Middle English Word of the Moment

Saturday, October 11, 2008

To venture forward a few hundred years...

I was just reading Susan Higganbotham's latest entry and realised something I've never noticed before.

Lord Darnley, who married Mary Queen of Scots... was the son of the Earl of Lennox.

Now, this may not sound terribly momentous, but think about it for a moment. This means that Darnley would have been Lennox, if he had outlived his father (which he didn't). This means that, if the queen were to take the name and title of her husband on marriage (which she didn't, as she slightly outranked him) she would have been (if we blur the distinctions between surname and title for a moment).... Mary Lennox.

Did Frances Hodgson Burnett know about this? Closer examination can prove beyond doubt that this apparent coincidence was intentional, and that The Secret Garden, far from being an innocent children's story, is in fact a subversive political paper!

To start with, Colin is Mary's cousin, and there are hints in the book that he may have a romantic interest in her. Burnett played this down, but the film perceptively picked up on this and played it out more strongly. This may seem insignificant, until we remember that Darnley was Mary Stuart's first cousin! Though Darnley and Mary shared a surname, Colin and Mary Lennox are the offspring of two sisters, clearly in order for Burnett to change Colin's surname - to Craven. Remember, Darnley is often portrayed as a bully and coward, and he was apparently killed fleeing the scene of the first attempt on his life. Colin's fits of temper and childish violence take on added resonance in the light of Darnley's violent temper, particularly the murder of his wife's lover, Rizzio. Is the memory of sudden death that hovers over Misselthwaite Manor - particularly the Secret Garden itself - a foreboding of the violence that an older Colin is to visit on his rival for Mary's affections, the outsider Dickon?

Let us consider the figure of Dickon. Clearly an analogue for the Earl of Bothwell, his presence in the story offers Mary an attractive escape from the life in the highly ordered manor, from the prospect of commanding the miniature kingdom that Mary Stuart handled so badly. The character most closely associated with the Secret Garden himself, he draws both Colin and Mary into his insidious schemes and seduces them into believing the Garden a "safe" environment for indulging in innocent childhood play. His closeness to nature recalls Bothwell's renowned weakness for indulging his primal urges (see Wikipedia, I'm sure it has much to say on the subject), and Mary's fascination in exploring this world with him bodes ill for her ability to retain her independence for long. Published eight years after the death of Queen Victoria, The Secret Garden conceals dark and disturbing messages about feminine monarchy and its limitations, from the pen of a woman who appears to have believed that death and the changes that accompanied it were long overdue.

Hm. I just realised that Bothwell's surname is... Hepburn.

No. Too easy.

2 comments:

Lady D. said...

LOL Ceirseach!! I think you've been spending faaaar too much time at your desk ;-)

Ceirseach said...

Yes, well, sometimes we all need to remind ourselves that just because we can argue something more or less convincingly (with EVIDENCE!) doesn't mean it's in any way valid! Plus it's fun. :)