June 24, 2014
The real Mary Poppins revealed
by Nick Davies
An almost entirely unknown story by P.L. Travers — the author who created Mary Poppins — about the real-life woman who inspired the character will be released this fall, Alison Flood writes for the Guardian.
“Aunt Sass” is a semi-autobiographical account of Travers’s real-life aunt Helen Morehead, renamed Christina Saraset (Aunt Sass for short) in the story. The parallels between Sass and Mary Poppins are clear, but weren’t actually intentional. Travers once wrote:
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 realised that there is a book through which Aunt Sass, stern and tender, secret and proud, anonymous and loving, stalks with her silent feet… You will find her occasionally in the pages of Mary Poppins.
Travers printed about 500 copies of “Aunt Sass,” which she gave to family and friends. Now, British publisher Virago, which specializes in literature by female writers, has announced that it will publish a special edition around Christmas, which will also include two other stories that Travers distributed exclusively to friends and family: “Ah Wong” and “Johnny Delaney.”
Editor Donna Coonan describes the common thread that links all three stories, saying, “The encounters take place which she is a young girl – the stories are in the form of a person looking back over their childhood…when her parents don’t seem to be very close to her, but the other characters are. And just like Mary Poppins, each character pops up just when they are needed.”
Coonan was surprised to find the unpublished stories, or rather, surprised that they were worth publishing. She tells the Guardian, “I wasn’t very hopeful. I thought if they hadn’t been in print before, they couldn’t be that good — but I was absolutely bowled over by them, moved to tears. They’re incredible.”
There’s been no word on whether Aunt Sass also inspired the character Aunt Sassy on HBO’s The Comeback.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.