New Tales From Mary Poppins’ PL Travers


PL Travers wrote about her eccentric great aunt – the inspiration for Mary Poppins – in a story she gave as a Christmas gift in 1941. The tale is being released to the general public for the first time this November.

Travers’ great aunt’s real name was Helen Morehead, but Travers christened her Christina Saraset, or Sass for short. Travers wrote, “her remarkableness lay in the extraordinary and, to me, enchanting discrepancy between her external behavior and her inner self”, adding “imagine a bulldog whose ferocious exterior covers a heart tender to the point of sentimentality and you have Christina Saraset”.

The resemblance to Travers’ most famous creation, the nanny whose spoonful of sugar made the medicine go down for the Banks children, is no coincidence. Travers goes on to write in the previously unpublished story about the moment she heard of her relative’s death. “I thought to myself, ‘Some day, in spite of her, I shall commit the disrespectful vulgarity of putting Aunt Sass in a book.’ And then it occurred to me that this had already been done, though unconsciously and without intent. We write more than we know we are writing. We do not guess at the roots that made our fruit. I suddenly realized there is a book through which Aunt Sass, stern and tender, secret and proud, anonymous and loving, stalks with her silent feet,” wrote the author. “You will find her occasionally in the pages of Mary Poppins.”

Travers printed just 500 copies of “Aunt Sass,” for family and friends. The story will be released to a wider readership for the first time this Christmas, in an edition that will also include two other stories only given out by the author as gifts: “Ah Wong,” which she wrote in 1943, and “Johnny Delaney,” from 1944. Each original edition of the stories bore the line that it has been “limited to five hundred copies privately printed for the friends of the author as a Christmas greeting”.

“Ah Wong” tells of the narrator’s encounter with a swearing Chinese cook, and “Johnny Delaney” of her run-in with a bad tempered jockey. The stories are in the form of a person looking back over their childhood, growing up in Australia on a sugar plantation. And just like Mary Poppins, each character pops up just when they are needed.

Travers was born in Queensland in 1899, worked as a secretary, dancer, actor and journalist, before settling down to write Mary Poppins in 1934 while convalescing after a serious illness. Travers received an OBE in 1977. She died in 1996, aged 96.


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