Nannies in Fiction and History: Mary Poppins

My friend Anne over at the Belle Jar Blog was helping me this morning as I brainstormed ideas for today’s blog. It’s hard coming up with ideas for every day! Anyway, she told me that what she wanted to see was a series on historical and fictional nannies. Who, exactly, was my inspiration for becoming a nanny?

I don’t know as if I really have one inspiration for becoming a nanny, but I’d have to say that probably my number one enjoyable fictional nanny is Mary Poppins. She was the Banks’ children’s nanny in P.L. Travers novels, written in 1934. What’s funny about Mary Poppins is that she’s just really cool – but she’s not someone I would ever hire to watch my own kids, lol. For one thing, she’s really rude and short with the children, often hurting their feelings with what she says, then getting offended when they seem hurt by her words! Most of the books end up with the kids trying to soothe Mary Poppins, instead of the other way around! She’s also very vain, and is seen staring at herself in shop windows and remarking on her amazing appearance. She’s not very affectionate, but as for stimulating kids, she’s definitely number one.

Mary Poppins has a magical characteristic about her. Not only does she understand and has retained infants’ secrets (like being able to talk to animals, which is forgotten as infants grow up), she is also able to float and fly, and jump into sidewalk paintings. Jane, Michael, and their brother and sisters John, Barbara and Annabel have great adventures with her – as she is “practically perfect in every way”. She also keeps impeccable order, probably because the children are terrified of making her angry.

I loved the movie “Mary Poppins” as a child, and I have always been fascinated with the “governess” period in England. Mary Poppins and her story originate in Edwardian England, and I think being a history-loving child from day one, I probably really loved the adventures they had because they were dressed up and so careful to observe rituals like tea and afternoon “airings”. It was only later that I read the books and realized that Poppins is quite a cold and intimidating character – but all the same, I don’t think any child would complain about the adventures she and her charges had!

I’ll do one of these little blogs about nannies in history and fiction every week – thanks for the idea, Anne!


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