The Secret Garden | Study Guide

Frances Hodgson Burnett

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The Secret Garden | Chapter 12 : "Might I Have a Bit of Earth?" | Summary



Mary tells Martha about meeting Dickon. Martha suggests Mary ask Ben Weatherstaff for a spot to garden. Mrs. Medlock arrives and tells Mary Mr. Craven wants to see her. He has decided to meet her after encountering Martha's mother, Mrs. Sowerby, while out walking; she asked to speak with him about Mary.

Mary's anxiety about Mr. Craven turns her into "a stiff, plain, silent child again." When she meets him in his study, Craven asks how she is doing and she replies with short answers. He informs her he had forgotten her; he had meant to get her a governess or nurse, but it slipped his mind. Mary says she prefers having neither and wants play outdoors. Craven tells her she can do what she wants, and that playing outdoors is exactly what Mrs. Sowerby had recommended. Encouraged, Mary asks if she could have a bit of earth to garden. They discuss gardens, and he tells her she can have as much earth as she wants and should "make it come alive." Craven tells Mary she reminds him of someone else "who loved the earth and things that grow." He also tells her he will be gone all summer.

Craven instructs Mrs. Medlock to let Mary "run wild in the garden," saying she "needs liberty and fresh air and romping about" as Mrs. Sowerby recommended. He says Mrs. Sowerby will come to check on Mary and Mary can visit her in her cottage. Pleased that she will not need to "'look after' Mary too much," Mrs. Medlock concurs that Mrs. Sowerby is extremely qualified in all matters to do with children and is sensible and health conscious. An excited Mary shares this news with Martha before commenting on how nice, but miserable-looking, Mr. Craven is. She then runs to the garden to talk to Dickon, but he has already left. He has pinned a note for her on a rose bush with a picture of a bird sitting on a nest and the words "I will cum bak."


Mary's first encounter with Mr. Craven goes much better than she expected. He expresses concern about Mary and her welfare and grants her wish for a space to garden. He agrees that she should be allowed to play out of doors unencumbered by a governess or a nurse. While he recognizes her need for fresh air and the liberty to play, he does not mention anything about human interaction, other than occasional visits with Mrs. Sowerby. He will be gone for the summer, so this is not something he can provide, even if he were willing.

Mary has a positive opinion of him but notices his sadness. The fact that she reminds him of his dead wife foreshadows the possibility that Mary will spark something in him to restore, in part, what he has lost since his wife's death. Mary herself has recently suffered the loss of her parents, even if she does not express sorrow about it openly, creating a parallel between her and her uncle. Both are people in need of healing from deep loss. Their meeting may also serve as a turning point: Mary's uncle is able to understand what Mary asks and grant it to her. Mary is able to sense Mr. Craven's sadness, showing the growth in her capacity for empathy.

Mary also feels very much supported by Martha's mother, a person she has never met but who is advocating for her. She has the approval of both Mr. Craven and Mrs. Medlock, even though she is not a trained governess or educator. Mrs. Sowerby has crossed class boundaries by speaking openly to Mr. Craven in order to make suggestions about Mary's care. Although Mrs. Sowerby is not his servant, she is a member of the lower class. It is not the custom for someone in her social position to speak so openly to an aristocrat and advise them what to do. The fact that she has done so, and that he takes her advice seriously, shows how well regarded she is in the community.

Dickon's note reveals his lack of education, but also how insignificant this lack is. Mary has never been schooled, but she knows her letters and can read and write. Dickon's writing is primitive and contains misspellings, but he is still an effective communicator. He uses a picture to remind Mary of his intent to keep her secret and keep her as safe as a missel thrush in its nest, demonstrating that he, too, has understand how she feels.

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