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Intertextuality and Psychology in P. L. Travers’ «Mary Poppins» Books


Julia Kunz

As we approach the seventieth anniversary of the first appearance of Mary Poppins, interest in P. L. Travers’ most famous creation is still strong and the time is right for a reassessment of a work that is rich in meaning for child and adult readers alike. This book attempts to analyse some of the reasons behind the longevity and the ongoing appeal of the Mary Poppins material, with particular reference to intertextuality and the presence of what Freud described as «the uncanny». By comparing and contrasting the Mary Poppins material with previous texts, it can be seen that Travers has been drawing, consciously and subconsciously, on the great myths and archetypes of the collective human storytelling experience. The idea therefore emerges that the Mary Poppins stories touch on some fundamental aspect of the psyche – an aspect where the symbiosis of security and fear, the familiar and the unknown, are made manifest to the reader, whether as children finding their way into adulthood or as adults recalling their beginnings.
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III. On Not Writing for Children


III.On Not Writing for Children

In order to fully comprehend the meaning of Travers’s Mary Poppins books, it is essential to examine the term children’s literature, as Travers’s work is generally thought to fall into this category. We will see, however, that the term proves to be uncomfortable.

3.1Children’s Literature

M.O. Grenby offers us an insightful account of the origins of what has come to be called children’s literature in the Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature. Notably, children’s literature as we know it today evolved in the middle of the 18th Century in Britain with rhymes, stories, riddles and alphabets on moral conduct. It is commonly thought to originate with John Newberry and his A Little Pretty Pocket-Book in 1744, with Newberry founding a children’s books publishing dynasty that lasted until well into the 19th Century (cf. Grenby 4). However, it is important to note that instructional books marketed at children had already then existed for centuries, and one must bear in mind the fact that children have always read texts that were not exclusively designed for them–from chivalric romances, novels, and ballads to fairy tales (cf. chapter 5), an assumption which can be supported by extensive evidence from diaries, marginalia and memories (ibid 5).

Hence, the question of what exactly constitutes children’s literature must be raised. Numerous suggestions have been put forward, such as children’s literature comprising books written exclusively for children, books that are read only by children, books...

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