we all love a mysterious country

by uzwi

1890s: Frances Hodgson Burnett bought a manor house in Kent & was led by a robin into its mysterious overgrown garden. Charmed, she “executed a massive restoration project” which removed the mystery at a stroke. Later she sat down with a tame robin for company & overwrote her once-glimpsed hallows with the imaginary garden of her famous novel. A real overgrown garden would not do; but a cleaned-up one wasn’t quite right either: only an invention of her own would suffice. Now, every year, small groups of fans of The Secret Garden are encouraged to stand in the Rose Garden at Great Maytham Hall in an attempt to regain an enchantment once, twice, three times removed. This is pretty much the metaphorical trajectory of any writer’s life, across which a body of experience is suppressed, revised & sold on piecemeal. I prefer the reversal found in Elizabeth Taylor’s Angel: Angel Deverell’s fantasies, commodified fictions from the start, are uncontrollably intricated with her ambitions & are transformed over the years of bestsellerdom into a real locked garden, behind the real crumbling walls of which the reader discovers the self-immured fantasist. Kent & Sussex are full of projects like this, it seems, Victorian & Edwardian writers immured in their dream estates, each personalised sublime more or less poisoned by the innate combination of vanity, ambition & “creativity” which is popular authorship.

The secret garden meme can also be found, in a reduced contemporary form, in that fallback of UK travel journalism, “We reveal ten little-known weekend hideaways/seaside walks/holiday destinations no one will ever be able to stumble upon accidentally ever again.” What seems to count for the author here is neither the mystery nor its single-use exploitability, but to show that you know more than everyone else by being able to reveal it to them.