Thread: October Book Group: The Secret Garden Board: Heaven / Ship of Fools.


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Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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 ]
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
Sounds great, count me in! I've got the lovely Folio edition lying around somewhere!
 
Posted by Sarasa (# 12271) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Pangolin Guerre (# 18686) on :
 
The phrase "secret garden" existed in French at least since the nineteenth century, in a less family-friendly context.
 
Posted by Sarasa (# 12271) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Jack the Lass (# 3415) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Dafyd (# 5549) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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?
 
Posted by Golden Key (# 1468) on :
 
Count me in. [Smile]
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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!
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Rossweisse (# 2349) on :
 
I would like to join in.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
'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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Nenya (# 16427) on :
 
Oh, how lovely! I reread this recently. [Smile]
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
Count me in.

Moo
 
Posted by Sparrow (# 2458) on :
 
I've never read it! This is a good excuse.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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!"
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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).
 
Posted by Marama (# 330) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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!
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
The Secret Garden is clearly an Allegory.

Discuss.

[Razz]

IJ
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Sandemaniac (# 12829) on :
 
Crows and rooks are very definitely different, and not that hard to tell apart.

AG
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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!
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Now, now, andras! This is a Family Website, no?

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

IJ
 
Posted by wild haggis (# 15555) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by wild haggis (# 15555) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
He was being taken to the local Messy Church at the time.
 
Posted by Ohher (# 18607) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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?
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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!
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Jack the Lass (# 3415) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
A slight tangent, of course, but lots of Saki's stories are delightfully subversive.

Agreed re Archibald Craven. Sad about the tragic death of his wife, but they didn't have bereavement counsellors in those days...

IJ
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
'You can never go home again' is from Bill Bryson, 'The Lost Continent'.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
Aha. With Archibald Craven we move into discussing the work from an adult perspective.

Yes, he's clearly sunk from bereavement and grief into depression. There was however a feeling in the period that this was OK, as long as you didn't have to work for your living -- the great example here is Queen Victoria, who was clearly morbidly depressive after Prince Albert died. People complained that she wasn't doing her queen work, but by and large she was admired for her grief. (If you were a clerk or a laundress you got no slack; you had better get it together and get back to work.)

Was he a bad father? Not ever seeing the kid, yeah that's bad. But Victorians of his class didn't exactly do hands on. The nannies and governesses picked up the work; the proud papa might not see his son but once a day, for half an hour of play before handing the kid back to the staff.

And why was he not seeing the kid? It was by the advice of Dr. Neville Craven. Who, when you analyze it, is a very suspicious character.

[ 18. October 2017, 14:04: Message edited by: Brenda Clough ]
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Suspicious indeed, but would he not have had plenty of chances to make away with Colin, before the wretched Mary appeared on the scene, to foil his nefarious plot?

'Craven', as in fearful, and/or cowardly, might well be an appropriate name...

[Eek!]

I can feel a re-write of the story coming on....

[Help]

IJ
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
I see Dr. Craven as an envious but cowardly man. He would dearly like to succeed to the Misselthwaite estate, but (bound by moral strictures or fear) is passive-aggressive about it. He obviously didn't dare to do his older brother in. And he doesn't dare to murder Colin outright. All he can do is to make everybody worse: foster Archibald's antisocial behavior, keep Colin in bed with the curtains drawn. And in both these projects he must be greatly assisted by period medical practices; a steady died of laudanum, wormwood and gruel would undermine the constitution of a giant.

He must be the younger son, become a professional man because the estate and the money are entailed on his older brother. But he would far rather be a gentleman of leisure, clearly a better one than the hunchbacked and depressive Archibald.
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
Craven is of course a good Yorkshire name, but it does seem to match the doctor's character.

In those days a doctor might well have a relatively easy time of it, as often only the well-off could afford his (always his!) services; even the good Dr. Thorne in Barsetshire hardly seems to be working his fingers to the bone.

It's certainly true that parenting in the upper middle class was very hands-off. When I was a lad I knew a lady who'd been nanny to the Gilbey family (of gin fame) round the time in which the book is set, and it was apparently the custom for the children to spend time with Mother just after nursery tea and only for half an hour or so; Father was almost always otherwise occupied. In India the Ayah took the role of the nanny, and everything else stayed much the same.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
We must deduce all this, because the entire story is told from Mary's point of view. She, clearly, has no idea about the entail of estates or the relative status of professional men versus idle gentlemen.

What about Mary's parents? Are they as worthless as they seem?
 
Posted by Mili (# 3254) on :
 
I was given 'The Secret Garden' by my Aunt when I was 9 for Christmas 1988 and always enjoyed it. But I was a bookworm who read a lot. My copy is a big hardcopy version with a few colour plates and black and white sketches. I always liked classic books with female protagonists and read 'Little Women', L.M. Montgomery's series and sequels and even the 'What Katy Did' series, even though they are quite moralistic.

I liked reading about different places and times and the books made me more interested to learn real history. Plus there were bits that were a bit gruesome/gothic, like the cholera plague and some of Colin's treatments, which weren't in some of the modern books I read a the same age. Although I did read Betsy Byars children's books around that time, which rereading as an adult I realised have some pretty dark themes including stalking and suicide attempts! But this book was much more escapist than another book I read that year I am David both books had happy ending, but 'The Secret Garden' was much happier, with just enough darkness to make it interesting.

I also really liked the garden as it reminded me of my Grandmother's beautiful garden. I've never really got that into gardening, but I did like planting bulbs and seeds and the excitement of seeing the plants and flowers grow.

The parents were definitely pretty neglectful, especially the mother. As a child I never felt particularly sorry for her when she died.
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
I think that in the days of the Raj the military and government people divided into two main types: the time-servers, who were there for the money, and the true 'India hands' who loved the place with a passion and whose selfless devotion to both land and people is too easily forgotten these days.

Mary's parents seem to be the first sort. But then we only see them reflected through Mary's eyes (and the author's comment that her mother was devoted to parties).

But in general the grown-ups aren't drawn as well as the children. Perhaps this isn't actually a flaw, but a reflection of how adults always seem when see through children's eyes.
 
Posted by BroJames (# 9636) on :
 
From an adult perspective, I suppose there is a contrast between the child-rearing practices of different classes (contrasting the upper unfavourably with the lower), and something about fundamental goodness in children if given half a chance to thrive.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Mary's parents certainly seem to have been disposed of (by Burnett, and the cholera!) in almost unseemly haste, but I suppose that's in order to concentrate on the child's return to England.

Sorry to harp on about him, but does anyone else find Dickon rather repellent?

Oh, and Mrs. Medlock - perhaps a bit ambivalent in her attitude towards Mary? IIRC, her character in the 1960 BBC series (played by Hilary Mason) was somewhat sharper-tongued than she seems to be in the book.

IJ
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
Dickon is interesting as a creation, not a character. He's not a real person. What you are smelling is the odor of the sock puppet, preaching Burnett's sermon. She was vaguely Christian Scientist in her beliefs and had a real mind-over-matter kind of view of illness. And there certainly was something to her notion that if you could only pry people away from the doctors (with their laudanum, mustard plasters and sago gruel) and get them out into the clean air and sunshine on a decent diet many of their illnesses would improve. It would be unkind perhaps to point out that many people would adore to have clean air and a decent diet in the sunshine, and the solution is not Positive Thinking but an income they can live on.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Well yes, but Dickon still reminds me of Lewis Carroll's crocodile:
quote:
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

Mind you, Burnett seems to think that low income is no hindrance to a healthy life, given the flourishing of the Sowerby family on 16/- a week... [Eek!]

IJ
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by BroJames:
From an adult perspective, I suppose there is a contrast between the child-rearing practices of different classes (contrasting the upper unfavourably with the lower), and something about fundamental goodness in children if given half a chance to thrive.

The Lord of the Flies is the antidote to that kind of wishful thinking, isn't it? Though I'd agree that good food, fresh air and a good helping of benign neglect never did youngsters any harm!
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
In fact the book is sort of a catalog of conflicting child-rearing practices. Mary is neglected in India and pretty well neglected in Yorkshire. Colin is far over-protected, waited on and continually supervised. Dickon and the siblings are held up as the best kind of upbringing -- a childhood of liberty and then useful work.

I wonder why Dickon isn't working? Martha his sister is. In an era where seven-year-olds could work in the mills he's eminently employable. Instead he's just wandering around the countryside.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
I suspect he might be what used to be referred to as 'half-saved' (it's that bloody grin...sure-fire giveaway).

Were 7-year olds still working at mill in 1911? Surely, by then, child slave labour was on the way out. Still, the question then arises - why isn't he at school? My Old Mum was born in 1912, and attended the village school until she was 14.

As you may have guessed, I Do Not Believe In Dickon.

[Paranoid]

IJ
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
Another more depressing scenario: three years from the end of the book, Colin is prepping to go to Eton and Mary is the smartest pupil in her class at the local school. Dickon meanwhile has been obliged (remember the monthly income of the family) to go and work in the coal mines. Immediately he joins the Workers Party to agitate for a better life for the working class...

I know nothing of the climate and soil in Yorkshire. How reasonable is that garden? May we postulate vast loads of manure, to prep the soil, or is it entirely the realm of fantasy?
 
Posted by Dafyd (# 5549) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
I know nothing of the climate and soil in Yorkshire. How reasonable is that garden? May we postulate vast loads of manure, to prep the soil, or is it entirely the realm of fantasy?

Bear in mind that if England were a state in the US it would be the 31st largest state by area (smaller than New York and Louisiana, but larger than Mississipi - yes I did just look that up on wikipedia). But while the climate in Yorkshire is a little colder and wetter than the south east it's not like Florida and Maine. (I assume Florida and Maine have different climates and soils.) The west coast of Britain is noticeably wetter than the east coast, but that's compensated for by many rivers that run east off the watershed to the east.

I am not a gardener. I would assume that a walled formal garden would have had a lot of manure put into it over the years, but there's no reason to think it improbable just because it's in Yorkshire.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
Historically they must have had plenty of horse manure -- no cars.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Burnett took her inspiration for The Secret Garden from a neglected walled garden at Great Maytham Hall:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Maytham_Hall

The house is in Kent, some way from Yorkshire, but the walls would provide some shelter from unfriendly winds, even in the latter county.

IJ
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Bishops Finger:
Mary's parents certainly seem to have been disposed of (by Burnett, and the cholera!) in almost unseemly haste, but I suppose that's in order to concentrate on the child's return to England.

I have a friend who teaches children's literature at a university. She pointed out to me that the children in a good children's book must not have capable loving parents. Otherwise the children would be protected from the kinds of things that make for an enjoyable children's book.

Either the parents are dead or disabled, or the family is dealing with such severe problems that the parents can't take proper care of the kids.

When my daughters were teenagers, they read a book about a girl who is in the process of becoming schizophrenic. Her friends are very concerned; her parents are so wrapped up in their own lives that they refuse to believe anything is wrong. They say their daughter is just trying to make herself important. This book horrified me.

Moo
 
Posted by Golden Key (# 1468) on :
 
Moo--

Was the book "Lisa Bright & Dark"? Good book, and made into a good TV movie.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
quote:
Originally posted by Bishops Finger:
Mary's parents certainly seem to have been disposed of (by Burnett, and the cholera!) in almost unseemly haste, but I suppose that's in order to concentrate on the child's return to England.

I have a friend who teaches children's literature at a university. She pointed out to me that the children in a good children's book must not have capable loving parents. Otherwise the children would be protected from the kinds of things that make for an enjoyable children's book.

Either the parents are dead or disabled, or the family is dealing with such severe problems that the parents can't take proper care of the kids.

Moo

Oh yes, this is a famous literary feature. Nearly all children in literature have absent parents -- the E. Nesbit kids, the Pevensies in Lewis, even Harry Potter and Christopher Robin. Sometimes it's explicit, like Sara Crewe or Peter Pan, and sometimes the pater is in Baghdad and Mother is very very ill. You need your characters to have agency, and if their mom is right there telling them to wrap up warmly dear then where's your agency?
 
Posted by Marama (# 330) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:


I know nothing of the climate and soil in Yorkshire. How reasonable is that garden? May we postulate vast loads of manure, to prep the soil, or is it entirely the realm of fantasy?

While cold (by British, not Canadian standards), Yorkshire is certainly able to sustain gardens. The soil is reasonably fertile, and a walled garden would give protection from the winds. My sister-in-law gardens very successfully not far from the moors, as do these folks

[ 19. October 2017, 23:08: Message edited by: Marama ]
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
quote:
Originally posted by Bishops Finger:

I have a friend who teaches children's literature at a university. She pointed out to me that the children in a good children's book must not have capable loving parents. Otherwise the children would be protected from the kinds of things that make for an enjoyable children's book.

Either the parents are dead or disabled, or the family is dealing with such severe problems that the parents can't take proper care of the kids.

When my daughters were teenagers, they read a book about a girl who is in the process of becoming schizophrenic. Her friends are very concerned; her parents are so wrapped up in their own lives that they refuse to believe anything is wrong. They say their daughter is just trying to make herself important. This book horrified me.

Moo

I think your friend should read more children's literature; while I agree that what she says ia a common trope, there are indeed some excellent and popular children's books in which parents or guardians take a starring role. I instance Danny Champion of the World, and rest my case.
 
Posted by Marama (# 330) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:

I wonder why Dickon isn't working? Martha his sister is. In an era where seven-year-olds could work in the mills he's eminently employable. Instead he's just wandering around the countryside.

The minimum working age in the UK in 1900 was twelve, so yes, he is just employable. But the era of 7 yr olds in factories was long over.

What is interesting is that schooling was compulsory from 5 to 11 by this date, gradually raised to 12 and then 13 (that appears to have been subject to regional variations, so not sure about Yorkshire). There would have been an exemption for home schooling and governesses etc, so I guess that covers Colin, but the younger Sowerbys and Mary should have been in school. But they live in a remote spot, it's not clear where the nearest school is - they may have just slipped through the cracks.
 
Posted by Dafyd (# 5549) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by andras:
I instance Danny Champion of the World, and rest my case.

IIRC Danny's father is a single parent and falls ill at a critical moment in the plot. In other words, it's only an apparent exception.
 
Posted by Nenya (# 16427) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
Dickon is interesting as a creation, not a character. He's not a real person. What you are smelling is the odor of the sock puppet, preaching Burnett's sermon. She was vaguely Christian Scientist in her beliefs and had a real mind-over-matter kind of view of illness.

I didn't know that. Very interesting.

Dickon seems to play the role of male lead in the Sowerby household - I can't recall hearing anything about his father - and with his vegetable growing, gardening and no doubt general DIY skills (IKEA self-assembly units, that kind of thing) he may have been regarded as essential to keep at home. He also appears to be an emotional support for his mother - chatting things over with her in the garden, kissing her the way Mary kisses her flowers... He also seems to bridge the generation gap - the adults trust him and the children regard him as one of their own.

I adored the book as a child and reread it regularly. On my last rereading it struck me for the first time how sad it was that the beautiful secret place was now potentially open to being trampled into and over by all the clumsy, non-self-aware adults.

Some years ago I read an absolutely appalling sequel to it, entitled, IIRC, "Misselthwaite, a return to the Secret Garden." I've successfully erased most of it from my memory, but I remember enough to advise you all - Just Don't.
 
Posted by Nenya (# 16427) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by wild haggis:
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.

Sorry to double post. I worked this out for myself when I was around 8 - so, yes, around 50 years ago - and felt I'd been vouchsafed a powerful and fresh revelation. It was deflating - even crushing - to then share it with my mum and have her say, "Yes. Of course."
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Just a quick note re Mr. Sowerby - presumably he's the one out working (in addition to Martha), and earning the 16 shillings per week on which the family chiefly subsists.

IJ
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Yes, Martha mentions him in Chapter 4.

IJ
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by andras:
I instance Danny Champion of the World, and rest my case.

IIRC Danny's father is a single parent and falls ill at a critical moment in the plot. In other words, it's only an apparent exception.
He breaks his leg in a trap set for poachers and is rescued by Danny, having been absent for perhaps a total of three hours. Otherwise he's there for the whole time and in fact is the main driver of much of the action.

I agree that this sort of hands-on parenting isn't common in children's books, but it does happen.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Bishops Finger:
Yes, Martha mentions him in Chapter 4.

IJ

I assumed Mr. Sowerby was in the armed forces/in service/otherwise employed in a more urban area. He must be sending money home. And he must come home relatively frequently, otherwise the appearance of all these other little Sowerbys would be problematic.

As to Narnia, Lewis is on record as having planned and desired to express a Christian message in a totally new metaphor. That many people don't see it is actually a good thing, which I am certain he would have enjoyed. It shows he did it really well, with a proper authorial cunning.

[ 20. October 2017, 14:59: Message edited by: Brenda Clough ]
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
I'd assumed that the shadowy Mr. Sowerby was working long hours on a neighbouring farm, returning home each night tired out (albeit able to occasionally claim his Conjugal Rights).

Sixteen shillings a week was about the right wage for an agricultural worker in 1911.

IJ
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
BTW, Martha the maid might be on about £16 per annum in 1911 (by which time the number of domestic servants in England was falling, as wages rose, and families found they could not afford so many staff...).

IJ
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
There's a curiously large number of people with handicaps in this story. I'm reminded of a short story (no, I cannot remember either title or author) in which the characters did bonsai, which symbolized the work they were doing on each other -- making the partner more beautiful. I am certain Burnett was not thinking this. But what did she mean?

Another question: is there a lot of religious imagery in the book? Not necessarily Christian! This I do think the author intended.

Here, BTW, is an article from the Guardian from 2011, commemorating the 100th year of the books publication.

[ 21. October 2017, 01:04: Message edited by: Brenda Clough ]
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
Well, there's an awful lot about Magic - always with a capital letter - which left me feeling rather cold. I suppose it refers to some kind of mystical life-force, and that the book is a sort of redemption narrative.
 
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
 
There's definitely a lot about magic in that period of writing: l have vague memories of some children using herbs or flowers to become invisible and believing they had achieved this because the adult dinner party all ignored them - possibly from E Nesbit, but I can't remember when or where. (Trying to find that story, I've found lots of references to Nesbit's influence on Tolkien and CS Lewis). It could have come from the House of Arden or WouldbeGood series, both of which I read as a child. (I didn't find the Psammead series until I started reading them to my daughter.)

I first read and reread the Secret Garden as a child and loved Dickon's way with animals and plants, then, and that Colin and Mary could be redeemed. I have since reread the book, including to my daughter when she was younger and found the social history and other details more interesting, including the attitudes of Mary returning from India.
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
I have read the book quite a few times. On my recent re-reading, an idea occurred to me which is not made explicit in the text.

If Colin's mother was so severely injured that she died, she would not have been strong enough to give birth to him. I wonder if he was delivered by C-section after her death. If so, it would explain poor health at the beginning of his life. If he had been sensibly treated, he would probably have grown much stronger, but he wasn't treated sensibly.

Obviously this could not be laid out in detail in a children's book.

Moo

[ 21. October 2017, 11:36: Message edited by: Moo ]
 
Posted by Jane R (# 331) on :
 
Moo:
quote:
If Colin's mother was so severely injured that she died, she would not have been strong enough to give birth to him.
Maybe nowadays that would be true, but in 1911 it might not have been. I don't know enough about medicine in 1911 to be sure, but it was before the discovery of antibiotics and also before the advent of large-scale vaccination programmes. That might also account for the large number of handicapped people; no defences against polio, etc. Large numbers of people were still dying of measles and TB in the 1930s.

Orthopaedic surgery was less advanced too - if you had a compound fracture of the leg it would probably have been amputated, rather than pinned together again and left to heal. And workplaces were more dangerous; employers did not have the 'duty of care' for the health and safety of their workers that they do now, although to be fair factories were not quite so dangerous then as they were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
Are you saying that you don't believe Colin was delivered by posthumous C-section?

Posthumous C-sections have been common practice for many centuries. Remember,
quote:
Macduff was from his mother's womb
Untimely ripped

Moo
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Or did poor Mrs. Craven's accident, and injuries, simply bring on a sudden birth, which proved too much for her?

(And was Doctor Craven around at the time? Did she have to die just then, or could she have been saved? And did the evil Doctor hope that the baby would die with her? O, how black a history we are weaving....).

[Paranoid]

IJ
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
I've just realised how I seem to be developing antipathies in respect of various characters.

Is this a sign of my own intellectual weakness, or of Burnett's ability to create interesting people?

IJ
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
Aha. This brings us around to a favorite theory of mine, developed with the help of a writer friend who has a son in high school. The school musical in this boy's senior year was The Secret Garden, which forced my friend to sit through many, many performances and also to listen to the score. The son was cast in the role of Archibald Craven, who has (as you would expect) a major singing role.

The father and I agreed that there is something fishy about Lilias Craven's death. As you recall, Dickon says that she was sitting in her secret garden, on the crooked branch of a tree, and it broke and she fell. Although Dickon doesn't say this (and, as a child, may not know), the fall clearly is meant to have precipitated a bad delivery that slew the mother and (possibly) maimed Colin Craven. This tree disaster seems very unlikely, a frantic stretching of coincidence.

Pair this, however, with the very odd behavior of Dr. Craven. Why is he so weird about it? There's more than the lust to possess Misselthaite here; he could easily achieve that by offing Archibald or quietly poisoning Colin. And yet he does not. Furthermore, in the musical an obvious detail is brought forward: Dr. Craven covets not only his brother's estate, but his brother's wife. (There's a nice song articulating this.)

When you line up these fishinesses in a row, and when you are compelled to watch the musical a dozen nights in a row, it all becomes clear. There's a back story, that because the story is told from Mary's point of view, we cannot see. Not only was Dr. Neville Craven in love with his sister-in-law. He was of course her doctor, supervising her pregnancy. At a crucial point in the secret garden he put the moves on her. A double weight on that tree branch, breaking it and injuring her. She, in that noble Victorian way, dies taking the secret of her husband's brother's treachery with her to the grave. Neville, racked with guilt, doctors the son of his beloved, and is wildly ambivalent about Archibald. Neville fosters the unhealthy grief, because Neville isn't allowed to grieve openly. He can never confess, certainly not to Archibald, why Lilias died.
All this stuff, madly boiling under the surface, and Mary walks into the mess.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Even I, with my deeply suspicious mind, didn't connect the breaking of the tree directly with Dr. Craven, but I believe Brenda may well be right. Such black wickedness, and in a children's book, too!

Lilias' death was murder, and it was only his 'craven' fear of discovery that stayed the Doctor's hand when it came to further killings (the infant Colin, and Archibald).

A cheerful family tale of everyday Yorkshire folk, perhaps, though Hardy would have set it in Wessex, and made it about ten times as long.

[Two face]

IJ
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Bishops Finger:

Lilias' death was murder, and it was only his 'craven' fear of discovery that stayed the Doctor's hand when it came to further killings (the infant Colin, and Archibald).


[Two face]

IJ

And that's why it was originally a book for -adults-. We, with our adult understanding, can see what's really happening. The children, even the servants and Mrs. Sowerby, cannot know. The only person who knows what happened in the secret garden (ooh, the double entendres of that phrase) is Dr. Craven. He's keeping his mouth shut hoping against hope that it'll all break his way -- Archie will go mad or commit suicide or simply grieve himself to death, doubtless helped along by some chlorodyne or Warburg's Tincture or perhaps just a lot of gin. (Nobody drinks in this book, because the children don't drink.) Colin, the heir, will be a minor for many years and who shall be his guardian but his dear uncle Neville?

Burnett may have intended for the work to actually be more Agatha Christie-like. The children, restored to health and dragging Archibald back onto the rails, are now ready to attack the real snake in the bosom of the family. But the manuscript was getting long, and better to end on an up note.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Yes, but I can't help feeling that Hardy would have continued the story by having Archibald go mad, commit suicide, or overindulge in GIN, and then have Dickon fatally bitten by an adder he was trying to befriend.

Dr. Craven would die horribly in a bog, or a railway accident, or by inadvertently swallowing poison.

Mary would marry Colin, only to find out that they were (somehow) brother and sister, resulting in their madness, suicide, imprisonment, or death by GIN or consumption (delete as appropriate).

Ahem. I do apologise for wandering off on a rather Gothic tangent, but, as you say, TSG is indeed a book for adults.

IJ
 
Posted by Mili (# 3254) on :
 
I read 'The Shuttle' last year and it's far more adult and 'gothic'. A wealthy American girl, Rosalie, marries a member of the British nobility, Nigel Anstruthers, who only marries her for her money, and then has very little contact with her family. Her plucky younger sister Bettina, who never liked Nigel, grows up and goes to visit Rosalie. She finds that Nigel is physically and emotionally abusing her sister and cheating on her with 'low class' women. Their son has a hunchback due to a physical assault perpetrated by his father on his mother when she was pregnant with him. The book is pretty dark. Eventually it has a happy ending, but at one point the younger sister is nearly raped by Nigel who has become obsessed with her.

The book could almost be a prequel to 'The Secret Garden' if the son from 'The Shuttle' had grown up to be Archibald Craven and his mother had been American. It would explain a lot about Archibald. But the son in 'The Shuttle' is called Ughtred Anstruthers!

I wonder why most of Burnett's books were suitable for children, if not written for them, but 'The Shuttle' was so much darker and adult?
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
Yeah, she had a thing about hunchbacks, didn't she? But The Shuttle has many things in common with TSG. The outsider female protagonist, arriving into a stultified and problem-filled British environment. Opposition from the local populace, overcome by her stubbornness and drive. Male villain of mysterious motivations. (What was Nigel Anstruthers doing? Surely he could not have believed he could get away with assaulting Bettina.)
Like many authors Burnett had a couple of favorite templates and themes that she kept on returning to.
 
Posted by Jane R (# 331) on :
 
Moo:
quote:
Are you saying that you don't believe Colin was delivered by posthumous C-section?

Posthumous C-sections have been common practice for many centuries.

No, I am perfectly well aware that posthumous C-section has been around for centuries. Sometimes they didn't even wait until you were dead first. There are ballads about it.

I'm merely pointing out that she could equally well have died from post-partum infection or half a dozen other things that we don't have to worry about any more (at least, not in the developed world) because, science.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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...
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
O dear. I think I need to get out more.

Where's the WHISKY bottle?

[Help]

IJ
 
Posted by wild haggis (# 15555) on :
 
Yes, a wee tot is the only answer to all this - maybe more than one!!
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Jane R (# 331) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Jane R (# 331) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Moo (# 107) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.)
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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 ]
 
Posted by Jane R (# 331) on :
 
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).
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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).
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Golden Key (# 1468) on :
 
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 ]
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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!
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
'Dyn hysbys': 'Cunning Man', perhaps?
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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...
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Sarasa (# 12271) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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 ]
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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!
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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?)
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Net Spinster (# 16058) on :
 
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.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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?
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
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!
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
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?)
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
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
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
Oh, Oliver's innate gravitation to the middle class is very clear. He doesn't want to be a chimney boy, loathes being a mute for a mortician. In spite of huge social pressures he is instinctively unwilling to become Bill Sikes' criminal accomplice. He knows in the marrow of his bones that he Deserves Better. Remember this was Dickens, the man who for one frightening instant was going to slip from the lower middle class down to the working class, working in the blacking factory pasting on labels. The terror of that haunted him.

The other way you could update TSG is Mary's parents. The Indian Service, so last millennium. Clearly they are hard-charging modern parents, executives with Google or some start-up. Killed in a private-plan crash near Telluride? Choke on a the bone of a roasted guinea-hen (with leek foam and garnished with lemon grass stalks) at a banquet at a Trump golf resort? And they had no real money, only mounds of Amex debt. Mary's expensive nanny is not going to hang on without pay, and takes another position on the spot.
 
Posted by venbede (# 16669) on :
 
My computer has only just got back to life, so I’m late here but I can’t resist commenting. I read it last year and found the first three quarters very moving. The last bit I found uber twee and I can’t remember the details. (The squirm-making embarrassing moment is when Mary starts talking Yorkshire. I always thought it was the height of patronising bad manners to put on the accent of those you are with.)

I’ll comment very positively later in the day.
 
Posted by venbede (# 16669) on :
 
Colin and Mary are examples of a type of character that fascinates me: someone who plays up their misery to get power of others. Other examples (none of them with the degree of woundedness of Mary or even Colin) are Dickens’ Miss Havisham in Great Expectations and Mrs Clennam in Little Dorrit, and Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh. Dickens’ two women are motivated by revenge, particuarlly spiteful In the case of Mrs Clennam.

The Magic is another example of Edwardian pantheism as the wonderful Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter in Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. I find the Magic merely twee, whereas the Piper is for me one of the most convincing descriptions of mystic experience in secular literature I know.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
I would certainly agree with you about The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, one of the finest pieces of writing in the English language.

The wounded characters theme is worth pursuing (though perhaps not on this particular thread).

IJ
 
Posted by venbede (# 16669) on :
 
I'm impressed you have the patience to do italics on this board. I find it a bit of a fiddle.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Well, I don't have much else to occupy me today, having been to the chiropodist. My Sore Toes are keeping me indoors...

I didn't think italicisation was that much of a chore, though...

IJ
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
What keeps Mary and Colin from being overtly exploitative of their illness is their youth. They are, clearly, brought up wrong.
Colin especially seems to have been forced into invalidism; even a strong man will become weak and ailing if you enforce bed rest. He's surrounded by servants ant the evil Dr. Neville telling him that he's going to have a hunch any old day now, which would give anyone hysterics. And of course the good Lord only knows what medicines he's being dosed with -- chlorodyne, Warburg's tincture, arsenical compounds, blue pills. He's probably living on a diet of sago pudding, never a vegetable or fruit until Dickon gives him a baked potato.
Mary, inherently healthier and more self-willed, is depicted as vitiated by her Indian upbringing. She does work it. But since nobody cooperates with her memsahib ways, she does change. They're both young enough -to- change.
The person in the text who is exploiting his misery is, IMO, Archibald. A borderline abusive parent.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Quite so, and Archibald is only slightly eclipsed by the evil Doctor.

I hates him, yess, I does....

IJ
 
Posted by Fuzzipeg (# 10107) on :
 
I must admit that I haven't scrabbled through all four pages of the thread but there are two things that haven't been mentioned. One is the concept of the Garden in Western European from the gardens of the ancients such as Hesperides, to Eden and he Secret or Walled Garden...the Virgin in a Rose Garden enclosed..herself a Mystic Rose which leads to a Rosarium.

The second point is that the author was a Christian Scientist and that profoundly influences the healing aspects of the book.
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
And she too found healing in her garden. (Which was as I recall in Long Island, NY.) Burnett's husbands were feckless, and her eldest son Lionel died of consumption. So in another sense this is the author, using fiction to rewrite that sad episode: My son doesn't die, he is healed in the garden.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
Another interesting subject for a thread might therefore be the extent to which an author's personal life, and/or beliefs, inform(s) his or her novels.

As far as The Secret Garden is concerned, largely enjoyable though it was, I can honestly say that it has not made me rush to read any more of Burnett's work.

I find myself disliking pretty well all the characters (with the possible exception of Mary, who did, after all, have a horrible upbringing in India), and wishing all kinds of awful endings for Dickon....which may well say more about me than him!

[Help]

IJ
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Bishops Finger:
Another interesting subject for a thread might therefore be the extent to which an author's personal life, and/or beliefs, inform(s) his or her novels.

Oh, there are entire careers in English Lit built on that proposition -- analyses of Shakespeare's sexuality as expressed in the sonnets, Dickens' days in the blacking factory and the shadow it casts over his oeuvre, Marlowe's spy career referred to in his plays, etc. Writers are told to write what they know. But it is in fact all they can do, all any artist can do.
 
Posted by Bishops Finger (# 5430) on :
 
...at the risk of invoking King Charles' Head, might I add Wilkie Collins' addiction to laudanum?

Authors are in themselves a fascinating area of study.... [Snigger]

IJ
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
And the reverse thought is a little disturbing. Do you ever =wonder= about Stephen King, for example?
 
Posted by Gill H (# 68) on :
 
I have been following the thread with interest. TSG was a favourite of mine as a 10 year old, not least because of how I came upon it. On holiday with parents, we visited an old friend of theirs who I had never met - an elderly man. I had steeled myself for the usual hours of boredom, but as soon as we got there he took me to his bookshelf and invited me choose a book to read while the adults talked. I chose TSG which I had seen the BBC series of, but not read. By the end of the visit I was deep into the book, and he told me I could keep it. What a kindred spirit (to quote another childhood favourite)!

Has anyone read ‘The Painted Garden’ by Noel Streatfeild? It follows a British fsmily on a long holidsy in the US. The eldest daughter is a dancer and ends up meeting Pauline and Posy Fossil from Ballet Shoes. The youngest, a boy, is a gifted pianist and gets a job playing in an Italian restaurant, which leads to him going on the radio IIRC. The middle one, who is of course a ‘plain and difficult’ girl with no obvious artistic talents, is spotted by a film producer and stars in a film version of TSG.

Fascinating example of crossover fiction!
 
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
 
Wasn't the boy playing Dickon in The Painted Garden really interested in animals, and able to attract chipmunks? I thought I'd read something like that but couldn't track it down to work out which book it was. I hadn't remembered the brother getting a book on the radio. I read as many Streatfeild's as I could find as a child and remembering which is which has blurred.

There was a reading of Penelope Lively's The Life in Gardens on BBC R4 yesterday that mentioned The Secret Garden as an example of children's books set in gardens and went on to discuss Tom's Midnight Garden.
 
Posted by Gill H (# 68) on :
 
Yes, and the boy playing Colin was a total brat!
 
Posted by Brenda Clough (# 18061) on :
 
Good casting then.
In an era when the children in literature tended to be more on the line of Little Lord Fauntleroy or Tiny Tim, Colin and Mary are a breath of fresh air. One more angelically pretty and supernally adorable child and you want to throw something.
 
Posted by Sparrow (# 2458) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
And she too found healing in her garden. (Which was as I recall in Long Island, NY.) Burnett's husbands were feckless, and her eldest son Lionel died of consumption. So in another sense this is the author, using fiction to rewrite that sad episode: My son doesn't die, he is healed in the garden.

And of course there was the one in The Magician's Nephew.
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
I'm reminded of the young sourcerer (yes, that's right!) Coin in Pratchett's Sourcery who at the end of the book creates a magic garden into which he himself disappears.

Now that seems to me to be the perfect metaphor for what all writers do. It's even crossed my mind to wonder whether Shakespeare's 'ladies' actually existed at all, or were just a literary invention, with all their personal details just 'put in for the rhyme.'
 
Posted by Dafyd (# 5549) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by andras:
It's even crossed my mind to wonder whether Shakespeare's 'ladies' actually existed at all, or were just a literary invention, with all their personal details just 'put in for the rhyme.'

In Shakespeare's case it's mostly a young man.
John Donne has a sideswipe at poets advocating platonic love 'who have no mistress but their muse'.
 
Posted by andras (# 2065) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by andras:
It's even crossed my mind to wonder whether Shakespeare's 'ladies' actually existed at all, or were just a literary invention, with all their personal details just 'put in for the rhyme.'

In Shakespeare's case it's mostly a young man.
John Donne has a sideswipe at poets advocating platonic love 'who have no mistress but their muse'.

Indeed - and I suspect that he may be just as fictional as, say, the Dark Lady - or, indeed, as Dafydd Gwilym's Ladies of Llanbadarn. That's what writers do is make things up!
 


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