Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Read-A-Long: The Secret Garden

Bookjourney's Read-a-Long for
The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I haven't finished reading The Secret Garden yet but I'll go ahead and share some of the thoughts I've had so far.

One of my impressions is that Frances Hodgson Burnett is a meticulous observer.  Another is that she could tell modern child psychologists a thing or two while they might have little to tell her that she could not say 'Duh!' to and wonder why they were just now figuring it out.

I base this on her finely drawn character study of a child whose social and emotional skills were stunted by inappropriate care giving in her first years.  

The behaviors 'Mistress Mary Quite Contrary' Lennox exhibited in the early chapters are just like those of the kids my sister works with--kids with emotional and behavioral disturbances due to abuse and neglect in the birth families or orphanages they spent their infancy and early childhood in.

Among the traits Miss Mary Lennox of the early chapters shares with these children are: tantrums, cruelty, disrespect towards others, sneakiness, boredom, detachment, distrust of others, moodiness, demanding, selfishness, lack of empathy, contrariness.

Not only does Ms Burnett have the traits right she has also pinpointed some of the elements that contribute to their dissipation.  Like vigorous exercise, fresh air, nutrition, friendship, boundaries.  Even the interaction with the robin in the gardens that awakens empathy and the desire for friendship is spot on.  Watching this little girl blossom is a delight.

Another thought I had is that reading this at fifty-something is quite different from reading it at nine or ten or eleven.  I remember being more wrapped up in the mystery of the garden and the crying child in the house back then while this time I am more interested in watching the character development of this child.

[the following is the comment I left at Bookjourneyabout 3am Friday.  I wanted to preserve it where I could find it fast and couldn't think of a better place.]

I was unable to participate as the discussion earlier as today was the first of five days I will be on duty here at Mom's while my sister is out of town.  I really should be calling it a day right now too so I can't go down the list as so many have but I'd like to add a few thoughts that I didn't see already mentioned above.

I recognized in Mary of the first chapters the children with attachment disorders that my sister works with.  When the bonding with a primary caregiver in the first three years is disrupted or non-existent due to neglect, abuse, illness or neurological issues the child's ability to relate to others as entities with needs and feelings like their own is stunted.  Empathy may be missing.  They tend to 'live' in their hind brain where emotion unrestrained by reason rules more than the frontal lobe where reason and the ability to comprehend cause and effect is.

Why is no one talking about Martha?  It seems to me that it is Martha's relating to Mary that prepares the way for all the rest.  She is the first one to nurture Mary in an appropriate manner.  Tho she notes the child's issues she exudes acceptance while gently nudging her in the direction of more autonomy where such is expected ie teasing her as to how her very young sister can already put on her own stockings. And that wonderfully wise: 'How do thy like thyself.'  Martha is the one who sent her outside to play.  And all those stories of her siblings and her mother were no accident either.  They are on a par with the parable of Jesus.  They are testament to the power of story to effect real change in a person's soul.

While I was reading the book aloud to Mom after dinner and came to the scene where Mary first entered the garden and the description of it and her reaction to it it hit me like a lightning bolt that the garden was a metaphor for her psyche.  Neglected, left to grow untended, unbounded, unnurtured, locked away, unseen by others.  This is what called to her and opened her up to receive its blessings.  As she begins to tend it she is tending her own soul as she learns to care about and nurture something other than her own ego.

The robin is a winged creature which are often symbols of spirit in literature.  Especially of Burnette's era.

I believe Burnette was using nature as a symbol of or to showcase the importance of nurture. Every living, growing thing must be nurtured to thrive and every one of them is in a matrix of other living, growing things and dependent upon the well-being of those others for their own well-being.  Dickon is the consummate nurturer.

Burnette is not an advocate of letting nature rule as in the proverbial law of the jungle.  She obviously believes it needs to be tended and trained for the sake of both beauty and usefulness.  Whether the nature in question is biological or psychological.

I find Mr Craven's name interesting.  To be craven is to have a character driven by fear. Cowardly and weak and willing to sacrifice integrity for a sense of safety no matter how illusory.  Keep in mind when considering his behavior and character that he was raised by the servant class himself.  That was the way it was done in the British aristocracy then.

I wonder if Colin and Mary don't act as mirrors reflecting unlovely behavior back to be recognized and changed.

wow one thot leads to another.  and I haven't even finished the book yet.  can't wait until its time to read to Mom again. :)  But if I don't get to bed like NOW I'll be setting myself up for another long sleep deprived day which is not good when remaining calm and competent is paramount.

[from the comment I left over at Ryan's Wordsmithonia]

kudos for fighting against cultural prejudice to give The Secret Garden a chance to charm you.

I can see why you might think the transformations in the children happened too abruptly to seem realistic but I'm not sure I see it that way--at least for Mary.  There would have been months between the death of her parents and arrival at Mistlewaite.  A lot of time during which she would have encountered  much to mull on the difference between her family life and the families she  interacted with in those months.  First the pastor's family in India, whose children gave her the nicname, then the mother who chaperoned her on the sea voyage and then Martha's.

I believe Burnette put more emphasis on the power and influence of relationship to effect change in the children than in the other elements like fresh air, exercise and nutrition which she considered essential yes but not enough on their own.

They seem to me analogous to turning the winter soil to prepare the ground while relationships are the actual planting of the seeds.

it also seem no accident to me that the entire story took place inside one growing season--winter thru summer.  That seems to me an extended metaphor for the step involved in change and growth--fallow ground, tilling, planting, nurturing, blooming, harvesting.

3 tell me a story:

Ryan 5/31/2012 7:26 AM  

I'm starting to wonder what I would have thought of this book, had I read it as a kid. This was my first read of it, and I agree the character development was the best part of it.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the book.

Faith Hope and Cherrytea 5/31/2012 5:48 PM  

glad you're part of the read a long and have shared your insights so far. i too enjoyed the character development ~ hoping you join the party post at Sheila's and visit the rest of us partyers w/ our posts :)

Angela's Anxious Life 5/31/2012 8:17 PM  

I really love this book!!! I am so glad I did a re-read. And I love the Garden Party.. glad to have found you there!!

Angela's Anxious Life

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