Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Does America Get Nannies?

I still have back issues of The New Yorker floating around in my living room. Yesterday I found a great article in the Dec. 19th magazine (I did say back issues, remember)called Becoming Mary Poppins, written by Caitlin Flanagan.

Becoming Mary Poppins is about how P. L. Travers' first book in a series about Mary Poppins became the Disney movie, Mary Poppins. Flanagan describes the original books as "transfixing and original, trading sharp drawing-room comedy with fantastical adventures and carefully rendered scenes of servant life." The first book, published in 1934, is supposed to have beenwell regarded by people like T.S. Eliot and later Sylvia Plath is said to have loved it.

When Disney came to make the movie in the '60s, the question arose over whether or not middle America would know or care about nannies. He's supposed to have asked the writers involved with the movie, "Do you boys know what a nanny is?" One of them replied, "Yeah. It's a goat." It was a joke, but it kind of represents their concern--would America get a movie about a family who hires someone to take care of the kids?

Thus, in the movie, Mary Poppins teachers the parents how to be traditional American parents who raise their own kids. (That also fits my recollection of the movie, which I saw only once.) I'm not sure exactly how different the movie is from the book, but Flanagan indicates the difference is great enough that Travers cried at the premiere and not from joy.

I'm definitely going to look for that book.

An interesting sidenote--when I googled the author of the article, Caitlin Flanagan, I found a lot of blog references to her. Evidently she is quite a controversial figure. According to Ms. Magazine, just before moving to The New Yorker, Flanagan published one last article with her old employer, The Atlantic. The article was called How Serfdom Saved The Women's Movement: Dispatches From The Nanny Wars.

Perhaps the nanny connection is how she scored the job of writing about the most famous nanny of them all.

Reasons Why The Young Should Read Literature directed me to an essay by Joseph Epstein, in which he writes about being plagiarized. At the end he writes about the possibility of turning the case over to a lawyer and watching it go through the court system, "which is likely to produce a story that would make Bleak House look like Goodnight Moon."

I get that reference because I have read both Bleak House and Goodnight Moon. Actually, I've only seen Bleak House on TV. But I have read Goodnight Moon. Many times.

I was also able to figure out what Roger Sutton was talking about in his Feb. 27th and 28th posts at Read Roger because just a couple of weeks ago I read a book that was described as metafiction and looked it up. Though I can't actually remember the definition now.

And, finally, this past weekend I was talking with a young woman who worked at the conference center where I was staying about a secret drawer I'd helped find in my room. She said she'd worked there five years and never been able to find it. I told her that it wasn't that hard if you'd read Nancy Drew. She said she never had. I felt a responsibility to point out to her that she was going to struggle all her adult life because of that lapse in her education.

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