About the Author
Valerie Lawson is a feature writer for The Sydney Morning Herald. Her previous books are Connie Sweetheart and The Allens Affair. She lives in Sydney and London.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Mary Poppins, She Wrote 1
The Real Mr. Banks
Helen Lyndon Goff had two fathers. One was real. The other she imagined. The traces of both men can be found in a third father, the completely fictional George Banks, the melancholy head of the household in the adventures of Mary Poppins. Mr. Banks was a banker, but he represented more than a pillar of the City of London with bowler and furled umbrella, grumbling about his personal finances and the chaos of his Chelsea household. Mr. Banks hired Mary Poppins to create order from that chaos, and, though he never went with her on one of her heavenly adventures, he knew instinctively that Mary Poppins was magic.
Helen Lyndon Goff said she invented both George Banks and the practically perfect Mary Poppins “mainly to please myself.” Mr. Banks fulfilled many roles. He was the father, and lover, Lyndon wished she had, this whimsical bank manager who lives with his family at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London, where, one fantastic day, Mary Poppins flew in with the East Wind.
But instead of Mr. Banks, Helen Lyndon had Travers Robert Goff. He was nowhere near good enough. Lyndon took the best of him, though—what she remembered from her childhood—and enhanced the rest. The result was a composite Irish hero: glamorous, languid and charming, a father she later described to others as the handsome supervisor of a sugarcane plantation in far away, subtropical Australia, “the deep country,” as she called it. Born in Ireland, this idealized, imagined father strode the cane fields of northern Queensland in a white silk suit, floppy white hat, gold earrings and scarlet cummerbund, surrounded by faithful servants and with a barn stocked with every sort of conveyance: a four-wheeler, hansom cab, old howdah, and an elegant sledge along with carts, wagons and sulkies.1
In truth, her father was a bank manager before he was demoted to bank clerk. He died in his early forties, his life unfulfilled, his family left destitute and forced onto the charity of rich but emotionally chilly relatives. Travers Robert Goff drank too much and wanted too much that he never attained. His legacy was establishing in his daughter’s mind the idea that she was not Australian at all, but a misfit in the Antipodes, a woman destined to spend her life in search of the fairy tales, poetry and romance of her father’s Irish fantasies. She even took his first name as her surname. As a journalist, writer and actress she used the pseudonym Pamela Lyndon Travers.
Travers Goff was a bamboozler. The tales he told his family and friends grew more romantic the more he drank. He liked to boast that his life was drenched in the Celtic Twilight, in the land of Yeats and George William Russell. But as much as he admired the poets and dramatists of the nineteenth century, he was most in love with the myths of ancient Ireland, and of the fictional personification of Ireland, immortalized in a play by William Butler Yeats, Cathleen ni Houlihan. Fairies, pixies and elves meant everything. The Great Serpent of his adopted land meant nothing. Even in Australia “he had Ireland round him like a cloak very much the way James Joyce wrapped Dublin around him even when he was in Paris.”2
Helen Lyndon Goff followed Mary Poppins’s greatest precept: Never Explain. She certainly never explained why she favored the cane-field version of her father’s life. It may have been a case of simple snobbery. Lyndon preferred to be the daughter of a gentleman farmer in the tropical outback than the daughter of a pen-pusher in the back office of a provincial bank. Whatever the reason, false versions of her father and her own early years in Australia shadowed her through life, and even after her death. Her obituary in The New York Times claimed that she was the daughter of a sugar planter, while the Guardian’s obituary writer believed she was the granddaughter of the premier of Queensland, who was also the founder of one of Australia’s biggest companies, Colonial Sugar Refining.
The confusion was understandable, considering Goff’s own reluctance to reveal his origins, even to his wife. She told the doctor who signed his death certificate that he was born in County Wexford, Ireland. Lyndon herself said, “My father came from a very old Irish family, Irish gentry, what we call landed people…He was a younger son, and younger sons were sent to explore the world…what made him go to Australia I don’t know. He was Anglo Irish, and the Irish are great wanderers.”3
Goff was born at home in Queens Road, Deptford, London, in December 1863, the second son of a shipping agent, Henry Lyndon Bradish Goff, and his wife Charlotte Cecilia. He did have Irish connections, though, with relatives whose surname was Davis-Goff, who lived in both County Wexford and near Galway, in the west of Ireland.
As a young man, not yet twenty, Travers Goff sailed from London to Ceylon, where he took up tea planting before drifting on to Australia. He settled in New South Wales, and then, in about 1891, moved to the colony of Queensland. It is possible he was an overseer on a sugarcane farm at some time before his marriage. A portrait dated 1896, taken in a Sydney photographer’s studio, shows him with a droopy, oversized handlebar mustache, posed stiffly in a white suit, white shoes and pith helmet. There are similarities in the costume to photographs of sugar plantation overseers in the 1880s. But his outfit could also be a nostalgic acknowledgment of the clothes he wore in Ceylon.
Whatever his original Australian occupation, Goff did not remain long in any town. His name does not appear in any residential directory of New South Wales or Queensland from the 1880s. But by July 23, 1898, he had settled in Maryborough, where he joined the Australian Joint Stock Bank. As branch manager, he earned a salary of £250 a year as well as a servants allowance of £50.4
For a single man, there were worse places to be than the pretty subtropical town of Maryborough, a river port about 250 kilometers north of Brisbane, named after the Mary River, which flows through it. Like many of the coastal towns of Queensland, Maryborough looked a little like colonial Ceylon, with its wooden buildings—lacy, delicate—built to withstand the worst of the sweltering summer months. Maryborough was proud of its town hall, and Queens Park, laid out in the London manner with ornamental trees. A gun recovered from a shipwreck in the Torres Strait was fired each day at one o’clock. By the 1880s, Maryborough’s diversions included an Orchestra Society, band concerts held in the cool of the night, circuses, vaudeville, and moonlight excursions on the river. Just before Goff arrived, in the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, motion pictures came to town.
Maryborough lived on two industries: timber and sugar. In the decade to 1880, the sugar industry boomed with more than forty juice mills and sugar mills in the district. But the boom gave way to a drought that saw planters forced to mortgage their properties and unable to pay off their loans. Bankers, such as the directors of Goff’s bank, fretted over the low price of sugar and the worrying outlook for the industry. They began to foreclose, to cut plantations into farming blocks and offer them for sale.
Australian banks were badly hung over from the 1880s boom, and the Australian Joint Stock Bank was no exception. By the time Goff joined in 1898, it claimed to be the third-biggest bank in New South Wales and Queensland, but a crisis of the early 1890s was still fresh in the minds of its directors. The AJS Bank relied heavily on London for its deposits. Bank problems in England in the early 1890s led directly to the AJS Bank closing its doors in April 1893, reopening two months later under a scheme of reconstruction.5
The roller-coaster ride of Australian banks in the 1890s continued to affect Travers Goff, professionally and personally, until his death. Lyndon’s father’s experiences, combined with bank problems involving her mother’s family, remained in her mind for life. Both spilled over into her portrait of George Banks, whose personality was as ambivalent as her father’s. In Mr. Banks, Lyndon created a worrier who dreamed of the stars, but had to go to his bank every day except Sundays and bank holidays. There he sat in a big chair at a big desk and made money. The Banks children, perhaps like little Helen Lyndon, thought he manufactured the coins himself, cutting out pennies and shillings and half-crowns and threepences, and bringing them home in his black Gladstone bag. Sometimes, when George Banks had no money for the children, he would say “The bank is broken.” The two oldest Banks children, Jane and Michael, counted their money carefully into their money boxes, prudent like father: “Sixpence and four pennies—that’s tenpence, and a halfpenny and a threepenny bit.”6
In much the same way, Lyndon as an adult scrutinized her investments, asking bankers, lawyers and agents to constantly check the balances, never thinking she had enough. Her fears came not just from her father’s problems, but from the foolish investments of her mother’s uncle, Boyd Morehead, son of a dour, careful Scot. Boyd was the black sheep of the canny Moreheads, a Scottish family described by Lyndon as “very rich.” She boasted that her mother...
Le informazioni nella sezione "Su questo libro" possono far riferimento a edizioni diverse di questo titolo.