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The Secret Garden: Chapters 1, 2 and 3 
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Post The Secret Garden: Chapters 1, 2 and 3
The Secret Garden: Chapters 1, 2 and 3

Please use this thread for discussing Chapters 1, 2 and 3 of "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. You may also create your own threads if you'd like to make comments that don't necessarily pertain to specific chapters.

Chapter 1 http://www.online-literature.com/burnet ... tgarden/1/

Chapter 2 http://www.online-literature.com/burnet ... tgarden/2/

Chapter 3 http://www.online-literature.com/burnet ... tgarden/3/



Tue Dec 02, 2008 11:49 pm
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So what do people think of this book? So far I have read 7 chapters. It is racist. I do like the moors. Very Emily Bronte! The way that she writes is nice, kind of flowing. The story reminds me somewhat of the Chronicles of Narnia because of the way that she describes the mystery. It has more of an adventure feel than a mystery. I was bothered by this line:

Quote:
"She had begun to wonder why she had never seemed to belong to anyone even when her father and mother had been alive. Other children seemed to belong to their fathers and mothers, but she had never seemed to really be anyone's little girl. She had had servants, and food and clothes, but no one had taken any notice of her. She did not know that this was because she was a disagreeable child; but then, of course, she did not know she was disagreeable. She often thought that other people were, but she did not know that she was so herself."


I would say that she is not to blame for the neglect that her parents were responsible for and that perhaps one of the reasons that she was the way she was was because of that neglect.

There is one point where the author talks about this somewhat: "

Quote:
"I'm lonely," she said. She had not known before that this was one of the things which made her feel sour and cross. She seemed to find it out when the robin looked at her and she looked at the robin. "


I like Mary's growth in the book. She goes from someone who does not have relationships to someone who starts building relationships and I like that. So what do other people think?



Thu Dec 04, 2008 5:31 pm
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This is my first crack at participating in a book discussion here. I've just read the first two chapters but I'm going slowly because I'm trying to get a friend of mine to participate with this book too. I read this book as a child and I liked it but now i have the opportunity to appreciate it on another level.
So here it goes...

I did some research on Victorian child rearing especially in the upper class. Mary's situation is pretty extreme but probably not so far off from the norm. It was customary for children to be raised by carefully selected nannies and generally to be kept away from the parents most of the time. Family life was very formal and children usually only saw their parents at appointed times. In Mary's case, never. It's like she's dead the minute she's born. Does anyone think she's really as physically sick as the adults say she is? She is certainly not malnourished because she is obviously wealthy. It's certainly strange for a child living in India for 9 years to look like she's never seen sunlight. I think her outer appearance is really about her starvation for love and relationships and she's not really physically ill. Having read the book so long ago I know this issue is going to come up again. Out of all people to survive a cholera epidemic, the supposed sick child is left unscathed. I have a feeling one of the themes of the book is an indictment against prevailing parenting style in the late 19th/early 20th century: hands-off, rigid, formal, cold. On another thought, if I lived in a period of high infant mortality and I was intimately familiar with death by TB and cholera, is it a form psychological protection to not be so attached to one's own children?



Thu Dec 04, 2008 8:07 pm
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thanks Trish & Seespotrun. At one level, Secret Garden seems a big contrast to the other options Dead Souls by Gogol and Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, but then it also links in to themes that have been discussed here at Booktalk, notably around how the popular fiction of the British Empire assumes or conceals underlying political and economic realities. It has this Edwardian fin-de-siecle unreality flavour in the neglectful attitude of the mother - dinner parties are more important than caring for family, and motherhood is an embarrassment - which indicate how the heartless pleasure-seeking selfish mentality had such a grip. The Empire in India was premised on an extremely racist set of beliefs which percolated through into the individual psychology. It truly doesn't surprise me that this coldness existed, as a similar attitude sent millions of men to death in the trenches just a few years later. I am looking forward to exploring the theosophical side of the book.



Thu Dec 04, 2008 8:34 pm
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The Secret Garden is a wonderful innocent magical tale. I find myself feeling as lonely and sour as Mistress Mary Quite Contrary, but I have my own secret gardens which are rather like Mary's. This book is a parable of the redemption of England, operating on multiple levels. The imperious colonial culture has cast people along a false path, lost in a lonely sour world of so-called pleasure, but the artifice has no organic connection to nature so cannot be sustained. The secret garden recaptures the organic link to reality, as Sleeping Beauty gradually finds the blood rising in her wan cheeks.

The story is beautifully paced and constructed, with wondrous characters such as Dickon described before they appear so that the anticipation builds. There is a religious sense that the earth is alive, but that modern society has forgotten how to see and feel the soil. Perhaps a touch of Faust, with the modern sale of the soul to the devil. I do like it when Mary appears to Ben as if emerging from the earth like Persephone.

1: The sad cold little rich girl in India whose uncaring parents die of cholera
2: To England
3: To the empty hundred room mansion in the wuthering Yorkshire moors
4: Introducing Martha the maid, the robin, Ben and the gardens...



Fri Dec 05, 2008 6:49 am
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Robert,

I had been wavering about whether to order the book and your post has tipped the balance! :smile:


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Fri Dec 05, 2008 10:34 am
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Likes the book better than the movie


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Ophelia wrote:
Robert,

I had been wavering about whether to order the book and your post has tipped the balance! :smile:


The book is free on the Internet and may be had immediately. I'm using Gutenberg's.



Fri Dec 05, 2008 12:41 pm
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So what do people think of this book? So far I have read 7 chapters. It is racist.


Seespotrun, the following is not meant to reductively mischaracterize your contribution, which, I valued very much. Everything everyone has said has enriched my enjoyment of the book.

The above quote reflects a common way to use the word "racist" as a quick label that applies as a whole to anything containing or reflecting racism, or even race consciousness, which I believe is not constructive to developing ongoing cultural discourse or to healing racism. It has come up several times now on booktalk and I want to offer a possbile alternative perspective.

Racism (which I understand to be prejudice plus power, around the arbitrary category of "race") is a historic fact, with roots and shoots and new little poison berries all over our cultural experience. People have learned to fear it and shrink from it as from poison ivy, all the while covering up patches of rash we have all sustained from contact with it so no one will shrink from us, and secretly scratching at it in ways that spread it and make it worse. It needs to be okay to let it heal in the open light and air.

The book contains a realistic and faithful record of the racist norms of the time, place and people who are characters in it. The country girl who says she thought her young charge would be "a native" is not racist. She was prepared to take care of her and learn about what she was like on open, unpresuming terms. Why shouldn't people from India be Indian, if one doesn't know otherwise? The outraged reaction, along with the disdain offered to "the servant" by "the child" are evidence of the racism and classism of her upbringing, which is oppressive of her as well as those it tells her she is "better than." This book treats racism, classism and ageism as these oppressions were expressed throughout society at that time and place, as kinds of spiritual sickness. The book isn't racist. It doesn't ignore racism or fail to show it. But the book and the author are not "racist." As I understand those ideas, anyway.


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Fri Dec 05, 2008 1:40 pm
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Quote:
Ophelia wrote:
Robert,

I had been wavering about whether to order the book and your post has tipped the balance! Smile


The book is free on the Internet and may be had immediately. I'm using Gutenberg's


Thanks Tom. I don't much like reading books on a screen but I may have a look at the first chapter before my copy arrives.


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Fri Dec 05, 2008 1:56 pm
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GentleReader9 wrote:
the racism and classism of her upbringing, which is oppressive of her as well as those it tells her she is "better than." This book treats racism, classism and ageism as these oppressions were expressed throughout society at that time and place, as kinds of spiritual sickness. The book isn't racist. It doesn't ignore racism or fail to show it. But the book and the author are not "racist." As I understand those ideas, anyway.
Yes, GR, precisely, The Secret Garden is an astute and subtle description of how racist delusion diminishes its proponents and of how truth can dissolve the false barriers of racism. The twittering superiority of Mary's mother flows through into an ugly and bitter loneliness so intense that Mary does not even see it in herself. I recently saw a comment about Australia that a visitor from a poor country could not believe how sad and lonely everybody looked. Perhaps this is partly the legacy of the racist colonial culture we shared with British India. The 'spiritual sickness', to use your term, derides any effort to discuss a shared meaning, and obsessively follows sport in order to avoid discussion of more substantive questions. The unconscious fear seems to be about taking steps on the path to unravelling the elaborate pretence of empire.



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I don't feel that Burnett is all that political about racism and colonialism. I think she's states it as more matter of fact. I'm sure there were more offensive terms than "black" available to use, but she doesn't. Though I'm not going to assume though that Burnett believed in the equality of races (unless I read otherwise) even if she takes issue with the treatment of servants Indian or Yorkshire. I would say she concentrates more on rigid class divisions and divisions of traditional parent/child roles. Mary belongs to an upper class family and has the "right" to do and say what she pleases to servants, but her parents disregard her feelings in the same way. How can anyone learn empathy without being able to put yourself in an others' shoes.



Sat Dec 06, 2008 12:10 am
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Burnett is not calling for equality where equality does not exist, but for respect and for a dismantling of illusions. Unequals can have honest dialogue, but this is rare. An interesting line is where Mary complains that Indian servants use custom to justify behaviour and seem to view custom as the highest authority. You can see that Burnett is critical of the way hidebound traditional authority operates whether in India or in the UK. My impression is that the secret garden is a symbol of liberation through the recognition of true natural identity. The politics is not an ideological call for equality, but a call for human identity to be grounded in reality. The need for secrecy is a symbol of how unacceptable this natural vision is to broader society.



Sat Dec 06, 2008 1:52 am
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Quote:
I did some research on Victorian child rearing especially in the upper class. Mary's situation is pretty extreme but probably not so far off from the norm. It was customary for children to be raised by carefully selected nannies and generally to be kept away from the parents most of the time. Family life was very formal and children usually only saw their parents at appointed times. In Mary's case, never. It's like she's dead the minute she's born. Does anyone think she's really as physically sick as the adults say she is? She is certainly not malnourished because she is obviously wealthy. It's certainly strange for a child living in India for 9 years to look like she's never seen sunlight. I think her outer appearance is really about her starvation for love and relationships and she's not really physically ill. Having read the book so long ago I know this issue is going to come up again. Out of all people to survive a cholera epidemic, the supposed sick child is left unscathed. I have a feeling one of the themes of the book is an indictment against prevailing parenting style in the late 19th/early 20th century: hands-off, rigid, formal, cold. On another thought, if I lived in a period of high infant mortality and I was intimately familiar with death by TB and cholera, is it a form psychological protection to not be so attached to one's own children?


Thanks for your post Trish. I agree with what you wrote.
I've read the first few chapters-- I can't help it , I always like those stories which take place in England in the old days, with those rich people's homes, the servants, butlers, and so on.
The narrator, as well as the housekeeper and other characters, always seem to mention the poor looks of the child and the mother's prettiness in the same sentence. From the little that is said the mother was interested in parties and clothes, not her child. I wonder if, on top of the views about bringing up children in that social class at the time, there wasn't the matter of the mother not wanting to look at a daughter who did not reflect her own beauty, and thus disappointed her. In other words, Mary might have got more attention, albeit of a superficial kind, if she had been a pretty little girl that her mother could have shown off to other people.


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Quote:
the mother not wanting to look at a daughter who did not reflect her own beauty, and thus disappointed her.


A face only a mother could love is a common saying because Mother's love is supposed to be the one thing a child can count on and desperately needs in order to thrive. Mary is contrary, sad, and sickly because this one most important thing in her life has been missing despite her outward priviledges. She belongs to no one. I know this is a extreme case, but I have always felt the British upper class treatment of their kids was barbaric.



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Likes the book better than the movie


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seespotrun2008 wrote:
So what do people think of this book? So far I have read 7 chapters. It is racist.


Frances Hodgson Burnett was into Theosophy as were Aldous Huxley, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Franz Kafka, William Butler Yeats, George William Russell (AE), Owen Barfield, T. S. Eliot, Arthur Dove, George Lucas, Katherine Dreier, Robert Duncan, Marsden Hartley, Wallace Stevens, James Jones, Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Dane Rudhyar, Alexander Scriabin.

Theosophy advocated universal brotherhood, and Hindu were especially admired, so we can be sure that The Secret Garden is not racist, unless one takes the word "Blacks" in reference to Indian servants to be racist. Theosophists believed in the religious superiority of Indians, and Mrs. Burnett expressed that view:

"Eh! I can see it's different," she answered almost sympathetically. "I dare say it's because there's such a lot o' blacks there instead o' respectable white people. When I heard you was comin' from India I thought you was a black too."

Mary sat up in bed furious.

"What!" she said. "What! You thought I was a native. You -- you daughter of a pig!"

Martha stared and looked hot.

"Who are you callin' names?" she said. "You needn't be so vexed. That's not th' way for a young lady to talk. I've nothin' against th' blacks. When you read about 'em in tracts they're always very religious. You always read as a black's a man an' a brother. I've never seen a black an' I was fair pleased to think I was goin' to see one close. When I come in to light your fire this mornin' I crep' up to your bed an' pulled th' cover back careful to look at you. An' there you was," disappointedly, "no more black than me -- for all you're so yeller."

Tom



Sat Dec 06, 2008 11:54 pm
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