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ConnieAnnKirk
Posts: 5,472
Registered: ‎06-14-2007
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Race and THE SECRET GARDEN

[ Edited ]
The novel depicts racism between British citizens and the people of India that was common in the novel's setting.  Let us know your observations and comments about how Burnett handles this complicated issue here.  Does she sympathize with the people from India, or does she write as one who is as ignorant of  the issue as her characters?
 
~ConnieK


Message Edited by ConnieK on 06-30-2008 10:16 AM
~ConnieAnnKirk




[CAK's books , website.]
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Prunesquallor
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Registered: ‎07-11-2008
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Re: Race and THE SECRET GARDEN

Ah, "racism," a sensitive and complex topic indeed! It is very difficult for "modern" readers to actually fit themselves into the mindset of a different time, even if the general culture-tradition and the language are shared items. At the time "The Secret Garden" was written, military/ economic imperialism, Social Darwinism, and a robust racism were all commonly accepted features of western civilization. Our current, "learned" distaste for racism was not a popularly held view in the nineteenth century, nor even for the first 2/3rds of the 20th. Pejorative racism was the majority opinion, and even the supposedly scientific texts of the time took it for granted that the human species could be validly subdivided into "racial" groups, each with different, immutable abilities and disabilities -- usually with the "White" race, especially its western European members, being regarded as the pinnacle of creation/ evolution.

So, it should not come as a surprise that even a "child's" book like "The Secret Garden" would reflect this situation and reveal the plain reality of the English national character for this era -- profoundly racist. What is more important here, to me, is not the evidence of racism itself, but how FHB uses it, and, as I read further in the text, I'll be trying to make a personal determination concerning whether or not she herself accepted this racism (in part or whole). Was she simply a daughter of her own culture and time, just as racist as the majority; or was she trying to illustrate how the people in her story would have thought, whether or not she agreed with their conceptualizations?

At this point, having read 9 chapters only, I don't think I have enough data to form a solid opinion yet, perhaps some biographical sketches would help here? Keep in mind, that one can still be a racist without being "nasty" about it. "Racialism" is a term invented to (sort of) cover the position wherein one accepts the validity of the "race concept," but is not interested in demeaning others, not engaged in using "race" as an excuse for pejorative discrimination. Perhaps this stance, the racialist, might be applied to FHB? At any rate, so far, I do not get any hint of "race animosity" from this book or its author, and I think that FHB is merely showing us how Mary and Martha view their own world through the lenses available to their own era.
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ConnieAnnKirk
Posts: 5,472
Registered: ‎06-14-2007
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Re: Race and THE SECRET GARDEN

Welcome, Prunesquallor!
 
I'm interested in this question, too, and am watching for the same things.  There is a full-length biography of Frances available that might give some insights, if anyone is interested to look at the question from that viewpoint.
 
~ConnieK
 


Prunesquallor wrote:
Ah, "racism," a sensitive and complex topic indeed! It is very difficult for "modern" readers to actually fit themselves into the mindset of a different time, even if the general culture-tradition and the language are shared items. At the time "The Secret Garden" was written, military/ economic imperialism, Social Darwinism, and a robust racism were all commonly accepted features of western civilization. Our current, "learned" distaste for racism was not a popularly held view in the nineteenth century, nor even for the first 2/3rds of the 20th. Pejorative racism was the majority opinion, and even the supposedly scientific texts of the time took it for granted that the human species could be validly subdivided into "racial" groups, each with different, immutable abilities and disabilities -- usually with the "White" race, especially its western European members, being regarded as the pinnacle of creation/ evolution.

So, it should not come as a surprise that even a "child's" book like "The Secret Garden" would reflect this situation and reveal the plain reality of the English national character for this era -- profoundly racist. What is more important here, to me, is not the evidence of racism itself, but how FHB uses it, and, as I read further in the text, I'll be trying to make a personal determination concerning whether or not she herself accepted this racism (in part or whole). Was she simply a daughter of her own culture and time, just as racist as the majority; or was she trying to illustrate how the people in her story would have thought, whether or not she agreed with their conceptualizations?

At this point, having read 9 chapters only, I don't think I have enough data to form a solid opinion yet, perhaps some biographical sketches would help here? Keep in mind, that one can still be a racist without being "nasty" about it. "Racialism" is a term invented to (sort of) cover the position wherein one accepts the validity of the "race concept," but is not interested in demeaning others, not engaged in using "race" as an excuse for pejorative discrimination. Perhaps this stance, the racialist, might be applied to FHB? At any rate, so far, I do not get any hint of "race animosity" from this book or its author, and I think that FHB is merely showing us how Mary and Martha view their own world through the lenses available to their own era.


~ConnieAnnKirk




[CAK's books , website.]
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Peppermill
Posts: 6,768
Registered: ‎04-04-2007
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Re: Race and THE SECRET GARDEN


ConnieK wrote:
... There is a full-length biography of Frances available that might give some insights, if anyone is interested to look at the question from that viewpoint.


Here is a review in the New Statesman by A. S. Byatt.

There are also a few allusions here applicable to the question posed about the Garden of Eden parallels, if any.
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Choisya
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Registered: ‎10-26-2006
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Re: Race and THE SECRET GARDEN

[ Edited ]

There are a lot of what we would now call 'racist comments' in The Secret Garden but Burnett was only reflecting the prejudices of her time.  Martha, for instance, says she comes from india 'where there are a lot of blacks, instead of respectable white people' and Mary furiously shouts that 'Natives are not people' and says that it is because Indians are black that they don't have skipping ropes!

 

However, Mary's illness was not uncommon in English people who spent long periods in India.  The climate, without the benefit of modern drugs (or clothing) was known to kill many people, not least the soldiers in their heavy woollen uniforms who did not go up to the hills during the Monsoon.  Mosquitos gave people malaria and smallpox, cholera and typhus were common.  So the feeling the novel gives that India is an 'evil' place for English people, particularly 'the weaker sex' was true for many of those who experienced that climate. (Noel Coward's song 'Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun' was a satire on how English people did not adjust to the climate but fought it.  No siesta for the red-blooded Englishman or his wife!)   

 

Another interesting thing is that although many Victorians were racist, Queen Victoria was not and especially about Indians.  She relished being Empress of India, which she became in 1877, and learned all she could about her 'subjects' and their languages.  Her favourite servant, after John Brown, was Abdul Karim (about whom I have posted in another Bookclub).  You can see from this BBC piece that Victoria was well aware of the racism of her people and so made provision for him before she died.  

 

 


ConnieK wrote:
The novel depicts racism between British citizens and the people of India that was common in the novel's setting.  Let us know your observations and comments about how Burnett handles this complicated issue here.  Does she sympathize with the people from India, or does she write as one who is as ignorant of  the issue as her characters?
~ConnieK

Message Edited by Choisya on 07-19-2008 06:39 AM
Message Edited by Choisya on 07-19-2008 06:45 AM
Frequent Contributor
Prunesquallor
Posts: 39
Registered: ‎07-11-2008
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Re: Race and THE SECRET GARDEN

[ Edited ]
RE ConnieK's --
"Welcome, Prunesquallor!
"I'm interested in this question, too, and am watching for the same things. There is a full-length biography of Frances available that might give some insights, if anyone is interested to look at the question from that viewpoint."
 
 
Thanks for the reference, Connie! I'll have to pick up this volume soon. From a preview, it does mention that she moved to Tennesee just after the Civil War, so any "natal" racism she may have imbibed in England might possibly be re-inforced by her new environment. I found it interesting that (while she was still in England) she had read "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and reacted strongly against the treatment accorded blacks in that novel by such vicious whites as S. Legree. Eastern Tennesee was also a locality which was staunchly pro-union, and anti-slavery, so it may actually be that FHB could have gotten a good re-inforcing dose of sympathy for blacks from her sojourn in this southern state.
 
 
RE Peppermill's -- "Here is a review in the New Statesman by A. S. Byatt. There are also a few allusions here applicable to the question posed about the Garden of Eden parallels, if any."
 
Hi, Peppermill. Thanks for posting this reference as well, very informative!
Message Edited by Prunesquallor on 07-19-2008 05:20 PM
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