Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism

By Deborah Cogan Thacker; Jean Webb | Go to book overview

Chapter 11

Connecting with Mary Poppins

Pamela Lyndon Travers, the author of Mary Poppins (1934), was born in Australia in 1899 (Draper and Koralek 1999:19). As a young woman she spent time in Ireland with W.B. Yeats, one of the great poets of the Modernist period, and was greatly influenced by him. Travers' work clearly fits closely within the Modernist frame of thinking. Apart from writing the Poppins books, P.L. Travers devoted a considerable amount of her life to studying Eastern philosophy and myths from across the world (Draper and Koralek 1990:26) thus reflecting the Modernist break with Western forms of thinking, art and culture (Abrams 1999:167).

Modernist writers sought new forms of literary expression which resisted the linear narratives and realism of the nineteenth century. Modernist writing is characterised by non-linear narratives, gaps in the text and a refusal to bring the work to closure and thus give absolute answers. The Modernist form of work is open and writerly, leaving the reader to make meaning through the text, rather than being directed by an omniscient narrator.

Travers identified her Modernist approach in a talk on the writing of Mary Poppins entitled 'Only Connect' (Egoff, Stubbs and Ashley 1969:191-3). The title is taken from E.M. Forster's epigram to his Modernist novel, Howard's End (1910). What Travers identifies in Forster's work as attractive to her is also directly applicable to Mary Poppins, which can be read as an attempt to:

link a passionate scepticism with the desire for meaning, to find the human key to the inhuman world about us; to connect the individual with the community, the known with the unknown; to relate the past to the present and both to the future.

(Egoff, Stubbs and Ashley 1969:184)

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