I was recently trying to read Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P.L. Travers, by Valerie Lawson, and quite frankly I got bored. My reading progress was slowing down to almost nil and that is always a sign to me that I should give up. There are too many books I want to read to get bogged down by dull books. I picked up several other books about Jane Austen and Mary Astor and it’s amazing how much reading I’ve gotten done since.
I used to feel intensely guilty about not finishing a book, but I’ve developed a scheme to help me. If I am one-third of the way through a book and I still don’t like it or am struggling, then I can put it down. If I’m halfway through or more, then I just need to push through, boring or not. But I was two-thirds of the way through Mary Poppins, She Wrote, however, I was making such desultory progress and there were so many books I had from the library, sitting in a basket, begging me to read them, that I finally gave up. I felt instant release.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Perhaps I just wasn’t interested enough in the life of P.L. Travers. She seems to have been a very unhappy woman, always seeking peace or solace in the spiritual. She was very interested in the mystical and seems to have had fraught relationships with a variety of people, but the books very rarely explains in what way. It’s all surface detail or assertion. I’ve read books that contain a lot of surface detail – usually because there really is no personal information available – but do a better job of connecting that person’s life with the times they live in. In this, we never get a sense of any of her relationships with others, even with her adopted son, Camillus. We learn she was born in Australia, did some acting, wrote some poetry, went to England, wrote Mary Poppins, adopted a son without taking his twin, went to America during WWII, and so on, but it’s just cold facts.
I did glean a few interesting facts about the character and origins of Mary Poppins, however. One of the first mentions of Mary Poppins was in a short story Travers wrote while she was still in Australia. Mary Poppins was the seventeen years old nanny who goes out with her boyfriend, the match man, and they jump into a chalk picture and have tea. Apparently, Travers took the whole short story and put it into her book, presumably minus the romance. She was reportedly annoyed that Disney chose that particular episode to go in the movie.
Another interesting tidbit is about Mary Poppins’ age. I always thought she was in her late thirties or early forties (though my sister tells me she always imagined her younger) and Walt Disney apparently was concerned that she was, too. He asked Travers and she replied that Mary Poppins is between twenty-four and twenty-seven…so Julie Andrews, at almost thirty, was actually about the correct age.