Thursday, 1 July 2010

Character Connection – Mary Lennox

character connection Character Connection is hosted by IntrovertedJen over at The Introverted Reader every Thursday.

We all have characters we love. Let's spotlight these fantastic creations! Whether you want to be friends with them or you have a full-blown crush on them, you know you love them and want everyone else to love them too!

Today my character is Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. (Spoilers ahead, beware!)

What I love so much about Mary as a character is that she evolves, she changes from a troubled young girl, to a mature and kind young person. Characters who change for the better have always interested me as a reader, because I think it shows that you can improve upon yourself.

Someone like Mary, who at first came across as a surly, selfish individual shows that you have to look a bit further and see that there might be a really good, kind person underneath. Mary discovered friendship and what it is to be a human – to have feelings and to be loved. When she found The Secret Garden she wanted to bring it back to life, to make it grow.

Martha, the maid showed her kindness and treated her like a child – she discovered friendship with Martha’s brother Dickon and learnt about wildlife and nature. She even befriended the rather grump gardener.

And then she met her cousin Colin, an invalid who abandoned my his father when his mother died, has been brought up bed ridden and alone, without companionship of anyone his age – until Mary discovers him. By the time Mary finds Colin, Mary has already undergone slight transformations of her own. She understands Colin – probably better then he does. She is the only one stubborn enough not to put up with his invalidism and eventually persuades him that he can get out of bed and go outside.

Through Mary, Colin also finds friendship and a new sense of life and living. Through Mary an overgrown, abandoned garden once again finds life to grow – through Mary a lot changes at Misselthwaite Manor. Through Mary – a father learns not to be afraid of love again and comes home to stay. Misselthwaite is no longer a grey, abandoned building with a wailing child and tangled garden.

It’s rather a simple story about inner change, symbolised through the revival of a long forgotten garden – but I think the changes that happen to each of the characters – Mary, Colin and Colin’s father are incredibly significant and powerful. There’s a strong moral message that runs throughout the story – the healing power of love and acceptance that the author Frances Hodgson Burnett weaves into the story without making it sickly sweet, or hammering her morals into the reader in a way that could be patronising.

I love Mary’s character because of her personal growth. I also, as I have mentioned in my earlier character connection blog posts – would love to know what happened to her afterwards? I think they made a film of an imagined sequel but I have never seen it – or interested to. It’s so much more fun imagining for myself what will happen afterwards.

Will she maintain her friendship with Dickon as she grows up into a young lady? I would imagine her uncle would treat her equally as a child of his own and she would become quite a wealthy young woman so it might be difficult maintaining that kind of friendship. It is a romantic thought to think that social class differences wouldn’t matter. They would travel in different circles and different things would be expected of them. They might remain on good friendly terms, maybe even keeping in contact with each other – but not as close friends beyond childhood.

She might be sent to a school – so might Colin. Would they be sent to boarding school? I think not – Colin’s father wouldn’t be so eager to send them away from him so soon. Would they remain at Misselthwaite however? Maybe the garden was an important part of their childhood, their lives and their healing process – but after a while it would have served its purpose and as children they would have moved on to different paths.

Colin and Mary would remain close friends and travel in the same circles. I don’t think they would ever be more then friends – I can’t remember if it was just in the 1993 film that it was suggested that Colin wanted more then friendship – but personally if this was the case they were only children and things rarely stay the same from when you are ten to when you are an adult. I wonder if they would eventually fall out – I imagine Mary would still maintain a slightly stubborn streak and they both might want to go in different directions.

Colin I imagine would want to travel – being stuck in bed for so long would give anyone the desire to see the world you missed for a good part of your childhood. Mary I’m not so sure what she would do to be honest – maybe should would rather stay at Misselthwaite manor. Maybe Colin would marry but wouldn’t want to go back there.  Perhaps Mary would become it’s mistress after a time, or maybe she would move elsewhere and the old house would be closed up as it doesn’t really seem like the kind of place for a young lady to live – she would never meet anyone else. Plus old country houses in England were becoming less popular and too expensive to run – they weren’t quite so fashionable as they were in the past.

I do not think Mary will become on of those frivolous young ladies who only care about society and all that – her parents were forever going to parties and balls and I think she would not want to lead that kind of careless life. Not that she wouldn’t enjoy them, I think they would not become the main focus of her life. If she has children she will love them and care for them – one would hope that your own experiences would teach you to be different with your own children. Not always but in Mary’s case I think she would.

Of course – The Secret Garden was published in 1910/11 so by the time Mary is about fourteen the first world war would start and eighteen when it ends. How old was Dickon by that time he might have been old enough to enlist. Perhaps Dickon would become a world war one casualty – or if he survives a damaged war hero. Many of Misselthwaite’s other serving staff would have also left to join the war or to do other war work so things would have changed for Mary quite quickly.

By the second world war Mary would be 38 – what would she be like then? Would she have a husband in the war – maybe even a son just old enough to go into the war if she married and had children early. What of her life then? It must have been hard for people during those times, who were old enough to remember both wars – to live through one during your youth, perhaps losing brothers to it – and then see your own children become part of the second one.

Misselthwaite might have been requisitioned by the army during the second world war – it would have been transformed into a completely different place. If she was still living there she would have had to move out or at least into a different wing maybe. Would she still be tending her garden? Would she be able to boss the old colonel around like her old Ayah?

According to Wikipedia:

The final blow for many country houses came following World War II; having been requisitioned during the war, they were returned to the owners in poor repair. Many of whom having lost their heirs, if not in the immediately preceding war then in World War I, were now paying far higher rates of tax, and agricultural incomes from the accompanying estates had dropped. Thus, the solution appeared to be to hold contents auctions and then demolish the house and sell its stone, fireplaces, and panelling. And this is exactly what happened to many of Britain's finest houses. – Wiki

It is a terrible thought to think of all the beautiful country houses England must have lost during this time. Of course, now we look back and see them as relics of history – back then they were seen as more functional and family based rather then historic interest – perhaps. Was Misselthwaite to suffer this ending? It would be sad to think so. Maybe Misselthwaite, being in the middle of practically nowhere though, would not be wanted by the army. Who knows. When Burnett wrote The Secret Garden the first world war had not yet started, such dark shadows would never have crossed Burnett’s mind whilst writing the book. In her imagination, maybe they all lived happily ever after.


  1. such a detailed description! great post! i love the book and the character, i read it a long time ago and it was great to refresh my memory :)

  2. Interesting character analysis! I loved the Secret Garden movie and HAVEN'T read the book yet. :/ I'd love to watch the 'imagined' sequel too. Gotta find the DVD.

    Would Misselthwaite Manor be based on any real building by any chance?

  3. I love Mary Lennox - I always did. My very very favorite moment was when she went down to shout at Colin and told him it was nothing but hysterics hysterics hysterics. Bless her.

    I never thought about Misselthwaite's eventual fate! I hate the idea that it might not have survived forever!

  4. Can you believe I've never read The Secret Garden? I know I'm bad. I do have an old copy here that I just haven't gotten to yet.

  5. That's shocking JG, shocking! But then I only really read it just over a year ago. I did start it as a child but I don't think I actually finished it.

    It's a beautiful, magnificent, splendiforous book!

  6. +JMJ+

    I think Mary Lennox is wonderful. =) She's kind of the opposite of Sara Crewe, isn't she?

    Oh, your speculations on the possible future of Misselthwaite Manor make me sad. =( I never thought about what would have happened to it, much less that its later years would be that dark. The book's own ending was so optimistic and wonderful that we can imagine they'd always be that way, can't we?

    Fiona, I hope you don't mind my plugging my own meme here, but I do something called Locus Focus every Saturday, which is like Character Connection for settings. Next week will be a themed challenge for Houses. If you have other thoughts on literary houses that are as good as this one, I hope you'll consider joining. =) Thanks!



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