"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Effects of the Garden on the Protagonists’ States of Mind

Akademische Arbeit, 2021

14 Seiten


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Framework
2.1 Childhood
2.2 Children’s Literature
2.3 Literature in the Epoch of Romanticism
2.4 Garden Motif in the Literature

3 Analysis
3.1 Healing and Development
3.2 A Secret Mysterious Haven
3.3 Friendship and Bonding

4 Conclusion

Works Cited

1 Introduction

God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.

(Francis Bacon1 1625)

The preceding statement of Francis Bacon apparently represents a simple and self-evident fact: a garden that existed in the beginning is now the creative force of life. Life and nature are at the centre of action. Even today, the garden motif is steadily present in the literature, and it also finds a high value in children’s literature. A prime example of a book in children’s literature is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which was first published in 1911; it has been reissued on every occasion up until today. As the title suggests, the garden plays a central role in the book and seems to bring with it a mysterious aspect. The present term paper focuses on this very garden and explains how it influences the protagonists Mary Lennox and Colin Craven. The motifs and effects of the garden are consequently elaborated, which leads to the following research question:

To what extent does the “ secret garden” influence Mary Lennox and her cousin Colin Craven and what effects does this have on their states of mind?

In order to answer this question, the first step is to explore the life phase of childhood, the general meaning of this stage of life and describe the instances that the protagonists experience. As a second step, reference is made to children’s literature itself and the implied term is defined. In a third step, an important epoch for children’s literature is thoroughly analysed that is the Romantic era. The final step of the theoretical framework involves an examination of the garden motif in the literature at large. The work The Secret Garden is eventually consulted and analysed. For this purpose, several sub-points are investigated in more detail, namely: healing and development, a secret mysterious haven as well as friendship and bonding. As a last step, the results of the analysis are summarised to revisit and ultimately answer the research question of this thesis.

2 Theoretical Framework

2.1 Childhood

John Rowe Townsend (1990: 3) once said: “Before there could be children’s books, there had to be children”. However, this statement raises a key question about the specific factors that make children, or rather childhood, special in the first place. The period of childhood cannot be easily defined. In fact, “childhood changes from place to place, from time to time” (Hunt 1999: 4). Childhood is generally the most crucial stage in a person’s life. It is also a period when the capacity for emotional feeling develops, bonds are formed and the surrounding world is explored. Furthermore, “[children] … [omission in original] have no use for psychology. They detest sociology. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation and other such obsolete stuff” (Singer 1978 as cited in Jenks 1996: 56). Children are still much more unprejudiced and inexperienced in their views and ideas of life. Above all, children are certainly unable to deal with complex topics for which adults have much greater affinity and they are instead interested in deselected patterns. However, what children know, learn and experience in their childhood similarly results to a large extent from the goals that adults pursue, as adults inevitably, have a strong influence on children (cf. Botelho/Rudman 2009: 18). Evidently, “[we] know that there is a connection between the idea of childhood and the idea of family” (Ariès 1973 as cited in Lesnik-Oberstein 1994: 11). Consequently, an individual’s childhood clearly depends on how the environment affects and provides for the child.

2.2 Children’s Literature

Children’s literature can be described as a genre written “expressly for children who are recognizably children, with a childhood recognizable today” (Hunt 1991 as cited in Grenby 2008: 3). In addition, children’s literature is “literature which has been published for – or mainly for – children and young people” (Reiss 1982 as cited in Lathey 2006: 17). The purpose of the implied type of book is often to convey educational values, as such book type “ is intended to mediate norms, paradigms and images of society” (Eberhardt 2018: 82). Children’s literature is ambiguous in character. On the one hand, it belongs to the literary system and on the other hand, it belongs to the social-pedagogical system. In other words, the intent of children’s literature is not only for pure entertainment or literary comprehension, but also for socialization and contemplation of life (cf. Puurtinen 1995: 17). Many writings addressed to children begin with the author’s explanation of the precise intentions of the book (cf. Lesnik-Oberstein 1994: 6). However, the most astonishing and simultaneously problematic matter about the entirety is the fact that the writers solely base their statements on faith and belief, not at all on their knowledge (ibid.: 7). In introducing the term “childness” of children’s texts, Peter Hollindale also mentions: “the quality of being a child - dynamic, imaginative, experimental, interactive and unstable” (Hollindale 1997 as cited in Lathey 2006: 9). The ability to write children’s literature in the first instance, requires the capacity to put oneself in the mind and imagination of young people. Both the linguistic and the figurative or content-related mode of expression must be adapted to the child’s position (cf. Lathey 2006: 9). “When a book is boring, [children] yawn openly. They don’t expect their writer to redeem humanity, but leave to adults such childish illusions” (Singer 1978 as cited in Jenks 1996: 56). As briefly discussed in the previous chapter, children are not yet intensively shaped by the experiences and impressions of their environment, which makes them a much more selective audience who do not hold the sometimes entrenched views of adults, let alone know how to deal with them.

Comparable to any other type of literature, children’s books can be categorised into different genres. For instance, similar to adult literature, children’s books offer a wide range of different themes and various types of writing. Just as in older age, children can decide in their early years the specific genre that they find interesting or their parents can also weigh up those works that are most suitable for an individual situation. Most of the genres known from adult literature can also be found in children’s literature. Roughly speaking, a distinction can be made between the two categories of fictional and non-fictional books (cf. Root, n.d.). Grenby (2008: 166) emphasises that no children’s book ever completely originates from the world of fantasy, but that fanciful and realistic elements are combined. Fantasy is often used to coat the actual reality. Furthermore, “[the] process of self-discovery, and questions about how identity remains fixed despite external change, are central to much good fantasy writing” (Grenby 2008: 166).

2.3 Literature in the Epoch of Romanticism

Every book, including every children’s book, must be considered and reflected upon the historical context of its time. In particular, the epoch of Romanticism is relevant for the subsequent analysis because this period of history precisely holds the pure focus of nature as a whole as well as in interaction with man. No other epoch exhibits such a strong fascination with and devotion to childhood as Romanticism does.

Romanticism began at the end of the 18th century. The so-called “Big Six”, the most important and influential Romantics of their time, are particularly highlighted in the aforementioned epoch. They include William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Tyler Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and George Gordon Lord Byron (cf. Reinfandt 2012: 46). All contemporary history sections can be defined by certain attributes:

Among the characteristic attitudes of Romanticism were the following: a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect; a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities; a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general and a focus on his or her passions and inner struggles; […] an emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth (Romanticism n.d.).

In contrast to antiquated opinions of recent decades, children’s books should appeal to power and perception. A certain amount of creativity as well as self-knowledge similarly emerged. Even adults were to be addressed by children’s literature and released from their fears to rediscover their own, possibly lost or repressed childhood (cf. McGavran 2009). An important milestone was set in the Romantic era’s image of childhood and children’s literature by having recourse to William Wordsworth his ode “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”2 and his autobiographical narrative “The Prelude”3 as well as the associated recourse to the concept of “the child of nature”4 introduced earlier by Jean-Jacques Rousseau5. Additionally, Wordsworth emphasised the beauty of nature and created distance to industrialisation. A romantic is characterised by the advocacy of the simple, nature-loving life over the urban and industrial shaped image (cf. Scott 2005: 762).

2.4 Garden Motif in the Literature

As mentioned in the previous section, the influence of nature is highly significant during the Romantic era. Therefore, the extent to which the theme of nature, particularly the motif of a garden, is reflected in the literature, as well as the portrayal of the garden are explained in this section.

A garden is considered as a safe and homely place, a spot that offers access to creative nature. It is also “an everyday place, part of our common landscape touched and formed by human hands” (Francis 1992: 6). In the literature, a garden is often presented as a sanctuary that provides support and security (ibid.: 38). Furthermore, gardening can bring people closer to nature and help reflect on themselves and their ado. Everyday life can be abandoned and the garden signifies a basic driving force for leaving the daily sphere. Through a bond with nature, protagonists often escape into another world, thereby allowing them to reflect on their lives and philosophise about their existence (ibid.: 6). Moreover, the symbol of the garden represents the true image of the romantic imagination; one’s own perceptions are stimulated in nature, and overall, the garden merely offers the mental image of pure nature (refer to page 4).

3 Analysis

The examination of the effects of the garden on the protagonist Mary Lennox and her cousin Colin Craven requires the analysis of the motif of the “secret garden” in the entire plot of the book. For this reason, the basic features of the garden in Burnett’s novel are thus discussed in this section.


1 English philosopher, jurist and statesman

2 Published in Poems in Two Volumes in 1807, otherwise known as “Immortality Ode” or “Great Ode”.

3 Wordsworth commenced the work in 1798 and worked on it throughout his life until the final version was published three months after his death in 1850.

4 “A morally neutral and peaceful condition in which (mainly) solitary individuals act according to their basic urges as well as their natural desire for self-preservation” (Munro, n.d.).

5 Geneva-born philosopher and novelist

Ende der Leseprobe aus 14 Seiten


"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Effects of the Garden on the Protagonists’ States of Mind
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secret, garden, frances, hodgson, burnett, effects, protagonists’, states, mind
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Sarah Urban (Autor:in), 2021, "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Effects of the Garden on the Protagonists’ States of Mind, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1112997


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