Between Misselthwaite Manor and The “Wild, Dreary” Moor: Children and Enclosures in The Secret Garden

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Kathryn DiGiulio


In this article, I focus on the distinct ways that child characters interpret, negotiate, and interact with space in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Spatial analysis, rarely used in the field of children’s literature, emerges as the focal point of my reading of The Secret Garden. Key spaces, such as the secret garden and Archibald Craven’s manor, embed different meanings and experiences for the main character, Mary Lennox. I argue that her negotiation of these spaces ultimately strengthens her agency and addresses her liminal identity. In children’s literature, the dichotomy between nature and culture is typically emphasized to associate the connection of child characters and bucolic settings. In Burnett’s narrative, I reveal that the children are similarly alienated from fully natural and civilized spaces. In fact, their moral and personal development does not result from full immersion in nature. Rather, spaces that have both natural and cultural elements allow characters like Mary to exert their own agency and experience personal growth. As the secret garden exists between the wild moor and English manor, its connection to both nature and culture construct the garden as a liminal space. Ironically, Mary is most intimately associated with the garden; I understand her liminal identity through the garden’s spatiality.

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