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Meet the family [Jan. 5th, 2014|06:57 pm]
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Time to confess: I read faster than I write, and I have been reading ahead. I knew, of course, that the Mary Poppins books are novels only by courtesy: they progress from beginning (Mary Poppins's arrival) to ending (her departure), but they are episodic in the extreme. On the one hand, each chapter is its own self-contained narrative, and on the other hand, types of chapter repeat from book to book: the one in which Mary arrives, the one with one of her relations, the one in which one of the children is naughty and has to be rescued, the one about the babies, and so on. I knew this, but as I commented on sartorias's post, I hadn't realised the extent to which the types of chapter vary in style and tone (which explains the extent to which each reader seems to have favourite chapters and definitely-not-favourite chapters).

I have now reached the point in my re-read at which I have read three different versions of some of the early chapters, and am increasingly persuaded of the theory that nineweaving and I were tentatively advancing in the comments of an earlier post: that as P.L. Travers writes about Mary Poppins, she discovers things that she would have done differently, and does them differently. So in the first book, Mary's arrival, blown by the east wind, is magical if you want it to be (the wind "seemed to" pick her up, "it was as though..." and so on) but does not have to be; in subsequent books the magic is undeniable (except, of course, by Mary herself, who always denies everything). The Afternoon Out, which both nineweaving and I found off-key, is not repeated. Then again, why should it be? It would be more to the point to ask how she is getting away with writing the same book over and over again, and why I don't mind.

The chapter that follows Mary's afternoon out with Bert the Match Man is the first example of the stories in which the children meet one of Mary's relations. She introduces Jane and Michael to many strange and wonderful people, some of whom are old friends and fellow-conspirators, but her relations form a pattern of their own: Mary and her charges arrive at the house, and are greeted by a landlady who is to a greater or lesser degree hostile; they discover that their host suffers from an intermittent affliction, and that today just happens to be the day on which it manifests; the affliction - which turns out to be highly enjoyable - infects the children, and although Mary Poppins is immune she joins in voluntarily, the landlady is won over or otherwise dealt with and Mary announces that it is time to go home. Later, when the children ask her about their afternoon, she denies that anything unusual has happened.

In Mary Poppins, Mary's uncle has, for reasons of his own, invited her to bring the children to tea with him. Later versions of this episode have Mary Poppins calling on the professional services of her kinsman, to repair a broken bowl or tune the piano, so it is more plausible that the visit should just happen to fall on the appropriate (or inappropriate) day - and that day is determined by a more complex formula than simply being the sufferer's birthday. Mary seems surprised that it is her uncle's birthday: but what better reason could there be for a tea party?

Finally, Laughing Gas (Travers seems to have used this title before P.G. Wodehouse, whose novel was published in 1936) closes with the first example of the motif in which Mary Poppins takes the children's remarks as accusations of impropriety, wraps herself in respectability and denies everything. In later versions, some piece of evidence supports the children's belief in the truth of their memories, but on this occasion they are left to fall asleep on the bus, still wondering. It's been suggested that this fierce denial of magic is part of the darker, frightening side of Mary Poppins, but it never bothered me as a child reader, it was just part of her personality, and it doesn't bother me now. If anything, it feels like a game that she is playing, not with the children but with the reader.

[User Picture]From: gillpolack
2014-01-05 11:36 pm (UTC)
There was a wave of dentistry that used nitrous oxide. It petered out and then there was another one in the 1970s. The first one gave us the titles, I think.

I've often wondered: if Mary Poppins developed the expressed hubris to fit the Extraordinariness with which she was regarded, would the world she was friends with collapse? She has significant sartorial vanity, but she refuses to say "I did this."
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-01-06 11:03 am (UTC)
I wondered whether laughing gas was somehow current, but the dates I could find place it earlier (mind you, I didn't go beyond Wikipedia, so there may be something in this...)

She has significant sartorial vanity, but she refuses to say "I did this."

The vanity certainly includes the sartorial, but I think goes beyond it. Laughing Gas opens with her admiring herself in the Tobacconist's window, which reflects her in triplicate: "She thought it was such a lovely sight that she wished there had been a dozen of her or even thirty. The more Mary Poppinses the better."

The refusal to say "I did this" isn't modesty, though: her vanity isn't about what she does, but what she is.
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[User Picture]From: gillpolack
2014-01-06 11:39 am (UTC)
I may well be wrong about the gas, but I remember Dad saying when he adopted it that it was fashionable then not then fashionable again, and for some reason the 30s stuck in my mind.

If part of what she is, is her taste in clothes and brollies, then yes, I'd agree.

I'm watching her speech to see what she says that signifies class, but really don't know enough. My totally outsider opinion is that class is irrelevant to her, which fits with my theory of her Australianness - our speech is mixed working and lower middle, in English terms, but some of us 'adjust' it (speak posh) to meet circumstances and some don't.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-01-06 03:47 pm (UTC)
That's interesting about the gas.

Without your input, I would never have seen MP as Australian, though I was, I think, already wondering to what extent she was a certain kind of Englishness as seen by an Australian. I hope you will have time - because I know you have other things to do! - to explore this question yourself. Are you seeing any Australianisms in Mary's speech?

I'm not seeing class signifiers in the way she speaks - whether because Travers doesn't try to convey accent and dialect, or because those features just aren't there. There's nothing in what she is quoted as saying that is inconsistent with RP, but I am seeing class markers, as I say, in her tastes and attitudes. Even if we set aside the Day Out as anomalous, the constant assertions of respectability point this way - she reminds me of Eliza Doolittle with her "I'm a good girl, I am."
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[User Picture]From: vschanoes
2014-01-05 11:41 pm (UTC)
it never bothered me as a child reader, it was just part of her personality, and it doesn't bother me now. If anything, it feels like a game that she is playing, not with the children but with the reader.

Yes, that's always how I read it, too, that we all really knew that the magic had happened, and that this was just Mary's way of warning them not to blab about it. If I recall, this is one of the chapters that ends with an image of maternal affection, with Jane and Michael cuddling up to Mary and falling asleep with under each of her arms.

Don't forget the part when the hostile landlady gets her come-uppance!

Are any of Mary's relations women? My memory is that they're men, but I could be wrong. I can't remember whether or not Mrs. Corrie is a relation or just a friend and conspirator...
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[User Picture]From: nineweaving
2014-01-06 02:18 am (UTC)
Are any of Mary's relations women?

Her Mother: always capitalized, and clearly a figure of great power. Wisely, she makes no on-page appearances.

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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-01-06 11:24 am (UTC)

Don't read too much into the capitalisation - or rather, bear in mind that she uses it liberally.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-01-06 11:23 am (UTC)
You are quite right about the ending of the chapter: the children fall asleep huddled up to Mary Poppins, while the bus roars on, lurching and bounding (London buses of the 1930s were often much like those of the 1950s - though I suppose they were often the same buses). It's a good point, too, that however frightened the children may be said to be of Mary Poppins, she always represents home and safety to them.

Don't forget the part when the hostile landlady gets her come-uppance!

I hoped that "otherwise dealt with" would cover that...

And thanks to nineweaving for reminding me that Mary does have a female relation: but as far as I have read, none of the many women who appear in her various adventures are introduced as relations. That said, given how much the episodes follow a set of templates, reversing the genders in this one would not be a minor change.

Mrs Corrie is precisely who I was thinking of when I used those words - though the same applies to Nellie-Rubina...
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[User Picture]From: nipernaadiagain
2014-02-10 02:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, this shows that when I "read along" in my Estonian translation of "Mary Poppins", the problem is bigger than just different language. As only SOME chapters have been picked for translation ...
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-02-10 05:53 pm (UTC)
There are plenty of problems for native English speakers. I keep finding things I don't know about the world in these books.

Which chapters are missing from your translation?

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[User Picture]From: nipernaadiagain
2014-02-11 05:06 am (UTC)
Of the chapters you have mentioned, I have not read the one where Michael was bad, the one where Annabel appears (in my copy Annabel only is present in chapter with balloons), from chapters with Mary Poppins relatives there is only the laughing gas uncle (or was the old woman with sugar fingers and huge daughters also a relative?). And baby carriage is broken only in one chapter.

That is what I can recall.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-02-11 11:16 am (UTC)
I'm not surprised that your edition skips the chapter where Michael is bad, but I wonder why they decided to omit the others. They do repeat what has gone before, but there is so much repetition in the later books that that doesn't seem enough reason!

Does your edition cover all four books?

(And "the old woman with sugar fingers and huge daughter" isn't a relative, though several of the people in this conversation feel that shecould be!)
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