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Source: (consider it) Thread: October Book Group: The Secret Garden
Bishops Finger
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No, no - she was secretly injected with an untraceable poison by Dr. Craven, whilst she was in the throes of childbirth. 'Here you are, my dear! This will ease the pain! Mwhahahaha......!'.

I haven't come across The Shuttle, which sounds like another rather Hardy-esque bundle of laughs.

IJ

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andras
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Wow, I'd never realised that there was so much back-story. Perhaps because there isn't really, but I agree that it's fun to speculate.

Taking the whole tale on beyond the end of the book, both the lads enlist in the Army during the First World War, Colin as an officer and Dickon as Other Ranks - probably put in charge of the horses - and then they both die bravely but messily at the Somme.

Mary, devastated by their loss, joins the suffragettes and is soon imprisoned for assaulting a policeman, then dies while on hunger strike in jail.

I feel a sequel coming on...

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Adrian Plass

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Bishops Finger
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Yes, let Colin and Dickon, (especially Dickon) both die in the trenches.

Heroically, in Colin's case, perhaps whilst trying to save a wounded comrade. In Dickon's case, let his mutilated, bloody, dismembered corpse be devoured, poetically, by rats.

Meanwhile, I see the redeemed and renewed Mary, not so much a suffragette, but certainly as a 'New Woman', going to University, obtaining a first-class Honours degree, and eventually becoming a doctor herself, specialising in childrens' medicine.

Meanwhile, old Ben Weatherstaff dies equally heroically whilst saving Mrs. Medlock (with the aid of a garden fork) from the increasingly demented amorous clutches of Dr. Craven.

The egregious Doctor is removed to an asylum, where he eventually dies through injuries received whilst throwing himself against the walls of his padded cell.

Martha the housemaid inexplicably marries the rejuvenated Archibald Craven, and bears him a baker's dozen of children, none of whom are hunchbacks...and who treasure The Secret Garden as their own special adult-free space. Aha! At last, a positive note, returning to The Secret Garden!

Sorry, Brenda - we were supposed to be discussing the actual book, not writing sequels - but TSG does lead to a lot of speculation and imagination.

IJ

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Bishops Finger
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O dear. I think I need to get out more.

Where's the WHISKY bottle?

[Help]

IJ

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wild haggis
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Yes, a wee tot is the only answer to all this - maybe more than one!!

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wild haggis

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Bishops Finger
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O indeed - another wee dram is due about now!

[Big Grin]

I hadn't realised how dark Mrs. Hodgson Burnett's books could be.

I shall have to resort yet again to Mr. eBay to see if I can get a copy of The Shuttle.

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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I believe it is readily available on Gutenberg. It has an irritating beginning, explaining about how Americans are good for those etiolated and feeble folks in the mother country, but also adulating the Gentry and the Nobility in an annoying way. Skip all that bit and buckle down to the real story which is amusing. (It is not unlike Cold Comfort Farm, a straight send-up of Hardy and Mary Webb, with Bettina in the role of Flora Poste coming in and setting the rustics to rights.)

Back to TSG: although there's a heavy layering of spirituality in there, it's not very Christian. I don't believe Jesus is ever mentioned at all, and it would actually fly perfectly well as a pagan novel touting the importance of properly worshiping Nature.

And, another nosy thought: what do you think is the foundation of the Craven fortune? I bet Archie's father or grandfather made the money oppressing miners, or perhaps working children to death in mills. Certainly Archibald himself doesn't seem to have to do anything -- he has no business to supervise or interests to maintain.

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Bishops Finger
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O, undoubtedly - by 1911, the Cravens could have indeed made their fortune by oppressing miners and/or millworkers during the Industrial Revolution of the previous century.

Sadly, neither of the elder Cravens would probably have lived long enough to see the nationalisation of the coal industry post-WW2, though they may have suffered following the strikes and general unrest of the post-WW1 era.

[Disappointed]

I'm not sure about the 'Magic' or pseudo-religion of Mrs. Sowerby. Somewhat unconvincing artistically, IMHO, though possibly reflecting the vague religiosity of country people in those days.

Reverting again to Thomas Hardy, writing fifty years earlier, one of his wonderfully-portrayed rustics remarks (anent the Old Testament), 'Tis only stories about old Jews - 'tis nothing to do wi'us...' (or words to that effect).

IJ

IJ

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andras
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Yorkshire country folk were probably more likely to be some variety of Methodist than anything else at the time in which TSG is set, though I agree there's no sign of any sort of organised religion other than the singing of the Doxology, here seen as part of the Magic.

One problem with the structure of the book is that we see everything from the pov of the author's invisible drone which follows Mary around except for the part describing Mr. Craven's journey almost at the end of the book. There's a lack of consistency there, I think.

Regarding Mr. C's money, we have no information at all. It could just as well be moderately 'old money', of which there was quite a lot sloshing around if you knew where to look. And although servants' wages do seem very low, it must be remembered that their jobs were 'all found' plus the inevitable - and sometimes very valuable - perks. Their wages were really just pocket money, and in those terms they weren't doing badly at all.

For instance, one fixed rule in The Big House was that 'a candle is never lit twice,' so the butler could and usually did make quite a lot of ready cash flogging barely-lit candles to the villagers, 'candle-ends' being his traditional perk; and the perk culture went all the way down the pecking order, so that even the lowliest 'tweenie' would have got something not as charity but as her absolute legal right that no-one would have argued about for a moment.

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Adrian Plass

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Jane R
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andras:
quote:
And although servants' wages do seem very low, it must be remembered that their jobs were 'all found' plus the inevitable - and sometimes very valuable - perks. Their wages were really just pocket money, and in those terms they weren't doing badly at all.
Ebenezer Scrooge, is that you?

You are glossing over the working conditions of most servants of the time.

First, their jobs may have been 'all found' but they had to live in. They were on call 24/7 except for their half-day (if they were lucky enough to get a half-day) and most had very long working days, beginning with the tweeny who had to get up at the crack of dawn to lay fires etc.

Second, they had no right to a private life. In most households you didn't get a room of your own unless you were a senior servant like the butler or housekeeper. Many employers refused to allow you to 'walk out' with a suitor; girls who got pregnant were often dismissed without a character (= reference), even if they had been raped. Especially if they had been raped by the master of the house or one of his sons.

Third, they could be dismissed at any time, often for trivial reasons (such as breaking the crockery) and whether or not they got a reference was dependent on their employer's whim. Servants who were dismissed without a reference would find it very difficult indeed to get another job.

Yes, I suppose you could describe their wages as 'pocket money'. Their working conditions were very close to slavery.

quote:
For instance, one fixed rule in The Big House was that 'a candle is never lit twice,' so the butler could and usually did make quite a lot of ready cash flogging barely-lit candles to the villagers, 'candle-ends' being his traditional perk; and the perk culture went all the way down the pecking order, so that even the lowliest 'tweenie' would have got something not as charity but as her absolute legal right that no-one would have argued about for a moment.
Those rules might have held in medieval times when payment in kind was common, but by the time of The Secret Garden your so-called 'traditional perks' would have been viewed as stealing by most employers. The butler and cook might have got away with it (just about), but the tweeny would have been lucky to get away with an extra crust of bread. Where did you get this information from, anyway? It doesn't square with anything I've seen elsewhere in Edwardian contemporary literature.
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andras
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I'm certainly not suggesting it was a bed of roses; too often girls were regarded by their employers as sexual conquests waiting to be made - how many poor maids were sacked on the spot without a character for becoming pregnant, while the son responsible was quietly shipped off to India or Australia?

But if you read Cider with Rosie where Laurie Lee recounts some tales of his mother's days 'in service' it's clear that things weren't necessarily bad and could be very good.

And was 'living in' and gutting a dozen chickens for a big dinner any worse than holding down two starvation-wage jobs - which may involve gutting not a dozen but hundreds of oven-ready chickens for a supermarket - and then travelling home on a night bus and walking through dark streets on your own? Just try claiming your employees' rights in today's 'gig' economy!

Yes, it could be bad; it could also be pretty good, and the number of servants who set up as tradesmen in later life shows that they were able to save decent amounts of cash from wages and tips. Remember that the servants would invariably line up as visitors left, waiting to be given the traditional shilling tip from every visitor - gents tipped the menservants, the ladies tipped the maids. That would be quite profitable after a big house party, and it was a poor do if a servant in a big house couldn't at least double their income in that way.

When I was a lad I knew two ladies who'd been servants in the exact period of TSG, and even in their old age they would happily reminisce about the wonderful times they'd had as girls in service. Rose-tinted specs, no doubt, but a useful corrective to the usual modern narrative.

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Adrian Plass

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Moo

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The lives of many servants were hellish, but not all. I have recently read several books about servants' lives in nineteenth and twentieth century England.

The conditions of employment varied widely. When the only servant was a woman who was expected to do all the work, the conditions were usually bad. They were especially bad if the employer wanted to impress the neighbors.

On the other hand, being a servant on a large country estate (which I assume Misselthwaite Manor was) was not so bad. The servants were fed liberally with meat, dairy products, and produce which were grown on the estate. I'm sure Martha was fed better at Misselthwaite than her siblings were at the cottage. As far as work conditions were concerned, this depended on the nature of the upper servants. If they were considerate, the work wasn't bad; if they were tyrants, it was hell.

Moo

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Jane R
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andras:
quote:
And was 'living in' and gutting a dozen chickens for a big dinner any worse than holding down two starvation-wage jobs - which may involve gutting not a dozen but hundreds of oven-ready chickens for a supermarket - and then travelling home on a night bus and walking through dark streets on your own? Just try claiming your employees' rights in today's 'gig' economy!
What did I say that sounded like 'things are better for everyone nowadays'?

The food might have been better on a big country estate; but if they were that much better off working for the lord of the manor, it's odd that after the war so many servants chose to leave and move to the big towns and cities for jobs in cafes and factories (when we still had factories). Almost as if they thought they were real people who deserved time off to go dancing or to the pictures.

No doubt some of the more enlightened employers organised social events for their servants, or allowed them enough time off to organise their own. But it's not the same as knowing that when the end of your shift comes or the teashop closes, you can go *somewhere else* and forget about work until the next day.

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Bishops Finger
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My Old Mum (1912-2004) left school at 14, and became a sort of general housemaid/nanny in a rather smaller establishment than Misselthwaite Hall. She worked for a time at Finchcocks, a country house in Kent, now home to a museum of keyboard instruments.

IIRC, she never really regarded her years in service (1926 until she married in 1939) as anything other than a secure, and not particularly arduous, job - despite admittedly being at the beck and call of her employers almost 24/7.

I can't remember what she said about her wages - they would not have been high - but she was an only child, and her father was in much demand in the autumn (and earning good wages) as a hop-drier.

Mum's parental home, however, was one of a group of three ancient (17thC) farm cottages, with a brick floor in the living-room, a beaten earth floor in the scullery, and two small bedrooms. No electricity - lighting by candles or oil lamps, cooking on a coal-fired range.

The loo was a wooden privy in the back garden (of the 'thunderbox' type - Grandma's cabbages were renowned for their size), and there was only a well for water.

This, in Kent, in the 1960s! Grandma came to live with us in around 1965, by which time the well had become contaminated somehow, and had had to be replaced, by the farmer, with a standpipe and tap (serving three cottages).

All of which reminds us that the time written about in The Secret Garden is only now fading from living memory.

IJ

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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Jane R:
The food might have been better on a big country estate; but if they were that much better off working for the lord of the manor, it's odd that after the war so many servants chose to leave and move to the big towns and cities for jobs in cafes and factories (when we still had factories). Almost as if they thought they were real people who deserved time off to go dancing or to the pictures.

After the war the big estate owners could not afford the standard of living they had enjoyed. They had to lay off many of their servants, and the jobs available to laid-off servants were in cities.

Moo

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Bishops Finger
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Yes. My Old Mum did say that her employers (she worked, in succession, for two Baronets) found it hard to maintain the pre-WW1 standards which she herself would only know about by hear-say.

I think it was fortunate, in a way, that she lived in a relatively prosperous rural area - though she always said that she hated the countryside, and much preferred living in a town! I suspect that other former rural types could say the same - shops, dances, boys with motor-bikes..... [Big Grin]

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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The way Misselthwaite is described, it's a huge house -- large enough to squirrel your son in and hope to never have the girl cousin hear about it. Nor does it seem very nouveau -- it's clearly Archibald's family home, dating back to at least the Victorians. (Poor old Neville does not seem to be a resident; I imagine him discontentedly living in a very nice but far smaller house in the village.) It must have called for legions of servants. And, although we don't see this because it doesn't come under Mary's viewpoint, there must be more to the property than just the house and garden. Farmlands, tenantry, possibly lucrative mining etc. are just out of view. Archie must have a land agent or an estate manager to take care of all this for him, so that he can moon around being depressed without distractions.

And that's another thing that must make it an attractive work for the young reader. The exploring of a large house full of keen stuff, without any grown-ups to bother you, is wonderfully attractive and Burnett renders it well. (I like the little ivory elephants!) It's a trope fairly specific to British children's fiction -- several batches of E. Nesbit's children wander around in a similar huge house, and in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the children look forward to exploring the Professor's historical home. In the US there are far fewer enormous mansions of this type to be featured in novels. (Perhaps little Barron Trump will oblige us, in 20 or 30 years.)

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andras
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And then there's the enormous garden, obviously really a series of smaller gardens - the rose garden, the kitchen garden, the hothouse, the vine house, the orangery, the herb garden, the parterre, the lake and so on. And, of course, the Walled Garden.

The Head Gardener would have been very much the Monarch of all he Surveyed, and only a very headstrong employer would go against his advice.

But then the top echelon of servants in general could really hold their employer's feet to the fire if they chose - a good butler, house-keeper, head gardener or cook would have been well-known in all the big houses for miles around, and poaching someone else's cook in particular was a recognised party game. As Saki observes, The cook was a good cook, as cooks go; and as cooks go she went.

The demise of the big houses wasn't entirely due to economic factors, though they certainly played a part; the number of sons of County Families who fell in the First World War was truly staggering.

Personally I have little time for that class of people, but I must admit that those young men certainly answered duty's call, for which they still deserve our thanks - as do their servants, who often went with them to the Front, and suffered the same fate. And in an astonishing act of democratic unity, they lie buried in graves which do not distinguish in any way between Master and Man.

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Brenda Clough
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There was an enormous social pressure (white feathers handed out by women) for men to join up and go to the Front. Rudyard Kipling moved heaven and earth to get his son John into the armed forces, even though the young man was too nearsighted to be let near a gun.

Perhaps Colin gets entirely better. He's young enough, what, 10? So that he can get over his invalid childhood. Do exercises in the Secret Garden, run with Mary around and around the parterres and vegetable beds, and get healthy enough to join up for the Great War. If they let John Kipling in then Colin Craven is good to go. If/when he dies in the trenches I don't see Archibald recovering from the bereavement. Brother Neville may luck out after all.

[ 24. October 2017, 13:44: Message edited by: Brenda Clough ]

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Jane R
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If he was 10 in 1911 he would have had to lie about his age to get into the armed forces before the war ended in 1918. Not saying he wouldn't; it did happen. Many of the pilots in the RFC were teenagers (average life expectancy in April 1917: about ten hours).
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Bishops Finger
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A neighbour of ours, back in my comparative Yoof lied about his age in order to get into the forces in 1914. He was 13 at the time.

He succeeded, was eventually invalided out after inhaling mustard gas, but survived (perhaps surprisingly) into his 70s, succumbing to pneumonia in 1976.

Colin and Dickon may not, of course, have joined up in August 1914, but they could well have done so a year or two later.

Re the many gardens at Misselthwaite, that sort of thing was common, and can still be seen at many of the larger (or even not so large - think Great Dixter) English country houses.

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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And as far as I can recall there's no internal evidence about what year the work occurs in. It is clearly early in the 20th century. If it takes place in 1903 then Dickon certainly and Colin very possibly are off to the wars.
Another possibility might be that Archibald dies before all this. With his death Colin becomes master of Misselthwaite. Would he be able to will the property away from wicked Uncle Neville, and hand the entire thing to Mary? This creates your between-the-wars scenario of the single young Mary trying to run the entire property, very nearly denuded of staff (because all the gardeners, workmen, tenantry, etc. went to the War).

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Bishops Finger
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Yes, we've rather assumed that the book is set in 1910-11, but for me the convincing detail is the weekly wage of the invisible (but fruitful) Mr. Sowerby. Sixteen bob was about right for 1910-11, but a decade earlier it would have been just under fifteen shillings.

Go back even further, and there would be a commensurate decrease - average wages rose fairly steadily over the period 1850-1914.

As to Mr. Craven's will, that's the sort of legal matter beloved by Dorothy L. Sayers, Wilkie Collins, and other novelists. No spoilers, but I can think of at least three stories by those two authors where the plot hinges on the terms of a Will.

IANAL, so I leave it to others to speculate on how the Will might or might not have been worded in terms favourable to the wicked Doctor.

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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If the property's entailed upon heirs male (which would account for why Neville gets zip and has to go out and scratch for his living) then Colin is going to inherit. Only if both Archibald and Colin die would Neville get his innings. And if Colin should marry and engender a son then poor Neville's completely out.
I can only see Mary getting into the line-up if all three males die. OR if Archibald fails to get Colin to sign onto to extending the entail, so that Colin can simply will the property otherwise once he's the owner.

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Golden Key
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Hi. I dearly love this book. Always have. I'm also usually not one for, um, tearing a book apart to understand it. So I'm just going to talk about what I like (and don't), and pretty much leave it there.

Each of the kids is great, and they help each other so much. They help heal each other. (With Dickon, though, they help him stretch a bit.) I love Susan Sowerby, mom to Dickon and Martha. I even like crabby Ben Weatherstaff, most of the time. [Biased] And I love the garden, and the countryside, and the rock gardens that Dickon made at his family's house.

The one thing I don't like is when the story switches over to Colin's dad, when he's away. The author steps in to make a philosophical comment, rather than simply tell the story, *show* what she means. It's a flaw, IMHO.

My favorite part is Chapter 26. The kids and Ben Weatherstaff are in the garden, working with Colin's idea of magic.

Then Susan Sowerby arrives.

quote:
“Do you believe in Magic?” asked Colin after he had explained about Indian fakirs. “I do hope you do.”

“That I do, lad,” she answered. “I never knowed it by that name but what does th’ name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i’ France an’ a different one i’ Germany. Th’ same thing as set th’ seeds swellin’ an’ th’ sun shinin’ made thee a well lad an’ it’s th’ Good Thing. It isn’t like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th’ Big Good Thing doesn’t stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin’ worlds by th’ million—worlds like us. Never thee stop believin’ in th’ Big Good Thing an’ knowin’ th’ world’s full of it—an’ call it what tha’ likes. Tha’ wert singin’ to it when I come into th’ garden.”

“I felt so joyful,” said Colin, opening his beautiful strange eyes at her. “Suddenly I felt how different I was—how strong my arms and legs were, you know—and how I could dig and stand—and I jumped up and wanted to shout out something to anything that would listen.”

“Th’ Magic listened when tha’ sung th’ Doxology. It would ha’ listened to anything tha’d sung. It was th’ joy that mattered. Eh! Lad, lad—what’s names to th’ Joy Maker,” and she gave his shoulders a quick soft pat again.

To paraphrase Linus in "A Charlie Brown Christmas", "That's what 'The Secret Garden' is all about, Charlie Brown".

[ 25. October 2017, 06:26: Message edited by: Golden Key ]

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Bishops Finger
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Hmm. So, God = The Big Good Thing, the Magic, and/or the Joy Maker.

Well, one name's as good as another, I guess.

Agreed, though, about the bit regarding Mr. Craven. It doesn't quite seem to fit, somehow, perhaps for the reason GK (and, I think, others) have suggested.

IJ

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andras
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If the book is really a redemption narrative as I and others have suggested, then one has to ask who is really redeemed. Not just the children, surely, but Colin's father, whose redemption occurs in the last few words of the book.

Shades of Saving Mr. Banks!

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Brenda Clough
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Yes, and that's where the selection of Mary as the point of view character tripped the author up. She just had to get Archibald tidied up, and stepped out of the viewpoint to do it. It is indeed a flaw in construction, and I'm interested that it bothers people. (Writers notice things and whine, but we always wonder whether anyone else cares.)
There was a considerable Victorian literary tradition of people getting psychic messages from the beloved -- remember Jane Eyre hearing Rochester calling for her. And, as you recall, Jane also did not attribute it to a Christian god. She gave the credit to Nature, just like Ben Weatherstaff does.
Although we think of the past as deeply and consistently Christian, it's clear that most people were fairly wobbly about it. There was a thin veneer of Bible and doctrine, overlaying a foundation of what was essentially animism and nature worship.

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Bishops Finger
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That certainly seems to be the case in some of Thomas Hardy's works, however accurately, and, indeed, sympathetically, he depicts the rural church of his day.

Going back to Archibald Craven's 'redemption', and given that some of us see its depiction as a flaw in the construction of the book, how might Burnett have handled it from Mary's continued viewpoint?

IJ

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Hmm. In fact there is no need for the Archie scene at all, except for that need for a melodramatic 'repentance' scene right on stage. Suppose it vanished. Then you have Mary writing a letter urging him to come home. He unexpectedly appears, surprises children in the Secret Garden for the big reveal. Would it not suffice to have him then sit down in the sunshine (scene: bower of roses, birds singing, etc.) and turn his face up to the light? The children, standing by, are arguing or leaping around or being noisy but one of them (Dickon?) realizes what is going on and hushes them.
More subtle, less melodramatic -- more modern, alas. One must allow the period author their period quality. A writer lives in her time, as a fish lives in the water.

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andras
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You don't even need the letter urging him to come home; he would inevitably have returned at some point, and then any one of a number of scenarios could play out.

For instance, no doubt he would have written to the housekeeper informing her that he would be back on such-and-such a day, following which... you can write your own happy ending ad libitum.

I can't talk about countryside religion in the early 20th Century, but certainly within my own lifetime I have known farmers touch their cap to Merlin's Oak in Carmarthen (before it was removed to the local museum to make way for road improvements), and they might well still greet the New Moon with a 'Good Evening, Lady!'

I have personally known of a local dyn hysbys (I can't really come up with a decent English translation for that, Google suggests Wizard, but that's miles off!) who would for payment - or for his own advantage - make sure that a particular horse or ram or whatever would win prizes at shows by enlisting the help of what Glendower calls Spirits from the vasty deep. It seems to work, too.

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Brenda Clough
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quote:
Originally posted by andras:
You don't even need the letter urging him to come home; he would inevitably have returned at some point, and then any one of a number of scenarios could play out.

For instance, no doubt he would have written to the housekeeper informing her that he would be back on such-and-such a day, following which... you can write your own happy ending ad libitum.


No, you need Mary to initiate it because she's the protagonist of the work. In the ideal plot construction things happen because the characters make them happen; chance happenstance or the deus-ex-machina should be avoided. To preserve the moment of the surprise is clearly essential. If Uncle Archie is not too ditzy to send a note to his housekeeper, it could always go astray.

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Bishops Finger
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Yes, I rather like the idea of Mary writing a letter, Uncle A. re-appearing at an unexpected hour (discomposing Mrs. Medlock), and being 'redeemed' in The Secret Garden, as per Brenda's suggestion.

@andras, re country wonderworkers, for a good example see Conjurer Trendle in Hardy's short story The Withered Arm.

Such people were not uncommon in rural England (and, presumably, Wales), and Hardy noted down a number of tales of supposed witchcraft (in intent, if not in deed) told by people of his acquaintance.

Apologies for referring yet again to Thomas Hardy, but his depiction of 19thC rural English life is IMHO unparalleled (Dickens, of course, excelled at depicting urban life).

IJ

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Eirenist
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'Dyn hysbys': 'Cunning Man', perhaps?

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Bishops Finger
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That certainly seems closer to the idea.

An interesting sidewise look at comparatively recent history - possibly a subject for someone's thesis? (Probably done already!).

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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There's a similar amoral wizard-ish figure in Precious Bane, the father of Gideon Sarn's love interest. I wonder if this is not the natural destiny of Dickon, in an England where nobody had to go to France to die in a few years -- sort of an oddball nature wizard, semi-supported by a tolerant populace that half-believes he's got a magic. Naturally the battlefields of the Somme the Marne completely throw this off track, and if Dickon doesn't die ugly I could see that between-the-wars novel about the embittered and probably wounded Dickon the veteran, very Hemingway, unable to get back into touch with his innocent youthful power. Until ... what? No no, must't write that book...

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Bishops Finger
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Yes, yes, go ahead, by all means!

Not sure about Dickon aka Conjurer Sowerby - perhaps a generation or four earlier, but not on the eve of WW1.

Now, Susan Sowerby, yes - I can see her as the village wise-woman, certainly, or perhaps more like the kind, patient, and (in Dolly's case) conventionally devout Dolly Winthrop, in George Eliot's Silas Marner.

IJ

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I never got it together to re-read The Secret Garden but I've been really enjoying the conversation. The two things that stayed with me were Mary's awful early childhood, which seemed a pretty good reason why she ended up so unlikeable and Dickon's magic. When I read Magic is Alive by Leonard Cohen I was reminded of Dickon's magic speech. I wonder if Cohen read the book as a child? I've not re-read the Dickon speech, so I might be totally making up the similarities.

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Bishops Finger
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Sorry, Brenda - just realised you're positing Dickon as a natural magician if WW1 hadn't come along to throw him (and everyone else) off track.

Memo to self - read other peeps' posts before contradicting them... [Disappointed]

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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Has anyone ever read Burnett's The Making of a Marchioness? It's the only one of her works I can think of that didn't have a little spoonful of Magic in there, to make the plot go. It was made into a horrid TV movie recently. There are a couple of tropes that period writers tended to pull out of the hat; Magic was one (look at Jane Eyre) and the other was conveniently having the villain or unwanted wife/husband/witness/character impeding the happy ending conveniently go mad at the proper moment and have to be shut up in an attic or Asylum. This is how Burnett eventually disposes of Sir Nigel Anstruther in The Shuttle. In fact madness is so often resorted to, I wonder if it's not based on the prevalence of syphilis, untreatable until the time of antibiotics.

[ 26. October 2017, 18:15: Message edited by: Brenda Clough ]

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Bishops Finger
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Maybe Uncle Archie should have contracted syphilis abroad (following Lilias' death, and consorting with Loose Wimmin), come home, gone mad, and been shut up in the very same room in which poor Colin had been immured for so long.

IJ

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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Eirenist:
'Dyn hysbys': 'Cunning Man', perhaps?

That's probably as close as one could get, so thanks for that.

English is such a ruddy clumsy language!

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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:

No, you need Mary to initiate it because she's the protagonist of the work. In the ideal plot construction things happen because the characters make them happen; chance happenstance or the deus-ex-machina should be avoided. To preserve the moment of the surprise is clearly essential. If Uncle Archie is not too ditzy to send a note to his housekeeper, it could always go astray.

Being the protagonist doesn't mean you have to do everything yourself! Colin's all-too-absent father is - we have been told - in the habit of disappearing for months on end in order to suffer somewhere scenic rather than moping around the moor at home, so there's no reason why he can't come back under his own steam without upsetting the machinery of the plot.

All we need is for Mary to learn (from one of the staff, perhaps) that he's written to say that he's on the way home and due to arrive shortly, and as far as the mechanics of the plot are concerned she's properly back in charge.

Certainly it shouldn't be left to Mrs. Sowerby to write the letter that brings him back, something which strikes me as a very out-of-character thing for her to do.

But you're right, Brenda, that we writers do tend to get worked up about such things, to the despair of people who just 'want to enjoy the book!'

(And what would have happened if he'd fallen into the Clutches of a Good Woman while he was away and brought her back with him?)

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Brenda Clough
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That would immediately turn the plot corner into a different sort of period novel, perhaps David Copperfield or Lady Audley's Secret, in which an apparently promising second spouse is revealed to be Wicked, or at the very least like in Wives and Daughters uncongenial and unpleasant. If the second Mrs. Craven didn't start out in cahoots with Neville she probably would be hand in glove with him in a couple or three chapters.

We could talk about the class divisions in the novel, always profitable with Burnett. She seems to have run two separate but incompatible philosophies in her books, flipping back and forth between them without worrying about inconsistencies.

The first is of course that the Common People are wiser and more good than the gentry. The Sowerbys are a clear example of this in TSG, essentially pulling the bacon for the decrepit and useless Craven landowners out of the fire. In this case it always happens that the gentry accept the service of the lower classes with grace but without in any way making them equals or compensating them in real terms. You can bet that Susan Sowerby continues to struggle on the 16 a week.

The other, not so visible here but very notable in her other books, is how Noble Blood Will Out. The well-born are often visibly better, or morally head and shoulders above the lower orders. Has anyone read Burnett's The Lost Prince? An egregious example of how blood is visible in the hero's face and carries the day under every circumstance.

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andras
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That would be the distinction between being good (like Mrs. Sowerby) and noble (like the Cravens). Nobility in this sense seems to apply from the Middle Class upwards - always a useful audience for the Victorian / Edwardian writer to have! - while the lower classes can be good or bad as the plot requires, but never noble. The lower classes can be Brave; only their social superiors can be Gallant.

Some members of of the upper class can be rotten to the core, of course, but that doesn't detract in any way from their nobility. Gilbert has that particular bit of hypocrisy in his sights when he assures us that the Pirates of Penzance Are not members of the common throng, They are all noblemen who have gone wrong.

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Net Spinster
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quote:
Originally posted by andras:
while the lower classes can be good or bad as the plot requires, but never noble.

Unless they were actually a stolen or lost child of the upper classes in which case their blood will show (and vice versa if a child of the lower classes is raised by the upper class). I'm thinking for example of Heyer's These Old Shades.

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Brenda Clough
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For that matter Burnett's own The Lost Prince is about, yes, a prince who is lost, a lad wandering across Balkan landscapes. Nevertheless such is his innate nobility, his resemblance to the noble house of whatever it was, that everybody beholding him immediately realizes that the Austro-Hungarian dominion is trash and that they should immediately back the heir of the ancient lost house. The especial dingbattiness comes in when it is revealed that his father (presumably the rightful king of WhateverItWas) had deliberately sent the prince out to wander around and inadvertently gather adherents. Can we imagine Mitt Romney doing any such stupid thing? Some Romanov?

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andras
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Oliver Twist is in the same general line: lost child of respectable parentage whose inner nobility shines through despite his terrible circumstances.

August Melmotte in The Way We Live Now is clearly middle class (and climbing!) and so potentially 'noble' in Victorian terms, but of course he's a foreigner, so all bets are off!

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Brenda Clough
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Yeah, the race thing comes in with Burnett a little bit (the Magic Brown Person in for example A Little Princess but much less than in Kipling.

The issue is more sensibly gone into in the musical version of TSG. When Mary in Yorkshire harks back to her Indian upbringing and the Magic is partly hers, as she remembers the words of her dead Ayah.

Which of course brings us to ways to update the story. You could imagine the Hollywood types having a good time with this -- has anyone seen Clueless, a quite excellent reimagining of Austen's Emma? The idea of Archibald mooning around extravagantly grieving is so 19th century. I am certain that if we moved it to 2017 he'd be on Prozac or other mood-altering drugs, probably abusing them. (Prescribed by Dr. Neville?)

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Bishops Finger
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Hah, yes! Overprescribed by Dr. Neville!

I'd never really noticed the innate nobility of Oliver Twist, as the most interesting character, IMHO, is the truly terrible and evil Fagin, possibly one of the wickedest creations in English literature (yes, yes, I know, we're discussing The Secret Garden).

IJ

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