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The Other Secret Garden

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Frances Hodgson Burnett
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Anti-Prom 2016 was a great success. The outfits designed by the High School of Fashion Industries were beautiful interpretations of this year’s theme–Secret Garden. I was especially impressed by the way they adapted the shapes of petals and leaves into innovative skirt shapes. For the students—and perhaps some of the Anti-Prom guests—Secret Garden was simply a concept: many attendees had never read the novel of that name.  

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden (1911) was popular in its day and today. It has inspired a play, two films and, so far, 3 television mini-series.  Like the prolific author’s other famous children’s novels, Little Lord Fauntleroy and Sara Crewe, or A Little Princess, they focus on children and their noble accommodation of adversity, often through transgressing social barriers. But unlike them, or her popular adult novels, such as The Dawn of a Tomorrow, The Secret Garden is quietly revolutionary. Active involvement with nature provides the novel’s heroine, Mary Craven, opportunities for growth despite adversity. Mary is portrayed at the beginning of the novel as a pampered, but ignored child of raj British in India. Sent home to England after her parents die from a cholera epidemic, she travels to her uncle’s isolated home on the Yorkshire moors.  He is seldom there and she has a difficult period of adaption to cold, windy Yorkshire and his household staff. Without a spoiler alert, I will just say that she discovers the joys and challenges of nature, animals and, especially, active gardening. It is worth reading. There are many editions at J FIC B.

Despite the importance of nature and the outside world, it was quickly adapted for the stage – probably based on the vast popularity of the plays of her The Dawn of a Tomorrow (also filmed by Mary Pickford) and Little Lord Fauntleroy.  In 1991, it was adapted into a successful Broadway musical with scripts and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon.  The score can be found at JFD 92-16809. There is an original cast recording in the research and circulating collections (*LDC 5377 (F). There is also a sound recording of songs by Lucy Simon (JMD 11-273)

The popularity of child actress Margaret O’Brien brought on a feature film in 1949.  Find it at  VC 792.9 S . That film inspired Noel Straetfield’s YA novel Movie Shoes , also released in 1949 (J FIC S).  Part of her “Shoes” series (and with references to the Fossil sisters from Ballet Shoes), it concerns a British family living temporarily in Los Angeles. As always, there is a dancer sister and one without special abilities who succeeds in the end. In this novel, the supposedly un-talented child is discovered and cast as Mary, based on her ability with animals. The novel includes wonderful descriptions of film-making.

The HSFI Anti-Prom garments and inspiration boards will be on display in the Mid-Manhattan Library's 5th Avenue windows for a month. Check them out; but also, check out the novel that may or may not have inspired them.  

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