Helen Lyndon Goff, known to the world as Pamela Lyndon Travers or P. L. Travers, was born on August 9, 1899, in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia. Her mother Margaret hailed of Scottish descent, with her family dating back to some of Australia's first white settlers. Father Travers hailed of Irish descent. Both parents told old fairy tales, and the stories of her father's Irish homeland left a deep impression on young Helen. However, he also drank alcohol to an extreme, which may have led to his early death. Helen was seven when he passed away, and her mother took the children to live with a great-aunt on a sugar plantation.
Already possessing a vivid imagination, Helen read voraciously, wrote stories, penned poetry, and loved acting. She attended a local school and then enrolled in Normanhurst Private Girls School. Bored with the education she received, Helen wrote poetry that saw publication in Australian magazines, read books such as The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and studied music. To help provide for her family, Helen rejected a scholarship to the University of Sydney and worked at many odd jobs. Then, enthralled with the theater, she traveled to Sydney, Australia to become an actress. At this point she changed her name. Taking her father's first name as her surname, she decided on Pamela because it was stylish at the time. However, wanting to be taken seriously and not have her work rejected because of her gender, she settled on P. L. Travers.
Moderate success came as she toured with a Shakespearean repertory company. Yet to pay the bills, she also worked as a journalist. After two years Travers felt compelled to move and see more of the world. Having saved her money, she ventured to London. There she expanded on details of her journey and sold articles to magazines back in Australia and New Zealand. Finding publishers also in the British Isles, Travers ended up having a close, platonic relationship with George William Russell, also known as AE. He edited the Irish Statesman, took great interest in mysticism, and was an Irish national leader. Russell influenced Travers greatly and introduced her to William Butler Yeats and other writers who taught her about Ireland's history of poetry and storytelling.
Travers studied folklore and mythology, blossoming under Russell's literary guidance. Her health though was another issue. A sufferer of pleurisy, Travers needed time to recoup her strength. Though stories abound as to why she wrote the book Mary Poppins and how she came upon the idea, it is agreed that she began writing down stories while she recovered her health. Published, Mary Poppins saw instant success. Billed as a children's book, Travers disagreed, never limiting her books to a certain age range. In all Travers wrote eight Mary Poppins books and gained accolades as an author.
Further fame and tremendous wealth came to Travers when Walt Disney created a motion picture movie based on her Mary Poppins book. Travers put off agreeing to a contract for many, many years because she didn't want the film animated; she wanted to be a consultant on the script; and, she remained skeptical of the whole idea. Ultimately dissatisfied with the movie, Travers nonetheless became a household name when the film came out in 1964. This attention didn't please Travers either because she preferred privacy and anonymity and often avoided questions about her life. Content to not be remembered, Travers did concede that she gained pleasure from hearing from her readers. It was for them that she wrote at all.
Staying active during her long life, Travers taught as a writer-in-residence at Smith College in Massachusetts, contributed articles and helped edit Parabola magazine, penned books, poetry collections, and mythology studies, and lectured at Scripps College in California. When she passed away on April 23, 1996, in London, she was 96 years old. Travers left behind a literary legacy and an adopted son and several grandchildren.
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