P.L. Travers: Daughter (2)

➡️Part 1

“We write more than we know we are writing”

Helen Lyndon Goff (P.L. Travers) was a very private person, and had a bit of a troubled childhood.
She adored her father, Travers Goff, who was a bank manager , and the inspiration of George Banks’ type of employment in “Mary Poppins”
When she spoke of him she did it in somewhat fanciful terms: for example, she said he was an Irish-born owner of a sugar plantation in Australia. But in reality he was born in South London and after working on a tea plantation in Ceylon, he moved to Australia, where he became a bank manager. But he was demoted to clerk owing to his addiction to alcohol. He died in 1907, when she was only seven: his death haunted her constantly and she spent the remainder of her life looking for a father figure.

Following his death, Helen, with her mother and her two little sisters, went to live with a maternal great- aunt.
Her mother resisted for a few years but then, as author Valerie Lawson says in her biography of P.L. Travers , she “did what a mother is never supposed to do”, and gave up.

One night during a thunderstorm, she left little Helen in charge of the two younger children and told her that she was going to drown herself in a nearby stream.
Helen tried to distract her siblings telling them a story , but she was really worried about what was going to happen to her mother and, above all, about her future. She later wrote, “What happens to children who have lost both parents? Do they go into Children’s Homes and wear embroidered dressing-gowns, embroidery that is really darning?” and she was haunted for the rest of her life by the thought of the fate of children whose parents can’t take care of them.
However, her mother came back a few hours later because her suicide attempt had failed, but Helen’s mind was made up: she would no longer rely on her. Instead, she placed all her trust on her great-aunt, Helen Morehead, an important element in the growth of the three sisters. Aunt Ellie had many of the characteristics of the future Mary Poppins and even their maid owned an umbrella with a handle shaped like a parrot’s head.

In her books, Travers could not commemorate her happy childhood, but she seemed determined to rewrite and correct the bad one she had had. The Banks family is a modified version of the Goffs, The father is a banker, but not a drunkard; the mother is a bit foolish, but not suicidal. And Mary Poppins, like Aunt Ellie, is the one who resizes things, the enemy of any attempt at whims or sentimentality.
It is Travers herself who explained she was subconsciously inspired by her real-life aunt, transformed into a nanny, and that she hadn’t realized how much she had drawn from her own experience until later in life.
“We write more than we know we are writing”, she confessed.

To be continued

➡️Prima parte

“Scriviamo più di quanto siamo consapevoli di scrivere”

Helen Lyndon Goff (P.L. Travers) ebbe un’infanzia un po’ travagliata.
Adorava suo padre, Travers Goff, che era un direttore di banca, e ispirò il tipo d’impiego di George Banks in “Mary Poppins”.
Quando parlava di lui, lo faceva in termini alquanto fantasiosi: per esempio diceva che era un irlandese proprietario di una piantagione di zucchero in Australia. Ma in realtà era nato nel sud di Londra e dopo aver lavorato in una piantagione di tè a Ceylon, si era trasferito in Australia, dove era diventato direttore di banca. Ma poi era stato retrocesso a impiegato, per la sua dipendenza dall’alcol. Morì nel 1907 quando lei aveva solo sette anni: una morte che l’assillò in continuazione, facendole trascorrere il resto della vita alla ricerca di una figura paterna.

Dopo la sua morte, Helen, con la madre e le due sorelline, andò a vivere con una prozia materna.
La madre resistette per alcuni anni ma poi, come dice l’autrice Valerie Lawson nella sua biografia di P.L. Travers, “fece quello che una madre non dovrebbe mai fare” e si arrese.

Una notte, durante un temporale, incaricò la piccola Helen di occuparsi delle due bambine più piccole e le disse che stava per andare ad affogarsi in un torrente vicino.
Helen cercò di distrarre le sorelline raccontando loro una storia, ma era preoccupatissima per quello che stava per capitare alla mamma e, soprattutto, per il futuro che le avrebbe attese. In seguito scrisse: “Cosa succede ai bambini che perdono entrambi i genitori? Entrano negli Orfanatrofi e indossano grembiuli ricamati, con ricami che invece sono rammendi?” e fu perseguitata per il resto della sua vita dal pensiero del destino dei bambini di cui i genitori non riescono a prendersi cura.
Comunque la madre tornò qualche ora dopo, perché il suo tentativo di suicidio era fallito, ma Helen prese una decisione: non avrebbe mai più fatto affidamento su di lei. Ripose tutta la sua fiducia, invece, nella prozia, Helen Morehead, un elemento importante nella crescita delle tre sorelle. Zia Ellie aveva molte delle caratteristiche della futura Mary Poppins, addirittura la loro domestica possedeva un ombrello con un manico a forma di testa di pappagallo.

Nei suoi libri Travers non poteva commemorare un’infanzia felice, ma sembrava decisa a riscrivere e correggere quella brutta che aveva avuto. La famiglia Banks è una versione modificata dei Goff, il padre è un banchiere, ma non un ubriacone; la madre è un po’ superficiale, ma non con istinti suicidi. E Mary Poppins, come zia Ellie, è colei che ridimensiona le cose, la nemica di ogni tentativo di capricci o sentimentalismi.
È la stessa Travers a spiegare di essere stata inconsciamente ispirata dalla zia, trasformata in tata, e che non si era resa conto di quanto avesse attinto dalla propria esperienza fino a più tardi nella vita.
“Scriviamo più di quanto siamo consapevoli di scrivere”, ha confessato.


50 thoughts on “P.L. Travers: Daughter (2)

  1. Oh my God! Poor Helen Lyndon Goff alias PL Travers. What a traumatic childhood she had! This really moved me to tears. Reminds me of my own maternal uncle who died due to alcohol, leaving behind two young children. Luisa, this is a very heart touching post. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to reading the next part. ♥️♥️♥️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. She wrote from the depths of her despair, it would seem, trying to write (and right) the childhood she never had. All too often, the best stories come from adversity. You can’t help but feel sympathetic to poor Helen. Thanks for sharing Luisa. Allan

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You know Luisa, I’m super impressed by this and your last post about this author! Good lord, I mean, the ways in which she suffered as a child must’ve had a profound effect on her life. Thank you so much for sharing all this with us, it really does put a totally different spin on the author of “Mary Poppins”, remarkably so! Love and light, Deborah.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read many of her wonderful articles in the Parabola magazine, before I ever knew she was the author of Mary Poppins. Some of her articles were published as a book: What the Bee Knows … Reflections on Myth, Symbols and Story … first published by Aquarian Press in 1989, and by Penguin in 1993
    I think the book can still be found online.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Luisa ! A very painful story . Heart-touching and struggle-some life of P.L. Travers who had lived a troubled childhood , yet she became a Shakespearean stage actress , a prolific writer , and a poet extraordinary . Perhaps a God-gifted , talented , multifaceted lady , reared her two sisters and lived virtually a parentless life depending on her great aunt , an important elements in the growth her two sisters and she herself . Parents , specially , her father appears to be more responsible for such conditions of P.L. Travers , followed by her frustrated mother . And she spent a Christ like painful life . But if the blessings of God is with you , nobody , even your parents , can be an obstacle on the way you want to grow . And it was the willpower of P.L. Travers that kept her alive and made her such a great writer in her life . Thanks !


  6. Ascoltando e leggendo le vite vissute di personaggi famosi, mi rendo sempre più conto che il più delle volte il loro successo è dovuto alla sensibilità che hanno acquisito a causa dell’infanzia travagliata che hanno vissuto. Buonanotte cara Luisa 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

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