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.
 


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