I loved The Sound of Music from the first time I saw the movie–and countless viewings later I still love it. When my mother told me that it was a true story, that Maria and the Captain, their children and their escape from Austria and the Nazis were actual people it enhanced the connection I felt to their story.
I came upon this biography by chance at the library when I was researching another topic and was thrilled to discover an opportunity to learn more about a woman whose story I have admired for so many years. Would her life reflect the details of the musical? Or were the Broadway and film versions largely fiction?
This biography does not disappoint. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that most of the story I knew was accurate to the actual details of the von Trapp family and their early lives together. The history of Maria’s childhood unhappiness until she came to the abbey provided a revealing source for the strong, sometimes volatile woman with a devoted faith in God and her family that she became. I had always thought of Maria’s story as having happened WAY in the past, before my life. Ms. Ransom’s work dispelled this misconception: much of Maria’s adult life was actually spent here on the East Coast of the United States, AFTER the familiar events of the movie/musical. I was also surprised to learn that she died in 1987–not in the distant past; we shared 20 years of life together on this planet. This knowledge also changed my understanding and perspective of Maria’s place in history, connecting it more closely to my own.
I found it interesting to know that Maria originally did not want to marry Captain Von Trapp; she did so because the Reverend Mother at the abbey told her it was her destiny, her calling from God, as opposed to becoming a nun. In the context of Maria’s youthful experience of abandonment, being turned away from the one place she felt was truly her home and family was excruciatingly painful. Her marriage to the Captain in November of 1927 was not a happy event for her. However, at Christmas Midnight Mass of that year Maria realized that she had everything she had always ached for: “a houseful of children, a loving husband (for the Captain was truly in love with her) and her faith.” From that day on she and Georg celebrated their wedding anniversary on Christmas day instead of November 26th. They also had three children together, adding to the seven original Von Trapp children whom Maria loved as her own.
The Von Trapp family traveled and performed extensively in the United States. They created and ran a Music camp for families in Vermont because Maria believed in the power and gift of Music and what it had done to knit her family together. She wanted to be able to give that to other families. They concurrently ran a ski lodge near the same location for those who were less involved in the Music Camp but still wanted to be with their families.
Maria’s biggest disagreement with the content of the familiar musical was the same as the critics original reviews: it was too sweet. Maria felt Mary Martin on stage and Julie Andrews on film both made her seem much “sweeter” than she actually was and led audiences to believe her husband, Georg Von Trapp was much colder and more distant than he actually was as well. It is a telling testament to the esteem in which this family is held that despite the overly “sweet” character portrayals in the musical it continues to draw huge crowds wherever it is performed. Maria’s story–and that of her family–resonate with each of us who admire their courage in a historical time of fear which paralyzed so many others and recognize the precious gift the love of family members for each other bestow on all those who come in contact with it.
The kind, compassionate, spirited character with the capacity to be joyful and love fiercely is an accurate portrayal of this incredible woman. For those who have loved Maria’s story through the musical and wish to know more about her, this is an excellent place to start. It provides a strong basis from which to further research the details of her life and accomplishments.
A note about biographies from my perspective: I like to read at least two biographies of an individual by different authors and at least one autobiographical work, if it exists (and in Maria’s case she wrote 5 books of her own). I find this process gives me the fullest understanding of the individual about whom I am learning.