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Source: (consider it) Thread: October Book Group: The Secret Garden
Brenda Clough
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This classic of children's fiction is by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is still in print and wildly popular. There's sure to be a copy in your local public library, probably in the children's section.
Electronic editions are also available for free at Project Gutenberg, but a paper edition with illustrations is how IMO it should be read. This is a work that has inspired vast and plentiful follow-on artistic endeavor. Just to start us off, here's
a recipe for a cocktail. Just because it's a kid's book doesn't mean we can't have an adult beverage, right?
It's not a difficult read in the slightest, so we'll kick in with discussions what, mid-month?

[ 01. October 2017, 16:40: Message edited by: Brenda Clough ]

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andras
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Sounds great, count me in! I've got the lovely Folio edition lying around somewhere!

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Sarasa
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I'm in, maybe with cocktail in hand. It's one of my favourite books.
Did Burnett coin the phrase 'secret garden'? It's certainly been used by a lot of people since. I used to live near a rather good garden centre called that, a name that suited it as it was hidden from view of the road in a busy South london street.
Has anyone read any of her other books - I'm rather fond of 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' too.

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Pangolin Guerre
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The phrase "secret garden" existed in French at least since the nineteenth century, in a less family-friendly context.
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Sarasa
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Pangolin Guerre said:
quote:
The phrase "secret garden" existed in French at least since the nineteenth century, in a less family-friendly context.
I did wonder, and I wonder if Burnett was aware of that.

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Brenda Clough
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She probably did -- she seems to have been a woman of the world, twice married and divorced. But younger readers certainly don't. Interestingly, the work was not originally intended for the young. She wrote it for adults.
There have been a couple biographies of her published, but here's an online one from Brittanica.

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Jack the Lass

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I read Secret Garden a couple of years ago, so will keep an eye on the discussion here as I think I can remember the relevant bits.

I'm currently dipping into A Little Princess, which I adored as a child and read several times into my early teens. Now I'm a lot older and more world-weary I'm finding it harder going, to be honest.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Jack the Lass:
I'm currently dipping into A Little Princess, which I adored as a child and read several times into my early teens.

I did the same. I can't say whether I'm also more world-weary.

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Brenda Clough
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One of the great problems about dipping back into literary history is that what was excitingly novel then is cliche now. Only the very greatest writers are for the ages. Nearly all the rest are, to our eye, annoyingly trite unless they're downright incomprehensible.
We watch Burnett (or Dickens, or Bronte, or Trollope) palm and shuffle the plot cards and it's tedious -- the abusive schoolteachers, the dishonest employees, the valiant young heroine or hero, the long-lost heir. To go back, and read them with the fresh eye of the reader in 1860 or 1880, is difficult.
The Secret Garden is actually good this way. Burnett deliberately inverted many of the favorite Victorian and Edwardian tropes. Has there ever been a more obnoxious pair of kids?

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Golden Key
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Count me in. [Smile]

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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
One of the great problems about dipping back into literary history is that what was excitingly novel then is cliche now. Only the very greatest writers are for the ages. Nearly all the rest are, to our eye, annoyingly trite unless they're downright incomprehensible.
We watch Burnett (or Dickens, or Bronte, or Trollope) palm and shuffle the plot cards and it's tedious -- the abusive schoolteachers, the dishonest employees, the valiant young heroine or hero, the long-lost heir. To go back, and read them with the fresh eye of the reader in 1860 or 1880, is difficult.
The Secret Garden is actually good this way. Burnett deliberately inverted many of the favorite Victorian and Edwardian tropes. Has there ever been a more obnoxious pair of kids?

Oh, Brenda! I don't give a fig for wonderful Trollope 'palming and shuffling' the cards, it's his superb depiction of characters that I love. No doubt others would say the same of Dickens, though for my taste he often wanders too close to parody.

Hardy - whom you don't mention - is another kettle of fish altogether. You can actually watch the gears going round as his plots creak forwards. President of the Immortals indeed!

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Brenda Clough
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Many of Burnett's novels are horribly trite. Have a look at her The Lost Prince, which Dorothy Sayers says generated an entire sub-genrelet of lost heirs to thrones. I think she knew this, but she was writing for a market that didn't really value originality. Like modern romance writers, who are tightly constrained as to what they can do.

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Rossweisse

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I would like to join in.

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Bishops Finger
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I haven't read the book (yet), but I do recall the BBC serialisation of (*gasp*) 1960!

The wonderful Hilary Mason (1917-2006) played Mrs. Medlock, and Prunella Scales was in it, too.

I haven't found any clips on YouTube, though I believe there have been subsequent films etc.

I shall now hie me to friendly Mr. eBay, or Mr. AbeBooks, to see what I can find.

IJ

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Bishops Finger
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'Tis done! A nice, shiny (but pre-owned) hardback copy is on its way to the Episcopal Palace for the princely sum of £2.80 (free post & packing), from one of my frequent suppliers.

One of the really useful aspects of the Internet, no?

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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I was going to accumulate a list of some of the film/TV versions, for the amusement of the group. There have been many -- whatever else you can say about Burnett her work is infinitely filmable and adaptable. (There was a dreadful TV version of The Making of a Marchioness only recently. Not one of her better works, can't imagine what they were thinking.)

Unquestionably the best dramatization is the Broadway musical version of The Secret Garden. One of the best scores ever! You can I know find the songs on YouTube video, and it's worth seeking out the cast recording. The show won a hatful of awards and you can often catch it in regional production -- it's very popular and often restaged.

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Nenya
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Oh, how lovely! I reread this recently. [Smile]

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Moo

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Count me in.

Moo

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Sparrow
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I've never read it! This is a good excuse.

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Bishops Finger
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My nice red-bound hardback copy arrived via kind Mr. eBay today, so all I need now is a nice glass of WHISKY to go with it... [Big Grin]

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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You will not find it a difficult read. Although it's categorized as a children's book now, the author had originally intended it for adult readers.
This allows it to be read on two levels. We can read it as a younger reader would read it, and derive a number of lessons from it. Clearly it has something of value to give to the youthful reader, and it would be interesting to note what that is.
And then we can analyze it with an adult understanding, oh yes we can.

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Bishops Finger
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So far, so good - very enjoyable, and Mrs. Burnett has the knack of making one want to know what's going to happen in the next chapter!

Poor little Mary Lennox. Not much of a life, until she gets to Misselthwaite, that is...how typical, I wonder, was her life in India in comparison with that of other 'Children of the Raj' at that time?

IJ

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Bishops Finger
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I suspect I may be reading the book more rapidly than others, so will try to refrain from opening other discussion topics for a few more days yet.....

(It's the WHISKY, Yer Honour - it makes me eyes, and me brain, work faster).

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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quote:
Originally posted by Bishops Finger:
So far, so good - very enjoyable, and Mrs. Burnett has the knack of making one want to know what's going to happen in the next chapter!

Poor little Mary Lennox. Not much of a life, until she gets to Misselthwaite, that is...how typical, I wonder, was her life in India in comparison with that of other 'Children of the Raj' at that time?

IJ

The Raj is as distant to us now as life on Pellucidar. I expect that Burnett at least knew people who had lived there under British rule and could pump them for detail. All we can do is read the sources, and I will say that at that elementary level she seems as authentic as, say, Kipling.
She is consistently fascinated (over many novels) by the notion of an outsider arriving in Britain. Mary, little Lord Fauntleroy, even the adult heroine of
The Shuttle, her hymn to Anglo-American relationships - they all come from outside and settle down in England, always renovating and improving the locals. This is the reverse of Kipling, whose characters often leave England and find home and happiness in Asia. "A neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!"

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andras
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A very close friend of my wife's was brought up in a Raj household, and her account of it (and of the ghastly boarding school she was sent to in England) are pretty-much in tune with the book (which incidentally I finished reading yesterday evening).

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Marama
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quote:
Originally posted by Bishops Finger:
I haven't read the book (yet), but I do recall the BBC serialisation of (*gasp*) 1960!

The wonderful Hilary Mason (1917-2006) played Mrs. Medlock, and Prunella Scales was in it, too.


Yes I remember that series. Oddly Wikipedia makes no mention of it, only the 1975 version (when I wasn't watching children's TV, so I don't remember it)

I'm greatly enjoying a re-read, having reclaimed my copy from my granddaughter. At 9 she enjoyed it too.

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Bishops Finger
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Like andras, I finished the book last evening (well, very early this morning).

I enjoyed it muchly, and thought the final outcome was reasonably satisfactory.

It would be good to know how the characters progressed beyond the book - I think the 1993(?) film explored this - but one's imagination can be given free rein, of course.

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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Wikipedia has a long list of many of the dramatic adaptations, not sure how complete.
I've seen the Broadway musical, which is superb, and also caught the Hallmark production in 1987. It was horrible, and introduced a repellent framing sequence with the adult Mary and the adult Colin (played, I see, by Colin Firth). They contrived to off Dickon, who perishes in the trenches of the Great War. Although calendrically this works out (if the lad was 12 in the early 1900s then yeah, he was cannon fodder) I was still dismayed. Mary, naturally, could not serve, and Colin's health issues probably rendered him unfit to go.

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Brenda Clough
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Interesting reviews include:
a good all-around survey from PublicDomain

A search keeps on kicking up e-versions, elementary school teacher guides, and listings in stores -- the work is too well known!

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Bishops Finger
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The Secret Garden is clearly an Allegory.

Discuss.

[Razz]

IJ

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Bishops Finger
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Sorry - missed Brenda's post re post-book adventures.

Well.

Ahem (clears throat, and prepares to run for cover);

Dickon is IMHO rather unbelievable, and Too Good To Live, so perishing (heroically, of course) in WW1 seems apt ( [Disappointed] ).....

I think his affinity with animals and birds is just a tad OTT.

(BTW - Mrs. Burnett seems unsure as to whether Soot is a crow or a rook, both names being used. They're different, no?)

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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Wait, wait. Back up -- in what way is it an allegory? Of the soul's maturing, perhaps? When in doubt, always resort to Pilgrim's Progress.

Possibly a better one would be Jungian. In this interpretation Mary, the main character, represents the personality. She achieves integration by reconciling with the natural world (the garden), her age peers (Colin and Dickon) and the adults. The two adult men, Archibald Craven and Doctor Craven, clearly represent the dual good/evil aspects of male sexuality. Colin particularly must stand for something deeply repressed, voicing itself only at night in wailing. Dickon, a daytime avatar, has to meet Colin before everything can work out.

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Sandemaniac
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Crows and rooks are very definitely different, and not that hard to tell apart.

AG

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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Sandemaniac:
Crows and rooks are very definitely different, and not that hard to tell apart.

AG

Yes they are indeed different - the usual way to tell them apart at a distance is that if there are a lot of crows, then they're rooks; if there's only one rook, it's a crow - but Lincolnshire and Yorkshire - and some other - dialects use the same word for both birds, as did both Tennyson, an excellent naturalist, and Shakespeare.

An allegory? A girl shows her secret garden to a bed-ridden boy, who promptly rises..... No, better not go there!

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Bishops Finger
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Now, now, andras! This is a Family Website, no?

I'm merely trying to open a Clean Discussion here.
[Paranoid]

IJ

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wild haggis
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I read the "Secret Garden" as a child and was bored out of my mind. Maybe because it was so alien to a Scottish child brought up on a working class estate. "Oor Wullie" in the Sunday Post was more our thing!

I read it again many years later when doing a course on children's literature, as a trainee teacher - my opinion was still the same! Middle class, English tosh. Not really a historical story, not adventure and not fantasy - outwith their experience.

I tried to re-read it a couple of years ago to see if it was me and if I had changed my opinion. I hadn't. I suppose when you think yourself into the mind set of a middle class English child of that period, it might work........might. I think adults like it more than kids.

As to allegories? Who are you kidding. It's a children's book for goodness sake! It wasn't written for adults with abstract analytical thinking.

There were copies in the libraries of a number of schools that I have worked in, in Scotland, England and W Africa (British kids school). Never once I have seen a child reading it or seen a copy taken out!

Let's face it, for today's kids it is old fashioned and it wasn't written for adults. If adults want to read it fine, but judge it for what it is - children's literature.

It's the same with all the rubbish written about Narnia. I have spent more than 50 years working with kids and have yet to hear a child independently equating the Christian story with the books. They are just good fantasy, adventure stories. Why do adults think that by reading Narnia books somehow kids will think about the story of Jesus?

We adults often do talk a lot of rubbish about children's literature. If a book is written for children, ask children what they think of the story. That is the true measure of how good children's literature is.

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Brenda Clough
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Mary symbolizes the unhealthiness of the colonial culture. Removed from her proper soil she cannot flourish. Transplanted back to her home climate she recovers. This is clearly a proto-Indian independence text, subliminally calling upon the oppressed native population to throw off their masters. It'll do them good. You should know that I could do this all day.

A more interesting analysis would be how Burnett thinks about non-Britons. The Broadway musical brings out how the strengths that Mary learned in India (from her ayah) eventually allow her to help Colin. Burnett tended to resort to the Magical Brown Person (they usually weren't black people) who would save the oppressed white protagonist. You can see this in A Little Princess when Sara Crewe's rescue is set into motion by the Indian servant of the old sick rich guy.

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FYI, Wild Haggis, my grandson had The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe read to him by my daughter 2 - 3 years ago and explained to her that Aslan must be God.

It hasn't made him particularly religious as a 10-year-old.

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wild haggis
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Great to hear that. A firs,t and I'll hold onto that as encouragemnet.

He must have some idea about a God. Do you think he'll end up in the church some day!

Our son, many moons ago, watched the TV series on video. Being dyslexic, he found the actual reading of the books difficult, especially as the Puffin editions had such small print.. He loved it. At the time, said they should make a ballet of it. Lo and behold when he was at Central School of Ballet, years later, the Junior School did scenes from the "Lion, Witch & Wardrobe". Worked well.

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Eirenist
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He was being taken to the local Messy Church at the time.

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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
One of the great problems about dipping back into literary history is that what was excitingly novel then is cliche now.

Not joining the book discussion, but just had to chime in here.

In 4th grade (age about 8 or 9), I was addicted to the Nancy Drew series; gobbled them down like peanuts. Just came across one of the series in a pile of books at a thrift store & bought it on impulse.

What a revelation. My reading tastes as a 4th-grader were execrable! Appallingly sketchy, episodic plot, wooden dialogue, characters that would have heavy going to make it to two, much less three, dimensions.

Wolfe (I think it was he) was right: you can't go home again.

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From the Land of the Native American Brave and the Home of the Buy-One-Get-One-Free

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Brenda Clough
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That's a slightly different phenomenon. The term for what happened to you is the Suck Fairy. As in, "Gosh, the Suck Fairy got to Nancy Drew over the past twenty years, and now I find the books to be awful." The definition was coined by author Jo Walton.

Have we all mostly made our way through the book? Should we start discussing?

Here's a Q to kick it off: What is it that young readers are getting out of this? Though the author intended it as adult fiction it's one of the classics of children's lit. Why?

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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:


(snipped)

Have we all mostly made our way through the book? Should we start discussing?

Here's a Q to kick it off: What is it that young readers are getting out of this? Though the author intended it as adult fiction it's one of the classics of children's lit. Why?

Well, adults often think it's one of the classics of children's lit; I'm not so sure whether children ever went for it in great numbers, though I've certainly known some rather bookish lasses who loved it; I don't think it has much boy-appeal, though.

I'm not sure how much I believe in the divide between adult and children's fiction; I'm not sure that children believe in it either. As a teenager I fell deeply in love with Conan Doyle's The White Company and Sir Nigel as well as the whole Barsoom series from start to finish - all of which were written as books for adults - and Gulliver was popular with children right from the off in the original unexpurgated version.

I suppose The Secret Garden was considered a children's book because the protagonists are children; I can't think of any other reason!

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Bishops Finger
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I can see that it might indeed appeal to rather bookish lasses, though I don't personally know of any who have read it. I'll ask around some of my Female Acquaintances...

The 'secret' theme may well appeal to children, I guess - the idea of knowing or having something or somewhere of one's own, with no adult interference.

IJ

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The future is another country - they might do things differently there...

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Jack the Lass

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I didn't read it as a child, but given that (as mentioned above) I loved (and reread several times) "A Little Princess" I'm pretty sure I would have loved it had I read it then. I picked it up as an adult a few years ago (am I right in thinking it was for this very book group?) and really struggled with the portrayal of the child neglect in particular, as well as the stereotypical heart of gold working classes.

I think the secrecy of the garden, the gradual rescue from neglect of the garden into something so beautiful (mirroring the gradual rescue from neglect of the children, I suppose), and the 'all coming right in the end'ness of it all was what would have appealed to me then.

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Brenda Clough
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One obvious point is that Mary and Colin are downright repellent children. Significantly for the period, they are of a nonstandard and in fact ugly appearance. That was very rare, in a period when exterior qualifications were held to reflect inner quality.
Also, they're amazingly obnoxious. They act like brats. Between Colin ruthlessly exploiting his faux invalid status and Mary pulling the colonial exploiter card at every turn, you would not want to have these kids in your house.
And yet it all works out for them; they are the protagonists. They achieve, if not the happily ever after, the Happy For Now ending.
And this I think must be one of the attractions of the work. An unattractive or difficult child, well aware of his or her unattractive and difficult quality, can read this and know that they have a shot. You are not doomed to be a Uriah Heep or a nasty Lavinia (from A Little Princess. You can win through.

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Bishops Finger
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O, I say - that's a bit strong!

Yes, poor little Mary plays the colonial mistress card, but that's what she's been brought up to - she knows nothing else, until, that is, she sees that there is a better way.

Yes, Colin exploits his invalid status, but surely that's because, again, he knows no better. He's repeatedly told (or hears) that he's unlikely to live, and/or will be a hunchback, so no wonder the poor boy acts the way he does.

I agree, though, that the working class characters are from Rent-A-Working-Class-Character.com

Dickon, as I said earlier, is far too good to live. Burnett's description of his wide, grinning mouth is, frankly, repellent....

IJ

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Brenda Clough
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And the saintly mom, paying for the rich kids' diversions from her own hard-earned pay.

The other thing that's powerfully attractive for children is the idea of a secret place, hidden from the grown-ups. We've all had our secret hideouts -- if not outdoors then under tables or in a fortress erected out of the sofa cushions. Burnett surely knew this; that's why the work is titled as it is.

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Bishops Finger
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Yes, I wasn't keen on Susan Sowerby, either - another character just too good to be quite true.

Maybe Burnett was aware of this, and painted the Sowerbys thus in order to contrast more keenly with Mary, Colin, and perhaps Mr. Craven as well.

Ben Weatherstaff seems OK, though, being a grumpy old git like me!

The idea of 'secretness' does indeed appeal to children (and adults, too, I guess).

IJ

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The future is another country - they might do things differently there...

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andras
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Saki's The Storyteller is the ultimate riposte to all the Victorian tales of unbearably good children; it's about a little girl called Bertha who, entirely as a result of her excellent behaviour, gets eaten by a wolf.

The Just William stories started a decade or so later than our book, but they're about naughtiness rather than the deeply antisocial behaviour that our hero and heroine display in the first part of the book.

Mind you, it would be hard to be more antisocial than Colin's deeply damaged father, who is surely the book's least sympathetic character.

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Adrian Plass

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