Monday, October 29, 2007

The Secret Garden

And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversely frame'd
That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual Breeze
At once the soul of each, and God of all....

The Secret Garden opens by introducing us to Mary Lennox, a sickly, foul-tempered, unsightly little girl who loves no one and whom no one loves. At the outset of the story, she is living in India with her parents—a dashing army captain and his frivolous, beautiful wife—but is rarely permitted to see them. They have placed her under the constant care of a number of native servants, as they find her too hideous and tiresome to look after. Mary's circumstances are cast into complete upheaval when an outbreak of cholera devastates the Lennox household, leaving no one alive but herself.

She is found by a group of soldiers and, after briefly living with an English clergyman and his family, Mary is sent to live in Yorkshire with her maternal uncle, Archibald Craven. Misselthwaite Manor is a sprawling old estate with over one hundred rooms, all of which have been shut up by Archibald Craven. A man whom everyone describes as "a miserable hunchback," Master Craven has been in a state of inconsolable grief ever since the death of his wife ten years before the novel begins. Shortly after arriving at Misselthwaite, Mary hears about a secret garden from Martha Sowerby, her good-natured Yorkshire maidservant. This garden belonged to the late Mistress Craven; after her death, Archibald locked the garden door and buried the key beneath the earth.

Mary becomes intensely curious about the secret garden, and determines to find it. This curiosity, along with the vigorous exercise she takes on the moor, begins to have an extremely positive effect upon Mary. She almost immediately becomes less sickly, more engaged with the world, and less foul-tempered. This change is aided by Ben Weatherstaff, a brusque but kindly old gardener, and a robin redbreast who lives in the secret garden. She begins to count these two "people," along with Martha, Dickon Sowerby, and Susan Sowerby, as the friends she has had in her life. Her curiosity is whetted when she hears strange, far-off cries coming from one of the manor's distant rooms.

However, Mrs. Medlock, the head of the servants at Misselthwaite, absolutely forbids her to seek out the source of the cries. She is distracted from this mystery when she discovers, with the robin's help, the key to the secret garden. She immediately sets about working there, so that the neglected plants might thrive. Dickon, who brings her a set of gardening tools and promises to help her bring the secret garden back to life, vastly aids her in her endeavor. Dickon is a boy who can charm the animals of the moor "the way snake charmers charm snakes in India." He is only a common moor boy, but he is filled with so much uncanny wisdom that Mary comes to refer to him as "the Yorkshire angel."

One night, Mary hears the distant cries and, flagrantly disobeying Mrs. Medlock's prohibition, goes off in search of their source. She finds Colin Craven, Master Craven's invalid son, shut up in an opulent bedchamber. Colin was born shortly before his mother's death, and his father cannot bear to look at him because the boy painfully reminds him of his late wife. Colin has been bedridden since his birth, and it is believed that he will become a hunchback and die an early death. His servants have been commanded to obey his every whim, and Colin has become fantastically spoiled and imperious as a result. Colin and Mary strike up a friendship, but Colin becomes furious when she fails to visit him because she prefers to garden with Dickon. That night, Colin throws one of the infamous tantrums. Mary rushes to his room in a fury and commands him to stop crying. He tells her that his back is beginning to show a hunch; when Mary examines him, she finds nothing whatever the matter with him. Henceforth, she will maintain that Colin's illness is only in his mind: he will be well if only he makes up his mind to be.

Dickon and Mary secretly begin bringing Colin out into the secret garden. On the first of these outings, the children are discovered by Ben Weatherstaff, who has been covertly tending the secret garden once a year for ten years. Ben has done so out of love and loyalty for the late Mistress Craven: he was a favorite of hers. Weatherstaff refers to Colin as "the poor cripple," and asks if he has crooked legs and a crooked back. Colin, made furious by this question, forces himself to stand up on his own feet for the first time in his life. After this feat, Colin's health improves miraculously: the secret garden, the springtime, and Dickon's company have the same rejuvenating effect upon him that they did upon Mary. The children determine to keep Colin's improvement a secret, however, so that he can surprise his father with his recovery when Master Craven returns from his trip abroad.

The three children, along with Ben Weatherstaff, spend every day of the summer in the secret garden. Only one other person is admitted into the secret: Susan Sowerby, Dickon's saintly mother. Susan sends a letter to Master Craven, telling him to hurry home so that he might see his son; she does not, however, specify why, in deference to Colin's secret. Master Craven complies, and returns immediately to Misselthwaite. His first act is to go into the secret garden; he does so at the behest of a dream in which the voice of his late wife told him that he might find her there. Just as he lays his hand to the doorknob, Colin comes rushing out and falls into his arms. Father and son are reconciled, and the miracle of Colin's recovery becomes known to all.

Themes, motifs and symbols

One can say that The Secret Garden is organized around the idea of secrets. Mary is a secret from her parents' associates; Colin is kept a secret by both his father and himself. Misselthwaite is full of hundreds of locked rooms which no one may enter; its servants are forbidden to speak of its history or of its current inhabitants. Colin keeps the portrait of his mother a secret from his servants, and, later, the secret of his newfound health from all but Mary, Dickon, Ben Weatherstaff, and Susan Sowerby. The secret of the garden itself is the most significant. One by one, each of the book's secrets are disclosed: disclosure is presented as an absolute good, for, in the economy of the novel, the content of a thing does not matter—only whether one thinks of it positively or negatively does. Thus the secret of Mistress Craven's death can be disclosed, provided one maintains that she isn't really dead at all; Colin and Mary can come to light, provided that they have become kind and healthy; the garden, too, may be unlocked, so long as it, too, is resurrected.

Parallel Lives of Colin, Mary, and the Secret Garden
A number of striking similarities between Mary and Colin are immediately apparent: they are both ten years old; they have both passed sickly, neglected childhoods; both are unbelievably spoiled; and both have been looked after by retinues of servants who have been ordered to obey their every whim. Both children have parents that have denied their existence and hidden them away like secrets. No one ever sees Colin or Mary: the English soldiers who discover Mary in her parents' bungalow declare that they never knew that "that pretty woman" had had a child at all. Upon first seeing Colin, Mary exclaims, almost identically, "I never knew [Master Craven] had a child!" The garden has been closed for ten years; up to the moment that Colin and Mary each enter the garden, they too are closed off—they have loved no one, and have been utterly unloved. Because it has been so long since anyone has tended the garden, it is impossible to determine whether its flowers are dead or alive. Similarly, both Mary and Colin have had no one to care for them since their birth, and their skin has become either waxen or stony as a result. Both of these words ("waxen" and "stony") connote lifelessness. The awakening of the secret garden both parallels and is the cause of Colin and Mary's own rebirth.

Eden, also called Paradise, was the garden in which the first humans created by God (Adam and Eve) lived until the time of the Fall. The "Fall" refers to the moment that God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden for tasting of the Tree of Knowledge. The secret garden is connected with Eden through Martha's story of the divine times had there by Master Craven and his wife before her quite literal "fall"—before, that is, she fell out of the rose-tree to her death. It is also similar to Eden insofar as it represents a Paradise of innocence and ideality for Mary and Dickon. As in Eden, they enjoy a uniquely close relationship with God (who occasionally is referred to as magic, and as "the Big Good Thing") when they are within its walls. Their work in the garden is compared to the work of "nest-building," which of course has certain marital implications—it is as though they too have become Adam and Eve. Furthermore, their seclusion in the secret garden conjures up that enjoyed by Master and Mistress Craven. This echo is strengthened by the fact that Mary bends down and kisses the newly opened crocuses, just as Mistress Craven kissed her roses. The Eden-like quality of their time alone together in the garden is only strengthened by the presence of Dickon's docile "creatures," which recall the animals created by the Christian God to keep the first people company. Dickon inspires "rapture" in Mary, which implies both ecstasy and "a mystical experience in which the spirit is exalted to the knowledge of divine things" (Merriam-Webster). Dickon's intimate connection with heavenly nature brings Mary nearer to divinity herself.

The Robin Redbreast
When Mary first sees the robin redbreast, the reader is struck by a number of similarities between them: like her, he began life as an orphan; like her, he finds a haven in the secret garden; like her, he began to seek out friendship once he lost his family and came to realize he was lonely. The friendliness of the little bird both helps Mary to recognize that she is lonely and to assuage that loneliness. This is significant in that Mary first befriends a wild creature, a distinctive part of the English countryside; the robin is explicitly described as being "not at all like birds in India." She thus makes her first connection with a part of the moor, not a part of the manor. The robin is a representative of wise and gentle nature—part of Chapter XXV is told from his point of view, as though to prove that animals really do have minds of their own. It is he who first shows Mary the key to the secret garden, thereby suggesting that nature itself is colluding with her wish to get inside. Later, the robin's building of a nest with his mate is compared to Mary's nest- building with Dickon in the secret garden.

The roses are Mistress Craven's personal symbol; they are mentioned whenever she is mentioned. The bower from which she fell to her death was covered with roses; when Mary first discovers the garden, it is still flooded with rose-trees and rosebushes, though none are in bloom. Dickon reassures her that they are not dead, and remarks, "There will be fountains of roses here in the spring." This foreshadows the way in which the resurrection of the garden will bring the spirit of Mistress Craven back within its walls—she exists wherever roses are in bloom. The tree from which Colin's mother fell to her death can itself be said to undergo a kind of resurrection: though it is the only thing in the garden which is wholly dead, it is soon "covered with new roses," so that the dead wood is no longer visible. The new roses symbolize both the children and the spirit of Colin's mother herself, which has come back to the garden to watch over her son.
Winter Light by Linda Ronstadt - The Secret Garden

Is There Purpose in Nature?
by Dr. Mae-Wan-Ho
Organism and Pysche in a Particpatory Universe
by Dr. Mae-Wan-Ho

The Doctine of Cycles
By Lydia Ross, M.D.
Man and Nature Allied in Cyclic Progress
There is a purpose in every important act of Nature, whose acts are all cyclic and periodical. -- The Secret Doctrine 1:640

Nature repeats herself everywhere. She follows grooves of action that have already been made; she follows the line of least resistance in all cases and everywhere. And it is upon this repetitive action of our Great Mother -- universal nature -- that is founded the law of cycles, which is the enacting of things that have been before, although each such repetition, as said, is at each new manifestation on a higher plane and with a larger sweep or field of action. -- Man in Evolution, chapter 13
Nature moves like a great wheel, ever turning round and round, so that as it goes forward in time and space, each of its spokes takes its regular turn in moving upward, forward, downward and backward. As the whole wheel of the universe rolls onward, every atom of it gains ground and experience, and also adds its impulse to the common urge forward. This evolutionary urge in mankind is naturally quickened, in greater or less degree, by mind and self-consciousness. Thus we are able to help things below us, as we in turn are helped by wiser, greater beings.

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