The English Book Club
The English Book Club

A little revolution and something to grow—impressions from our secret garden party

written by PADERBORN2READ member Maty Parzival

“‘Oh, Dickon! Dickon! Dickon!’ she said. ‘I’m so happy I can scarcely breathe!’”

On a rainy Thursday, in the early hours of a January morning, a group of orphans arrived—

Alright, no, actually, on a sunny afternoon where the wind was nice and the clouds fluffy, PADERBORN2READ—The English Book Club came together to have a picnic! And, what better book to discuss than Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden? Published in 1911 and at first not her biggest success, The Secret Garden is a children’s classic these days. And while we met on a summer afternoon, Mary Lennox did indeed arrive at Misselthwaite Manor on such a cold and dreary day that it soured her already sour mood even more. Born and grown up in India, her parents gave her little attention until she was nine years old, leaving her instead in the care of a native nursing woman and staff that catered to her every whim to keep her out of her parent’s hair. Sent to England to live with her uncle and guardian, Lord Archibald Craven, she soon discovers not only the garden her late aunt loved and cherished, but also finds friends for the first time in her life. One night, investigating the crying she hears through the halls, she then discovers her cousin, Colin, who is the same age as her. Born prematurely due to his mother’s death, Colin is being kept far away from anything that could worsen his condition further, and, like Mary in India, kept well-served at all times. Between Mary, Colin and a neighbour’s boy, Dickon, a special friendship develops, centring around the titular secret garden nobody except the children has entered in ten years and changes their lives for the better.

In lieu of a full on secret garden, we decided to give ourselves the full experience by not only talking about the book, but also watching the movie beforehand. Well—a movie, as these days, we had three to choose from. Originally, the plan was to watch Fred M. Wilcox’s 1949 adaptation. However, only Agnieszka Holland’s 1993 version had Maggie Smith, so a change of plans was almost inevitable. Blinds were drawn, chairs pulled close, and on we went—laughing together at Colin absolutely not moping with his trembling bottom-lip and Madlock searching the pillows to look for him, right at the end.

“Tha’ art as safe as a missel thrush.”

With cake, muffins and an array of colourful blankets, we then moved outside to discuss the book and the differences between book and movie. The opinions were mixed—the movie made changes, such as having Mary’s family die of an Earthquake instead of the Cholera outbreak and subsequently robbing it of the first powerful scene in the story: Mary, standing in the middle of her nursery, livid with the world for being forgotten. Further, the movie illustrated a very different view on the adults: from Madlock in her role as Colin’s caretaker almost hating Mary, the utter incompetence of Lord Craven to deal with his grief.

Members of the club did their research—apparently, a popular method of dealing with illness was a so-called rest-cure, which is almost on point what Colin had been prescribed. We discussed the way the book deals with his illness: the country doctor who prescribes rest and decides that he needs to be taken care of 24/7, versus the city doctor who prescribes him fresh air and sends him out to breathe—and Colin’s fear of that, as he is so convinced he is going to die that he never considers it might simply not be true.

The book itself was a little revolution of its own, as typical orphan-books of the time focused on how the family made their adopted child better, and Hodgson-Burnett turned this around and had the adopted child fix the family.

“Mistress Mary, quite contrary”? Well, not as much as the others were, hm?

Of course, since we are all students of the English language, we also had to point out how on almost every page, we come across the word queer in the sense of “weird” and, though less often, “gay” as happy.

“‘Might I,’ quavered Mary, ‘might I have a bit of earth?’”

After the discussion, we had the chance to build our own little secret garden! Club member Kristin organised bottles and seeds—coffee, asparagus, and more! Just like Mary, who asked her uncle for a little bit of earth to plant something in, we took a little bit of earth and planted them, adding colourful beads if we wanted, and creating a little garden in a bottle.

Now we have to come back in a year to see how much they grew, don’t we?

The secret garden party

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