Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Secret Garden - Discussion (July Group Read)

Poll is up for July on the side!

One thing I really appreciate about the books we decide on and read as a group, are that some of the books are ones that I would probably not pick up if it wasn't for that being the selection. The Secret Garden is one of them. When I was younger, I thought it sounded blah and boring and as an adult, I figured I had already passed the time when reading it was necessary. It was interesting reading it finally and seeing what it was about, and to see if my younger self was correct!

Introduction to The Secret Garden (taken from penguin)

Mary Lennox has no one left in the world when she arrives at Misselthwaite Manor, her mysterious uncle's enormous, drafty mansion looming on the edge of the moors. A cholera epidemic has ravaged the Indian village in which she was born, killing both her parents and the "Ayah," or Indian servant, who cared for her. Not that being alone is new to her. Her socialite mother had no time between parties for Mary, and her father was both too ill and too occupied by his work to raise his daughter. Not long after coming to live with her uncle, Mr. Craven, Mary discovers a walled garden, neglected and in ruins. Soon she meets her servant Martha's brother Dickon, a robust country boy nourished both by his mother's love and by the natural surroundings of the countryside; and her tyrannical cousin Colin, whose mother died giving birth to him. So traumatized was Mr. Craven by the sudden death of his beloved wife that he effectively abandoned the infant Colin and buried the keys to the garden that she adored. His son has grown into a self-loathing hypochondriacal child whose tantrums strike fear into the hearts of servants. The lush garden is now overgrown and all are forbidden to enter it. No one can even remember where the door is, until a robin leads Mary to its hidden key. It is in the "secret garden," and with the help of Dickon, that Mary and Colin find the path to physical and spiritual health. Along the way the three children discover that in their imaginations—called "magic" by Colin—is the power to transform lives.

While The Secret Garden is an exquisite children's story, its timeless themes, precisely drawn characters, and taut narrative make it worthy of the serious discussion due any classic novel. It is a tale of redemption, rich with biblical symbolism and mythical associations. In Mr. Craven, his stern brother, and Mary's parents, readers have found evidence of a fallen adult world. Consequently, Mary and Colin are physically and spiritually malnourished, and, in the words of Burnett, down-right rude. Mr. Craven's redemption at the hands of Colin and his niece ensures the return of good rule to the ancient, gloomy house and of health to the children. Dickon—constantly surrounded by fox, lamb, and bird—evokes St. Francis or Pan. His mother, Mrs. Sowerby, a plain-speaking Yorkshire woman, resembles the archetypal earth mother and embodies an ancient folk wisdom seen neither in Craven nor in Mary's deceased parents. Invoking traditional nature myths, Burnett aligns the spiritual growth of Mary and Colin with the seasons. Mary arrives at Misselthwaite in winter a dour and unhealthy child. She begins her gardening in the spring, and as crocuses and daffodils push up through the warming earth, her body begins to bloom and her manners to soften. Summer sees the complete regeneration of both Mary and Colin, and by the time Craven returns to Misselthwaite in autumn, the children are harvesting the fruits of their labor—health and happiness. Finally, the overarching symbol of the book is the secret garden, a lost paradise of love and happiness—a version, perhaps, of the Garden of Eden, now reclaimed and rejuvenated.

Questions (also from penguin)
1. Mary and Colin are often described as being unpleasant and rude. Martha, in fact, says Mary is "as tyrannical as a pig" and that Colin is the "worst young newt as ever was." Why are both of these children so ill-tempered? Whom does Burnett hold responsible for their behavior—themselves or their parents? How does this fit into one of the larger themes of the novel, that of the "fallen world of adults"?

2. Could Mary and Colin have found the path to spiritual and physical healing without Dickon?

3. In its theme of the mind's potential for regeneration, The Secret Garden has often been considered a tribute to the "New Thought" movement, which included ideas of Christian Science and Theosophy. How do you feel about this? Do you think that the "magic" employed by Colin was as crucial to his healing as was communion with nature and other living things?

4. What did you think of the book?


Amber @ A Little Pink in the Cornfields said...

Know what's funny? I just voted and didn't vote for the book I suggested.
Maybe this month I will be able to actually participate! :)

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

@ Amber I hope you do join us!

1. Mary and Colin are both ill-temperedbecause they have been SPOILED rotten and because they both lacked a consistent mothering/discipline presence in their lives. Burnett holds the parents to be at fault for their lack of involvement. Which, they do hold the biggest responsiblity since HELLO their job on earth was to parent.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I am not quite finished with this book, but I can comment on the general brattiness of Colin & Mary. They were spoiled rotten. It is totaly their parents faults! I love that Mary gave Colin a run for his money though and actually stood up to him for a change.