P. L. Travers Biography

P L Travers, born as Helen Lyndon Goff, was a mysterious and prickly Australian born British novelist, actress and journalist. This biography profiles her childhood, life, writing career, achievements and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: August 9, 1899

Nationality: Australian

Famous: Novelists Short Story Writers

Died At Age: 96

Sun Sign: Leo

Also Known As: Pamela Lyndon Travers

Born in: Maryborough, Queensland, Australia

Famous as: Writer & Journalist


father: Travers Robert Goff

children: Camillus Hone

Died on: April 23, 1996

place of death: London

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P L Travers, born as Helen Lyndon Goff, was a mysterious and prickly Australian born British novelist, actress and journalist. She immigrated to England and spent almost her entire life there. She had great interest in mysticism, mythology and fantasy. She is best known for her ‘Mary Poppins’ series of children’s book. For a short stint, she worked for British Ministry of Information. Walt Disney had obtained the rights of her first book and adapted it to a hit film. The contract with Disney studio made her very wealthy. However, being a very whimsical and prickly person she never gave film rights of her books to Disney. The last years of her life she had become even more reclusive. When she died at the age of 96, she was alone. For services to literature Queen Elizabeth honored her with ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire’ in 1977.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Travers was born on 9th August 1899 in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia. As a child she was called as Lyndon.
  • Her mother, Margaret Agnes Morehead, was the sister of the Premier of Queensland. Her father, Travers Goff, was an unsuccessful bank manager and chronic alcoholic, who died when she was just 7 years old.
  • After her father’s death, she along with her mother and sisters immigrated to New South Wales. They lived with their aunt for almost 10 years.
  • She was boarded at Sydney's Normanhurst Girls School during World War I.
  • She had a rich fantasy life and loved fairy tales and animals. She often called herself a hen. Her writing talents emerged during her teens, when she began publishing poems in Australian periodicals – ‘The Bulletin’ and ‘Triad’.
  • At a young age, after a brief secretarial stint, she took up to dancing and acting. She took ‘Pamela’ as a stage name. She toured Australia and New Zealand. She gained lot of appreciation as a dancer and Shakespearean actress. However, her relatives did not approve of her acting career. Hence she returned to London to pursue literary life.
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  • After returning to England, she began publishing articles and poems in various papers like ‘The Irish Statesman’. The editor of this paper, George William Russell, became a lifelong supporter of Travers.
  • Her friendship with Russell proved to be of strategic importance for her career. Through Russell, she also became friends with famous poet Yeats. Through Russell, she explored her mythological interests studying with well-known mystic G.I. Gurdjieff.
  • In 1934, she published her first book, ‘Moscow Excursion’. She had put down her experience while travelling to the USSR.
  • Travers tested success as a writer after publication of her first book of ‘Mery Poppins’.
  • In 1941, her book ‘Aunt Sass’ was published. Through this book she paid tribute to her aunt Helen who had supported her family and whose personality had served as an inspiration for Mary Poppins.
  • During World War II, Travers worked for England's Ministry of Information. Near the end of the war she lived on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, acquiring an Indian name that she kept secret till the end.
  • Travers continued to write other material like young adult novels, a play, essays and lectures on mythology and symbols. She also served as writer-in-residence at colleges such as ‘Radcliffe’ and ‘Smith’.
  • The 1964, Disney movie ‘Mary Poppins’, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, made Travers immensely wealthy. In 2013 a film, ‘Saving Mr. Banks’, dramatized retelling of the working process during the planning of ‘Mary Poppins’, Travers' early life, drawing parallels with ‘Mary Poppins’ and that of the author's childhood, was released.
  • In 1971, she published a book named ‘Friend Monkey’, which was inspired from Hindu mythological character Hanuman.
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  • ‘About the Sleeping Beauty’ a book published in 1975 included her own fairy tales other than the Poppins.
  • She had a great interest in symbolism and mysticism. In 1976, she became consulting editor for the New York-based journal 'Parabola', dedicated to research in this field. Some of her essays for that journal were collected and published in 1989 as ‘What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol, and Story’.
Major Works
  • Shortly after the publication of her first book, Travers suffered from lung ailment. During her illness, she used to entertain two visiting children with stories of a magical nanny, complete with parrot-head umbrella as a form of transportation and the ability to have tea parties on the ceiling. These stories later became the base of ‘Mary Poppins’. The same year she published her book based on these stories. It was an instant and huge success.
  • She published a sequel ‘Mary Poppins Comes Back’ in 1935. This book was followed by ‘Mary Poppins Opens the Door’, published in 1943, ‘Mary Poppins in the Park’, published in 1952 and ‘Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane’ published in 1982. The last book in this series ‘Mary Poppins and the House Next Door’ was published in 1988. Poppins also appeared in ‘Mary Poppins from A to Z’, published in 1962. This book was later translated into Latin. A cookery book named ‘Mary Poppins in the Kitchen: A Cookery Book with a Story’ was published in 1975. The illustrations in these books were done by Mary Shepard who was the daughter of the original illustrator of ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’. Though Travers and Mary did not share cordial relationship, she had done the illustrations.
  • Walt Disney’s daughter had fallen in love with the series of ‘Mary Poppins’. Hence, he decided to adapt this story in to a movie. However, even for the person of the stature of Walt Disney it took 20 years to convenience Travers to get the screen rights of the first book. Finally, in 1964, the movie ‘Mary Poppins’ was released. Though selling the rights made her wealthy and she was actively involved with the creative team of Disney during the production, she was very infuriated by the Disney touch to the story. She disliked the story so much that, she never agreed for film adaption of any other book of hers.
Awards & Achievements
  • In 1977, she was awarded the ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire’ for her services to literature.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Travers was very prickly and private. She had many fleeting relationships with several men throughout her life. However, she had a longtime roommate, Madge Burnand, daughter of Sir Francis Burnand, a playwright and the former editor of ‘Punch’. Many speculated that their relationship was romantic.
  • In 1939, two years after she parted her ways with Madge, she adopted one of the twin baby boys of an impoverished family from Ireland. She named him Camillus. She had hidden his true parentage and the fact of twin sibling from him until he was 17. The fact was revealed to Camillus when his twin brother, Anthony came looking for him. Camillus left Travers forever. He died in London in November 2011.
  • Truly lonely, she lived into advanced old age, but her health declined toward the end of her life. Travers died in London on 23 April 1996 at the age of 96 from epileptic seizure.

See the events in life of P. L. Travers in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- P. L. Travers Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- October 16, 2017
P. L. Travers

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