Slow-Read Sunday: The Secret Garden (to the END)

We’ve previously discussed The Secret Garden to Chapter VII; to Chapter XIV; to Chapter XVII and to Chapter XXII.

Today, we’ll finish discussing the novel.

1. Colin’s transformation.

The second half of the book, and in particular the last part of the book, is Colin’s story. Mary is by his side, but we are all witnesses to his transformation and it’s his future we hear discussed most often. Do you think that’s fair to Mary? Did you expect the novel to end the way it did? What of Mary’s future?

2. When people always get their way they become ____________.

Colin has been pampered his entire life. Mary can recognize this and the impact it’s had on him. p. 234. What are some of the dangers of getting everything you want?

3. Nature as a cathedral.

Around p.241 The Garden becomes something like a cathedral. The descriptive phrases used in this section have the children sitting cross-legged in “sort of a temple.” The characters sing hymns and chant until they can sway. p. 242. You probably noticed numerous other allusions to religion. What is the author suggesting here? What do you think the relationship between God, Nature, and Religion are in the novel?

4. Exercise.

What role does exercise play in Colin’s recovery? Does the mental transformation precede the physical? Are they tied together? p. 257.

5. The first paragraph of Chapter XXVII. p. 281.

The first paragraph of Chapter XXVII is a bit like the author’s closing argument or summation, isn’t it? It is a celebration of growth through knowledge and discovery. It is a celebration of the power of the mind. It is also the expression of the author’s desire that we learn more about how our minds work in the coming centuries. Do you think the author would be pleased to see the results of the past centuries’ accomplishments? Have we made progress in this area that matches Colin’s and Mary’s progress in the novel? If society as a whole hasn’t lived up to this transformation have there been individuals that have? What will another hundred years bring?

6. How are we like Colin and Mary, even as adults? What can we do to transform our own lives?

Thanks to Amarie for suggesting our June read. It was my first time to read the book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Slow-Read Sunday has been an interesting experiment. I certainly find it enriching to participate in, but I always debate whether I’m using my time with the site in the most effective way. I’m engaged in some of that inner-debate now and I haven’t decided whether to keep going with Slow-Read Sunday. I have decided to take July to contemplate whether I’ll continue and, if so, whether the format will change. There will be no Slow-Read Sunday in July, but I’m sure something will hold its place until I decide its future. Thanks to each of that read and participated and I hope at least one of you has gotten something out it.

Slow-Read Sunday: The Secret Garden (to CH. XXII)

We’ve previously discussed The Secret Gardento Chapter VIIto Chapter XIV; and to Chapter XVII.

Today we’ll discuss The Secret Garden to Chapter XXII. Some of the most beautiful language in the novel appears in this chunk. At times, today, I’ll highlight some of that language by merely setting out the quote for reflection. I think some of that highlighted language answers the questions we’ve posed to this point in the novel.

1. What does Mary mean when she says what ails Colin is hysterics and temper?

Mary uses the word hysterics to describe Colin’s fits. Does she come up with that on her own or has she picked it up from someone?

2. “The boy is half insane with hysteria and self-indulgence.” p. 191

Dr. Craven comes to see Colin after he has his tantrum. His official diagnosis seems less concerned with medicine, more a mental assessment. Dr. Craven wants Colin to remember his illness and be mindful of its restrictions at all times. Colin would rather forget his illness and put it out of his mind completely. p. 194. What advice would you give Colin?

3. What is the source of Dickon’s magical powers?

Mary believes there’s a certain magic about Dickon. p. 207. If she’s right, where do the powers come from?

4. Mary introduces Colin to the garden.

Mary introduces Colin to the garden by walking him through and explaining how she first gained access. You can feel the excitement pouring off these pages. p. 213. By the time they enter the garden, Colin is convinced he will get well and”live forever and ever.” This language mirrors the way Dickon feels when he lies on the ground in the moor and breathes in the air. Have you ever felt that way? What were the circumstances? Can you recreate them at will?

5. “One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever.” p. 213.

6. Why do Mary, Dickon, and Colin all whisper in the garden?

Colin gets instructed “as to the law of whispers and low voices” before entering the garden. p. 217. Once in, he likes the “mysteriousness” of whispering. What do you make of the rule? There are other places where we must whisper at all times, like Churches and Libraries. Did either of them come to mind when you heard this rule?

7. “I’ve seen the spring now and I’m going to see the summer. I’m going to see everything grow here. I’m going to grow here myself.” p. 221.

Next time we’ll finish discussing the novel.

Slow-Read Sunday: The Secret Garden (to Chapter XVII)

Thus far, we’e discussed The Secret Garden to Chapter VII and then to Chapter XIV.

Today, we’ll carry on to Chapter XVII of The Secret Garden.

1. What is Magic? 

The idea of Magic with a capital “M” is raised at p. 139. What does Mary mean when she asks about Magic? Why do you think the author chooses to capitalize “Magic?”

2. Does the story start to turn into Colin’s story?

Mary’s always involved, but we start to learn more about Colin in this part of the book. Whose story is this? Is it a story about Mary? About Colin? About The Garden?

3. If you learn something about how to repair yourself you should teach others.

Mary finds that being in the garden works for her. She then decides it might help Colin. p. 141. Do we have an obligation, once we’ve learned something, to share it with others if it’ll help them, too?

4. Mind over matter?

Dickon talks about having Colin go out in the garden because there “he wouldn’t be watchin’ for lumps to grow on his back; he’d be watchin’ for buds to break on th’ rose-bushes, an’ he’d likely be healthier.” p. 162. There are two ideas at play here: (1) the idea that not thinking about being sick makes you less likely to be sick and (2) there are forces in nature that make us healthy. Is there any truth to these two ideas?

5. Misery loves company?

Mary has a perspective shift when she sees Colin acting ill-tempered. p. 167. Before, she had always wanted people around her to be miserable if she was miserable. Now, she sees Colin engaging in that behavior and thinks he’s wrong. What precipitated this perspective shift?

6. Is Colin jealous of Dickon?

Colin is mad at Dickon because he “keeps [Mary] playing in the dirt when he knows I am all by myself.” p. 168. Does that jealousy fuel bad or good behavior in Colin?

Next week, we’ll read on to Chapter XXII.

Slow-Read Sunday: The Secret Garden (to Ch. XIV)

If you missed our discussion of the first part of The Secret Garden you can always catch up.

Today I’ll ask some questions about the second part, to Chapter XIV.

1. How does Mary think of herself?

It’s a hard question to answer for an adolescent. At what age do we begin to develop our self-image? Mary starts to ask that question about herself on p. 62. We see some of the keener psychological moments in the book when we see Mary start to look at things in new ways. Before she can understand what it means to help someone else she has to come to understand who she is. Mary is going through that process. Try to gauge whether Mary’s opinion of herself changes throughout the book.

2. Symbolism and gardens.

Are our lives like gardens? Are our relationships like gardens? Is the way we should treat ourselves the same as the way we should treat a garden?

3. Gradual progress and improvement.

Mary takes on skipping rope on p. 72. In the beginning she’s poor, but with practice she’ll improve if she practices everyday. The idea of steady gradual improvement is particularly hard to teach young people (all people?). Do you think Burnett is trying to convey this idea to her younger readers?

Or, do you think Burnett is more worried about emotional health and the idea that if we take things one day at a time we can avoid overwhelm?

4. Gardening as empathy.

Mary comes to gardening with very little understanding of the concept of how to garden, but she figures it out quickly using her intuition. Do you think we’re born with the knowledge of how to care for other living things? If not, where do we learn this? Where did Mary learn empathy for her garden?

5. Mary is excited to have a place of her own.

Mary’s excitement about the garden is partially because it’s her own place. As Colin enters the novel try to recognize whether that changes and when it changes. Would Mary behave differently toward Colin had she met him before she had the garden?

For next time let’s read to Chapter XVII, “A Tantrum.”

Slow-Read Sunday, The Secret Garden (to Chapter VII)

Public Service Announcement: Today we start our discussion of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Be careful of grabbing an abridged version of the book, unless you’re looking to read an abridged version. There are many abridged versions in print, but it seems the free Kindle version is complete.

If a book is it’s own self-contained universe then it’s not necessary to research the historical setting of a novel, but we don’t always do things as a result of necessity. Sometimes, we do things because we want to know a little more. I’ll start the discussion there and then start to delve into some of the book’s major ideas.

1. What’s going on in England/India in 1911?

I’m no historian, but I do know that India was a British colony in 1911. Ghandi had not yet come back to India a hero after his work in South Africa. One of the most common occupations for an English citizen was as a servant. Something near a seventh of employed persons worked in some capacity as a servant. Can you read the book as a criticism of over-reliance on the servant? Look for instances where over-reliance is viewed negatively.

The word, Ayah, is a special native Indian servant employed by Europeans. From the use of this specific English word we can tell the servant culture had been imposed upon India as well.

Did this system result in absentee parents? Did this system result in lazy children?

2. What is cholera?

Cholera killed more than 800,000 people. It was a disease that stemmed from poor waste disposal and water treatment systems. At or around 1911 cholera had been classified as an epidemic. Does an epidemic like cholera have as much of an impact on a cities’ residents as war?

Consider a line from the book: “The cholera had broken out in its most fatal form and people were dying like flies.” loc 73. Does this seem too gruesome for a children’s book or is death something that children faced at an early age as a result of the cholera epidemic?

3. What is the literary significance of a forbidden or secret place?

Do you believe everyone needs a place they can call their own? Even a child? Why does this seem to be universally true? Is it more important at certain ages than others? Is it more important after certain life events than others?

4. What is a moor?

A moor is an open, rolling, infertile land that is usually boggy. Why does the author make a point to describe the moor in detail? We’re told Misselthwaite Manor is on “the edge of the moor.” loc 181. The moor is further described as “a dense darkness”( loc 235) and as “just miles and miles of wild land that nothing grows on but heather and gorse and broom, and nothing lives on but wild ponies and sheep.” loc 241. Is the moor a source of power? What literary purpose does the moor serve? How might the moor be important for developing the book’s “Nature” theme?

5. What role does nature play in our lives?

Burnett states it as an unequivocal fact “that the fresh wind from the moor had begun to blow the cobwebs out of her young brain and to waken her up a little.” loc 503. Do you believe this is true? Can a change of scenery from city life to country life have that kind of impact? Are there health benefits to being outdoors? I’ve read scientific studies that talk about the impact of nature and exercise on mental health. Is Burnett ahead of the curve or reacting to similar scientific findings she would have been privy to at the time she wrote the novel?

Of course, the robin Mary meets also plays a role in the book. Do you believe we can be guided by nature? What does Mary believe at the start of the novel? Try to track whether Mary’s attitudes toward Nature change during the course of the novel.

6. What does it mean to be sorry for some one?

We’re told at loc 526 that one of the things Mary learns is how to “be sorry for some one.” What does that mean? Is Mary growing up and losing the ego-dominance that marked her early years or is she being awakened by the place she’s in? Could it be both? Will Mary associate that awakening–this new empathy–with Misselthwaite Manor for the rest of her life? Do you have a similar place in your memory? Could you write a story about it–even a short one?

7. Whose story is this?

This seems to be a story about Mary, doesn’t it? Let’s try to pay attention to whether that idea holds throughout the novel.

8. What does the garden symbolize?

The garden plays a central role in the book. What does it mean to Mary? What do you feel when you hear about the garden?

For next time, let’s read to Chapter 14 (XIV), “The Young Rajah.”

Photo: Some rights reserved by gnomonic.