Now that I’m done with it, I’m pretty sure that I’ve read The Secret Garden before. Dang. Oh well, it was a timely choice, considering the season. The book wasn’t on my To Read list, but it’s been a while since a trip to the library and it’s what I had on-hand.
The Secret Garden is a nice book for younger readers looking to get a start in classic literature. The metaphors are fairly simple (the most obvious being growth, life, and regeneration) and the prose is actually quite good. Every now and then I caught a small part of me—a VERY small part of me, VERY deep inside, mind you—wishing, as Mary does, for “a bit of earth.” I found the Yorkshire accents charming and the addition of the Pan-type Dickon is an elegant classical nod.
The character that I found most interesting this time around was that of Archibald Craven, master of Misselthwaite. I wish that Burnett had explored deeper into his character—it could have provided an ancillary complexity much appreciated by more mature readers. The range of emotions that Mr. Craven represents is tremendous. True love. Despair. Madness. Isolation. Recovered joy. The man’s last name is a heavy-handed and perpetual reminder of his fatal flaw: cowardice. The problem with Archibald Craven’s backbone is not that it is hunched or crooked: the problem with Archibald Craven’s backbone is that it is non-existent. He has no spine. Mr. Craven is afraid to face the world without the woman he loves, afraid to experience that same familial love with his son for fear that he might experience that same soul-wrenching grief at Colin’s “inevitable” death. He is not an unloving father; he is simply ruled by fear, and subjection to that master leaves Mr. Craven in a never-ending state of depression.
That is a powerful and familiar tableau.
Additionally, I would like to have seen the redemption of Mr. Archibald Craven. I would have like to see him face his fear in a much more deliberate and methodical way, rather than ambiguously following a “dream” to the garden and unceremoniously stumbling upon the children at play.
I would like to have seen the craven transformed into the king’s son, as in “Opportunity,” by Edward R. Sill:
This I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream:
There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;
And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged
A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords
Shocked upon swords and shields. A prince’s banner
Wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.
A craven hung along the battle’s edge,
And thought, “Had I a sword of keener steel —
That blue blade that the king’s son bears — but this
Blunt thing—!” He snapped and flung it from his hand,
And lowering crept away and left the field.
Then came the king’s son, wounded, sore bestead,
And weaponless, and saw the broken sword,
Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,
And ran and snatched it, and with battle-shout
Lifted afresh, he hewed his enemy down,
And saved a great cause that heroic day.
In every age, there are great causes to be saved. I believe the Archibald Cravens of the world have the power to rise up and hew their enemies down in courage and valor.