty, Travers Goff sailed from London to Ceylon, where he took up tea planting before drifting on to Australia. He settled in New South Wales, and then, in about 1891, moved to the colony of Queensland. It is possible he was an overseer on a sugarcane farm at some time before his marriage. A portrait dated 1896, taken in a Sydney photographer’s studio, shows him with a droopy, oversized handlebar mustache, posed stiffly in a white suit, white shoes and pith helmet. There are similarities in the costume to photographs of sugar plantation overseers in the 1880s. But his outfit could also be a nostalgic acknowledgment of the clothes he wore in Ceylon.

Whatever his original Australian occupation, Goff did not remain long in any town. His name does not appear in any residential directory of New South Wales or Queensland from the 1880s. But by July 23, 1898, he had settled in Maryborough, where he joined the Australian Joint Stock Bank. As branch manager, he earned a salary of £250 a year as well as a servants allowance of £50.4

For a single man, there were worse places to be than the pretty subtropical town of Maryborough, a river port about 250 kilometers north of Brisbane, named after the Mary River, which flows through it. Like many of the coastal towns of Queensland, Maryborough looked a little like colonial Ceylon, with its wooden buildings—lacy, delicate—built to withstand the worst of the sweltering summer months. Maryborough was proud of its town hall, and Queens Park, laid out in the London manner with ornamental trees. A gun recovered from a shipwreck in the Torres Strait was fired each day at one o’clock. By the 1880s, Maryborough’s diversions included an Orchestra Society, band concerts held in the cool of the night, circuses, vaudeville, and moonlight excursions on the river. Just before Goff arrived, in the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, motion pictures came to town.

Maryborough lived on two industries: timber and sugar. In the decade to 1880, the sugar industry boomed with more than forty juice mills and sugar mills in the district. But the boom gave way to a drought that saw planters forced to mortgage their properties and unable to pay off their loans. Bankers, such as the directors of Goff’s bank, fretted over the low price of sugar and the worrying outlook for the industry. They began to foreclose, to cut plantations into farming blocks and offer them for sale.

Australian banks were badly hung over from the 1880s boom, and the Australian Joint Stock Bank was no exception. By the time Goff joined in 1898, it claimed to be the third-biggest bank in New South Wales and Queensland, but a crisis of the early 1890s was still fresh in the minds of its directors. The AJS Bank relied heavily on London for its deposits. Bank problems in England in the early 1890s led directly to the AJS Bank closing its doors in April 1893, reopening two months later under a scheme of reconstruction.5

The roller-coaster ride of Australian banks in the 1890s continued to affect Travers Goff, professionally and personally, until his death. Lyndon’s father’s experiences, combined with bank problems involving her mother’s family, remained in her mind for life. Both spilled over into her portrait of George Banks, whose personality was as ambivalent as her father’s. In Mr. Banks, Lyndon created a worrier who dreamed of the stars, but had to go to his bank every day except Sundays and bank holidays. There he sat in a big chair at a big desk and made money. The Banks children, perhaps like little Helen Lyndon, thought he manufactured the coins himself, cutting out pennies and shillings and half-crowns and threepences, and bringing them home in his black Gladstone bag. Sometimes, when George Banks had no money for the children, he would say “The bank is broken.” The two oldest Banks children, Jane and Michael, counted their money carefully into their money boxes, prudent like father: “Sixpence and four pennies—that’s tenpence, and a halfpenny and a threepenny bit.”6

In much the same way, Lyndon as an adult scrutinized her investments, asking bankers, lawyers and agents to constantly check the balances, never thinking she had enough. Her fears came not just from her father’s problems, but from the foolish investments of her mother’s uncle, Boyd Morehead, son of a dour, careful Scot. Boyd was the black sheep of the canny Moreheads, a Scottish family described by Lyndon as “very rich.” She boasted that her mother... --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Biographie de l'auteur

Valerie Lawson is a feature writer for The Sydney Morning Herald. Her previous books are Connie Sweetheart and The Allens Affair. She lives in Sydney and London.

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 105 commentaires
92 internautes sur 93 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Good Primer 23 janvier 2010
Par V. Nolan - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
For anyone who loves Mary Poppins, in any or all of her incarnations, this book serves as a great introduction to the evolution of the character. The biography paints a great portrait of the woman best known as the creator of Mary Poppins, while being quite blunt about her shortcomings, personality quirks, and key moments and people in her life which are all reflected somewhere in the text of the Mary Poppins books. Knowing what makes this author tick makes reading the Poppins books themselves a more meaningful experience as the reader can harken back to anecdotes and philosophies that Travers liberally sprinkled throughout the world of Cherry Tree Lane.

My favorite part of the book is the no-holds-barred retelling of Travers' negotiations with Walt Disney for the move rights, and subsequent alienation she encountered while becoming a thorn in the side to the production, so much so that she wasn't invited to the Hollywood premiere and almost literally crashed the event. This reaffirms everything I know from listening to the commentary of the film, as well as the Sherman Brothers remembrances of Travers' less than helpful suggestions for the movie.

If you love to hear about the behind-the-scenes goings on on film sets as much as I do, the chapter on the Disney movie will be a favorite.
112 internautes sur 121 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
STILL AN ENIGMA 17 octobre 2006
Par Mr. Borderman - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Valerie Lawson has done something P. L. Travers claimed she didn't want anyone to do: write her biography. It's a very good book. Travers discouraged personal questions in interviews, and preferred to discuss her work and, in later years, her philosophy of life -- the essence of experience as opposed to the mundane details of living. Lawson makes the case that if Travers had been serious about this she would have destroyed her papers -- which she decidedly did not do. Whatever her true feelings on the matter, this is a fascinating book, filled with insights into Travers' life and work, and with a respectable amount of attention to the work itself, especially the meanings and importance of the Mary Poppins books.

I think Lawson gives somewhat short shrift to Travers work with Parabola magazine, which is some of her most brilliant writing -- inspiring to thousands of her readers, and collected in the now out of print "What the Bee Knows." (Note to publishers: bring it back!) You may also find out more than you want to known about her endless toing and froing with Disney, and the ways in which the movie deal echoed through the last thirty years of her life.

But Lawson also gives the first comprehensive account of Travers' private life, her involvement AE and Gurdieff, her adoption of one twin, her son Camillus, and her early career as an actress. Her love affairs are touched on.

I'm not sure, in the end, if all the private matters, interesting as they may be, really add to our understanding of Travers' work, though Lawson makes some persuasive connections between the fantasy and the reality. Mary Poppins herself, the Great Exception, survives the biography with her mystery intact, and in spite of Lawson's sympathetic and thorough craftsmanship, so does Travers. For those of us lucky ones who count Travers as a touchstone in our lives, that's just fine. Questions without answers can often be more satisfying than the other kind.
52 internautes sur 64 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A sad and disappointed life 18 janvier 2014
Par Sharon S. - Publié sur
Format: Broché
After seeing the movie, Saving Mr.Banks, I wanted to know more about P.L.Travers. Unfortunately, I learned more (boring stuff) about the the literary and philosophical circles P.L.Travers traveled in than I did about the woman herself.

As a fan of the Mary Poppins books, having borrowed them from the library many times as a child, I already knew that the Walt Disney movie starring Julie Andrews (!) was its own fantasy, rather than a cinematic portrayal of the Mary Poppins I knew from P.L.Travers' books. After reading 'Mary Poppins, She Wrote' I believe that the movie 'Saving Mr.Banks' is ANOTHER Disney fantasy, rather than an accurate or realistic biography of P.L.Travers OR the making of the their Mary Poppins movie.

I understand that P.L.Travers obscured, hid facts, and down right lied about her life over the years, so I'm sure that writing her biography was difficult. But Valerie Lawson tells us, up front, that despite Travers' claims that she did not want anyone to write her biography, Travers left a wealth of papers and documentation, and made sure it was available to anyone who wanted to read it. If there IS so much open documentation, one would think she could have presented a more straight forward, if not more informative, biography.

I was really bored by the tedious FILLER about all the gurus P.L.Travers followed in her life. It might have been SLIGHTLY more acceptable if Lawson had included anything that explained WHAT these teachings were about. Despite having to plow through page after page about Gurdijieff, I couldn't grasp any basic concept of his teachings as related by Valerie Lawson in her book...even though Wikipedia manages to fit it into a lot less space and comes up with a more concise explanation. I found it somewhat ironic that Lawson's book includes a lot more of what I'd consider "gossip" about Grudjieff, supposedly gleaned form Travers' letters and papers, while P.L.Travers has only a very minor mention in the Wikipedia article about Grudjieff.

Lawson also wrote much about Travers' preoccupation with Zen, and the idea that the Mary Poppins books (or, perhaps just Mary Poppins, herself) were considered to be Zen. I wish she had explained what this was supposed to mean, for readers who aren't familiar with the concept of Zen. I certainly hope it is more than that Mary Poppins is simply an unexplainable riddle.

After reading Valerie Lawson's biography of P.L.Travers, I ended up feeling that Travers was an insecure writer who tried to imbue her childhood fantasies with great philosophical meaning. It seems that over her lifetime she almost taunted her readers and students, reviewers and interviewers, with "if you don't know, I'M not going to tell you!" responses about her books, her methods, her beliefs and her life. In the end, I was left with the feeling that she was a charlatan...or that SHE felt she was...and that's why she was so secretive and vague.

I think it sad that (it seems) she wrote the Mary Poppins stories, and particularly the sequel books, simply because she needed the money and was unable to write anything else that was commercial successful. I also think it is sad that she (seemed) to feel that writing children's literature was beneath her as a writer, so that she had to give these stories a higher meaning by saying they are an interpretation of myth and/or mystical religion, and insisted they were NOT written for children. I think P.L.Travers lived a sad and disappointed life.
27 internautes sur 33 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Some Light on and Elusive Personality 9 mai 2007
Par Loves the View - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Lawson provides some information on a fellow Australian, who despite protestations to the contrary, may have wanted someone to present a biography of her. Travers left notes and diaries but it appears to be information and not real knowledge. Her life was mirage, down to her name, national allegiance and way of relating to her mentors, adopted son and sponsor, Walt Disney and his staff.

The book tells the story as much as it can be told.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Multi-Faceted Life 14 juin 2014
Par John D. Cofield - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Everyone who has seen Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins" has a mental image of P.L. Travers' famous nanny: Julie Andrews floating down from the clouds with her umbrella, ready to say "Snip-snap!" or "Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious!" In reality Mary Poppins as imagined by her creator was a far more complex and even at times disturbing creature, and the same thing can be said of P.L. Travers herself. For many years Travers was a mystery, but this biography by Valerie Lawson, which was first published in 1999 and has now been reissued in the wake of the new movie "Saving Mr. Banks," will resolve some, but not all, of the questions.

Pamela L. Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Australia in 1899. Her father was an Irishman with a romantic streak and an unfortunate weakness for alcohol, while her mother was part of a prominent and wealthy Australian family. Lyndon adored her father, who died when she was young, and spent much of her life looking for a father substitute, or as Lawson puts it, for a "Mr. Banks." With little formal education, she became an actress, eventually migrated to London, and there worked as a journalist and writer. She was heavily influenced by Yeats and George Russell, who used the pen name AE, and developed a mystical streak that later found fuller expression through her discipleship to Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, as well as other "gurus" advocating various Eastern philosophies. Her private life was a mystery. Lawson is able to suggest that she had some lesbian relationships, but could find no firm evidence. She never married, but adopted a son with whom she had a stormy but ultimately close relationship. And most of all, she wrote, mainly about an intimidating, dour, and rather plain nanny who showed up at the Banks household at odd times to impart lessons in life to the children she had in charge. Mary Poppins eventually made Travers' fortune, and although she was plagued with ill-health and anxieties throughout her long life, she died a wealthy woman in 1996.

Having seen both "Mary Poppins" and "Saving Mr. Banks" I found this biography very enjoyable. It was interesting to read of Travers' tumultuous life and to feel both admiration and sympathy for her. I especially enjoyed the sections covering Travers' relationship with Walt Disney and the work she did as a consultant for "Mary Poppins." I came to admire Travers very much as a woman who overcame the many restrictions placed on her by her sex and her class and who, despite the intimidating and sometimes unpleasant aspects of the original Mary Poppins, created a heroine who deserves a permanent place of honor on the shelves of children's literature.
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