LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

English Moors and Magic Gardens: The Importance of Place in The Secret Garden

sg1Two of the books we have read recently, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Five Children and It, are both lesser-known works today, especially when compared to some of the other novels we have read this semester. While the character of Peter Pan is well known, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was overshadowed by the more popular Peter and Wendy. While Five Children and It has endured as a classic in England, it is recognized far less in the U.S. While there are certainly several reasons for the lower status of both of these books, one reason that has been suggested by several people in the class is the specificity of the place or the culture in which the books are set. Peter Pan takes place in Kensington Gardens, a distinct landmark that would have been unfamiliar to American readers. Likewise, Five Children and It is grounded in British country life and a culture that may have seemed strange to American children.

Upon learning from the group presentation on Tuesday that The Secret Garden faded in popularity after its initial publication, I immediately wondered if the same problem of location could be at fault in this case. After all, the book seems to be tied closely to its English setting. Most significant are the frequent descriptions of the remarkable landscape of the moor. The moor is so present in the story that reviewer R. A. Whay remarked that “it might be the moor, the Yorkshire moor…that is to be accepted as the protagonist” (Whay 269). American readers were likely not familiar with this landscape or the “cool and warm and sweet” (Burnett 108) wind off of the moor that has such a powerful effect on Mary and Colin.

sg2After reading Anne Lundin’s essay on the reception of the book, however, it does not seem that the specific setting of the story had any significant effect on its popularity or lack thereof. This led me to wonder why the specificity of the location did not have the negative effect on The Secret Garden that it had on other books, and I think that the answer lies in the garden itself. The secret garden is a hidden, magical sort of place that is disconnected from the rest of the gardens and from Misselthwaite Manor. The garden is not tied to a specific time or place, and when Mary, Dickon, and Colin are in the garden it is as if they have left the outside world and entered an entirely separate place. The garden exists as an equivalent to Wonderland or Neverland, a mystical world into which all readers can imagine themselves. The “mythic imagery of a restored garden, of something submerged awaiting discovery” (Lundin 287) can appeal to everyone, thus outweighing any negative effect that the specific location may have.

All quotes from:
Burnett, Frances H, and Gretchen Gerzina. The Secret Garden: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Burnett in the Press, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. Print.

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The Secret Garden: A Tale of Healing

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is a children’s classic that has charmed both children and adults alike since the date of its publishing in 1909. Throughout the work, Burnett illustrates the link between location and health or well being. Mary Lennox, the novel’s protagonist, travels from the far away land of India where her parents perished due to a cholera outbreak. In the novel’s beginnings, taking place in India, it is noted that Mary is quite an ugly child with her skin having an almost yellow tint and thin hair. It is also noted that she possesses a poor demeanor. She is waited on hand and foot while in India due to distinct class differences between herself and her servants, therefore, she never quite received any discipline. With her parents’ constant absence from her life, in addition to their deaths, she experiences an atmosphere of trauma, neglect, and bitterness in India. Throughout the work, India is associated with a negative state of being

During her stay in England, her servant Martha and grounds keeper Ben treat Mary kindly. Through these figures, Mary is disciplined and discovers the transforming abilities of Mother Nature. In her isolation, for she was unaware of any other children at the manor, she learns about plants and gardens, and much like the plants she grows in her secret garden, she grows into a more pleasant individual with a kind heart. She realizes the healing nature of her outdoor activities, and soon encourages her sickly cousin Colin, who is bedridden and bitter, to venture outside just to see the plants growing and the birds singing. In their encounters with Dickon, Martha’s younger brother who is gifted with a closeness to nature, Colin and Mary learn how to be children free from bitterness and full of wonder. Throughout the work, England, especially its moors, are associated with a hearty well being. Though Colin has been living in England all his life, he is deprived of the outdoors and therefore, deprived of a normal and healthy childhood. Through Mary, he is healed and soon stands on his own two feet after being sentenced to a wheelchair for many years.

Mary, Colin, and Dickon in the Secret Garden.

Mary, Colin, and Dickon in the Secret Garden.

The Secret Garden is a story of healing, with both the protagonist Mary and her cousin Colin experiencing a great change due to an exposure to fresh air and nature. Throughout the work, location is key to the characters’ health, with India and the indoors being associated with sickness and England as encouraging to one’s health and well being. This dichotomy is clearly seen in Mary Lennox’s 180 degree transformation from yellow, thin, and sour to pink, fat, and jolly.

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“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”


Earlier this week in class, we discussed the possibility of Oz as a sort of utopian society. But is it just a ruse? Of course there is evidence that it is indeed a utopia: the “Wizard” of Oz is thought to be a wise and all-powerful leader that the people love and respect; the city is majestic with its bright, blinding color; it is an island unto itself, as it is separated from all the other parts of the land in its uniqueness. And yet there is evidence that it could be false, that the people are just looking at their world through emerald-colored glasses (quite literally). The people may be happy, but the wizard is not a wizard and lies to the people about his true identity. He is the leader/king, but as a general rule never holds audience with anyone who has an issue: “‘Oh, he will see you,” said the soldier…‘although he does not like to have people ask to see him…” [Baum 56]. He calls himself the “Great and Terrible”, which is quite contradictory in that he wishes to be both revered and feared—quite effective in squelching any opposition. Thus, it begins to sound more like a dictatorship than an actual utopia.


The Wizard looks after the people, but makes no effort to socialize with them (“‘Have you seen Oz?’/ ‘Oh, no,’ returned the soldier; ‘I have never seen him. But I spoke to him as he sat behind his screen and gave him your message’”) [Baum 54]. The gates are locked and guarded, though the city seems friendly. Is it a utopia then or just a prison of supposed happiness? This then begs the question of what it being kept out—or in. Is it for the Wicked Witches of the East (and the late West)? Though the Wizard may seem a friendly dictator, if such a thing is possible, he does not seem to have any qualms asking a little girl to kill a witch in order to grant her wish to go home. Surely a clever man such as himself, even if he didn’t have magic, could find a way to kill the witch if there were any major danger to the city. In this sense he acts more cowardly than the Cowardly Lion. Therefore, it is my belief that though Oz has some utopian-like qualities, there is something amiss behind the curtain.

Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. N.p.: Duke Classics, 2012. EPUB.

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W. W. Denslow and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

William Wallace Denslow was an American illustrator and cartoonist who is today best known for his children’s illustrations, particularly his illustrations for L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

oz 1Denslow was born in Philadelphia on May 25, 1856. He studied briefly as a teenager at the National Academy of Design and the Cooper Union Institute, both in New York, but he was largely self-taught as an artist. His earliest works appeared in magazines such as Hearth and Home and the children’s magazine St. Nicholas. In the late 1870s and early 1880s he traveled around the United States working as an artist and newspaper reporter. In 1888 he began working at the Chicago Herald, but he lost the job as a result of his heavy drinking. He then lived in Denver and San Francisco before returning to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, after which he remained in the city. He worked as a poster artist as well as designing books and bookplates, and he became the first professional artist employed by the Chicago-based Roycroft Press.

Denslow was a well-respected artist, but he did not gain widespread popularity until working with Baum on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The pair had first worked together on Baum’s Father Goose: His Book in 1899. Baum and Denslow jointly held the copyrights for the works on which they collaborated, but they argued over royalty shares from the 1902 stage version of The Wizard of Oz, for which Baum wrote the script and Denslow designed the sets and costumes. After this argument, Baum refused to work with Denslow on any further projects.

oz 2Denslow moved to New York in 1899 and continued illustrating books and working on comic strips, including comics that featured characters from his collaborations with Baum (but without Baum’s permission). He also created Billy Bounce, one of the earliest comic strips to feature a protagonist with superpowers. Using the royalties from both the print and stage versions of Oz, Denslow purchased an island off the coast of Bermuda and crowned himself King Denslow I. However, in the early years of the new century, Denslow began drinking heavily and had difficulty finding stable employment, working as a designer for various advertising agencies. He died in New York on March 29, 1915, of pneumonia that he caught after getting drunk while celebrating the sale of a full-color cover to Life magazine.

oz 3


Denslow’s Oz illustrations consist of 24 full color plates and numerous monochromatic illustrations in which the color mirrors the location of the story, such as the green coloring of the Emerald City illustrations or the blue of those set in Munchkin land. The Oz books have been illustrated by a variety of artists since Denslow. The first to follow Denslow was John R. Neill, who illustrated the remaining books by Baum in the series. Subsequent illustrators have remained closer to Neill’s illustrations than to Denslow’s, up until the work of Donald Abbott, whose illustrations from the 1990s have revived interest in Denslow’s classic illustrations.


Sources: (all images from this site)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can be viewed in full here.
Several of Denslow’s other works can be viewed in the Baldwin’s digital collection.

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John Tenniel and the World of Alice in Wonderland

giant aliceLewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has inspired vast numbers of illustrations over the years. Illustrations by various artists, such as Peter Newell and Arthur Rackham, can be seen in the essay we read for this week by Roni Natov. Also featured among these images are illustrations by John Tenniel, who worked closely with Carroll and whose illustrations accompanied the novel upon its original publication .

alice and queen



John Tenniel was born in London in February 1820. He studied at the Royal Academy, but as an illustrator and cartoonist he was primarily self-taught. He exhibited (and sold) a painting at the Society of British Artists at the age of 16, and he later exhibited at the Royal Academy as well. He worked on illustrations for several books, including Thomas James’s Aesop’s Fables and Charles Dickens’s The Haunted Man. Tenniel is also well-known for his cartoon work for Punch, a Victorian humor magazine begun in 1841. He contributed many illustrations to the magazine, becoming chief artist in 1846 and keeping the position until his retirement in 1901. In 1864, Tenniel agreed to work with Carroll on the illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, creating 42 wood engravings to accompany the story. Tenniel was knighted in 1893, and he died nine years later in February 1914.

white rabbitTenniel’s illustrations provide a detailed mirror of the events in Carroll’s text. The first illustration of the story, depicting the White Rabbit, helps to ease the reader into Alice’s fantasy world as seamlessly as Carroll accomplishes this transition in the text. In the story, Alice notices a “white rabbit with pink eyes” who becomes remarkable not when he speaks but when he takes a watch from his waistcoat-pocket. Tenniel’s illustration likewise combines elements of the natural and familiar to create a new and unusual scene. The rabbit is depicted naturalistically and is placed in a realistic field of grass and dandelions. His clothes and pocket-watch are familiar objects as well. However, the combination of these elements, in addition to his upright posture and human hands (a feature shared by many of the animals in the illustrations), creates something unexpected and signals the entrance into a world of fantasy. As the story continues, Tenniel’s illustrations capture the nonsense and peculiarity of the world that Alice travels through, reflecting Carroll’s story and creating an enduring appeal for readers today.

For more information on John Tenniel and his work, visit the links on this page.
For a gallery of all the Alice illustrations, visit this page.

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Arthur Hughes and The Princess and the Goblin

Figure 1

Figure 1


As an Art History major, I am always drawn to the illustrations in books at least as much as the stories themselves. So, naturally, I was intrigued by the Arthur Hughes illustrations in my copy of The Princess and the Goblin, and I was curious to learn more about this artist.

Figure 2

Figure 2







Arthur Hughes was born in London on January 27th, 1832. He began studying art in 1846 at Somerset House, and shortly after he entered the Royal Academy where he became friends with some of the leaders of a group known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is known for their use of intense colors and extremely precise attention to detail as well as their frequent portrayal of historical subjects, especially those drawn from medieval times and Arthurian legend. Hughes’s paintings, such as one of his best-known works April Love, clearly demonstrate the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, and he remains closely associated with them today, although he was not an official member of the Brotherhood.

Figure 3

Figure 3

In addition to his paintings, Hughes is also known for his numerous book illustrations, such as those that appear in The Princess and the Goblin. In fact, he frequently collaborated with George MacDonald, contributing illustrations that appeared alongside MacDonald’s stories in the journal Good Words for the Young. These illustrations, like his paintings, demonstrate a Pre-Raphaelite influence that can be seen, for example, in the beautiful and idealized depiction of Irene’s great-grandmother (fig. 1) and in the cheerful springtime setting of the illustration of Irene on a hillside among flowers and lambs (fig. 2). Also notable in his illustrations is the tight focus that brings the viewer directly into the action of the scene and the moment of the story, as seen in figures 3 and 4.

Figure 4

Figure 4


Hughes died in London on December 22nd, 1915, leaving behind numerous paintings and illustrations such as those that still enrich The Princess and the Goblin today.

Arthur Hughes on The Victorian Web (see also link “Hughes as an Illustrator”)
Arthur Hughes on Wikipedia
Pre-Raphaelites on Wikipedia
Hilton, Tom. The Pre-Raphaelites. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd., 1970.
Illustrations: Macdonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. New York: Puffin Books, 1996.

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