Also writes as: P. T. ; Milo Reeve ; PLT
Born: Established: 9 Aug 1899 Maryborough ; Died: 23 Apr 1996 London
'P.L. Travers' was the daughter of Travers Robert Goff, an English bank manager with Irish connections, and his Scots-Irish wife, Margaret Agnes, nee Morehead. The eldest of three children, Travers grew up in a Celtic atmosphere with a succession of Irish nannies. Travers had a difficult childhood with an alcoholic father and periodic separations. In 1907 Travers's life changed forever with the death of her lyrical, melancholy father whose first name she adopted as her pseudonym for a lifetime of writing. The family moved to Bowral, New South Wales, and Travers had to take on adult responsibilities as the oldest child. She attended the Bowral branch of the Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School and, from 1912, Normanhurst Boarding School for Girls at Ashfield where her love of writing and the stage evolved. After leaving school Travers worked as a cashier for the Australian Gas and Light Company at her relatives' insistence. In March 1921 her stage career began when Allan Wilkie offered her a part in The Merry Wives of Windsor. This was followed by a tour of New South Wales with a repertory company. It was at this time that the more sophisticated 'Pamela Travers' emerged into public view. She rejoined the Allan Wilkie Company and travelled Australia and New Zealand.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, Travers's career turned towards journalism. She wrote a regular column in the Christchurch Sun's 'Women's World' section and freelance articles in the Shakespearean Quarterly, Vision, and The Green Room. On 20 March 1923 her first poem, 'Keening', was published in the Sydney Bulletin, to be followed by 'The Nurse's Lullaby' on 5 July, 1923, which prefigured Mary Poppins. It was at this point that Frank Morton offered Travers four pages an issue in the Triad under the headline 'A Woman Hits Back'. She could range through verse, satire, journalism and fantasy.
Travers travelled to Ireland in 1924 and then England where she settled. She continued to write for the Christchurch Sun and the Triad. Travers met the Irish poet George Russell (known as 'A. E.') who introduced her to W. B. Yeats and other literary figures. Russell saw her as 'daughter, acolyte, apprentice, or as all three' and, as editor of the Irish Statesman, encouraged her to write poetry again and make regular contributions to the Irish Statesman until World War II. Travers also became a drama critic and essayist on the London New English Weekly from 1933 until 1949.
Travers had always believed in the intermingling of myth and fairy tale in life. She saw the child hidden in man and strenuously rejected the notion of 'literature for children'. In 1933, while recovering from a serious illness at her home, Travers began relating stories about Mary Poppins to two children, a kind of storytelling akin to that with which she had entertained her siblings in Australia. She wrote the stories down at Russell's suggestion; they were published together as Mary Poppins in 1934. The idea behind the stories had been on her mind for a long time and the prim British nanny was reputed to be based on an old-fashioned lady Travers had seen walking the streets of Maryborough, Queensland, in her childhood. The book established Travers as a popular writer in England and the United States. The original book was followed by a sequel, Mary Poppins Comes Back, in 1935. The last of the series was published in 1989.
Walt Disney made a film of the Mary Poppins stories. The film version was hugely successful and made Travers financially secure for life but at the cost of the Americanisation of Mary Poppins. Travers eventually expressed her own concerns about Disneyfication, voiced succinctly by Francis Clarke Sayers, formerly director of children's services at the New York Public Library, in the following terms 'the acerbity of Mary Poppins, unpredictable, full of wonder and mystery, becomes, with Mr. Disney's treatment, one great marshmallow covered cream puff' (Lawson, 266).
Throughout her life, Travers engaged in a spiritual quest that led her to Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti and Zen Buddhism. In the 1960s she partook of the 'initiation therapy' of Professor Karlfried von Durkheim who integrated Christian and Zen Buddhist insights. She was to become 'the wise old crone' counselling third and fourth generation Gurdjieffians. Travers contributed to the Gurdjieffian journal, Parabola, in her last decades; these articles were published as What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story (1989).
P. L. Travers only rarely visited her homeland but her papers found their resting place in the Mitchell Library. As she said herself: '... I grew up and was nurtured on the Celtic Twilight, Yeats and all. Therefore Australia never seemed to be the place where I wanted to be. My body ran round in the southern sunlight but my inner world had subtler colours, the numberless greens of Ireland.' If Travers ultimately disowned Australia, it was the childhood memories and fantasies in the house at Allora, Queensland, and the rules of life learnt from 'Aunt Ellie' of Woollahra, New South Wales, that gave the world Mary Poppins.Marcie Muir's Australian Children's Books: A Bibliography: Volume One 1774-1972 (1992): 412 states: 'Though Pamela Travers was born and brought up in Australia she has spent most of her life in Europe and all Mary Poppins books are in every way English. The production of the Walt Disney film in 1964 based on these stories resulted in many translations and different versions of the books but they are not part of Australian children's literature.' 'P.L. Travers' was a regular contributor to the 'Women's World' section of the Christchurch Sun (1923-1926?) and it was here that the first published Mary Poppins story appeared: 'Mary Poppins and the Match Man' (13 November 1926). 'Travers' also wrote regularly for The Triad (1923-1927) under the headline 'A Woman Hits Back' and the Irish Statesman (1927-1930). She became a drama critic and essayist for the London New English Weekly (1933-1949). Her first published poem, 'Keening', appeared in the Sydney Bulletin on 20 March 1923. 'Travers' was a protege of the Irish poet, George Russell, who introduced her to W. B. Yeats and other members of the Irish Literary Revival.
(Source: Patricia Demers 'P. L. Travers August 9, 1899-April 23, 1996', Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 160: British Children's Writers, 1914-1960, ed. by Donald R. Hettinga (1996): 272-280. Valerie Lawson Out of the Sky She Came (1999)).