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

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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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VIII. Mary Poppins on the Couch–A Freudian Approach to the Mary Poppins Books

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VIII.Mary Poppins on the Couch–A Freudian Approach to the Mary Poppins Books

Once, when I was in the United States, I went to see a psychologist. It was during the war and I was feeling kind of cut off. I thought, well, these people in psychology always want to see the kind of things you’ve done, so I took as many of my books as were then written. I went and met the man, and he gave me another appointment. And at the next appointment the books were handed back to me with the words: “You know, you don’t really need me. All you need to do is read your own book. (Travers qtd. in “The Paris Review”)

Literature and myth have for a long time served as a means to discover hidden fantasies and meanings for communities and nations. Furthermore, a relationship of the reader’s unconscious to that of the author has been established (cf. Kurzweil and Philips). Notably, connecting the study of psychology with literature originates with Freud himself and serves as a valid method in order to extract meaning from Travers’s Mary Poppins books. As the study of the Mary Poppins text in the light of psychoanalysis and some of Freud’s ideas has to a large extent been neglected, this chapter serves to establish a connection between the fascination with Travers’s stories and some elements of Freudian thought.

8.1Mary Poppins and Freud

Grilli has attempted to shed light...

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