The omniscient narrator of The Secret Garden begins by enumerating the many defects of Mary Lennox, the ten-year-old girl who is the novel's protagonist. Mary is ugly, with skin made yellow by constant illness. At the outset of the novel, she is living in India with her parents, who have neither time nor affection for her. Her mother, who had never wanted a child at all, has entrusted Mary to the care of a number of Indian servants, whose only instructions are to keep the unloved child out of her mother's sight. Mrs. Lennox is described as a famously beautiful, elegant woman, who does nothing but attend fashionable parties. Though everyone is acquainted with and admires Mrs. Lennox, nearly no one knows that she has a little girl, so totally is the embarrassingly ugly child kept from public view. As the servants are obliged to give Mary whatever she wants (lest her parents be disturbed by her crying), Mary becomes terribly spoiled, selfish, and dictatorial. She loves no one, and no one cares at all for her. This already unhappy state of affairs is made worse when a cholera epidemic breaks out in the Indian village where the Lennoxes are living. The family does not manage to flee in time to escape the epidemic because Mary's mother, in the spirit of thoughtless egotism that is typical of her, has insisted upon staying to attend a dinner party. On the morning that the cholera finally strikes the Lennox bungalow, Mary's Ayah (the Indian woman who serves as her nanny) does not come to tend to her. Left utterly unsupervised, Mary wanders into the garden and begins to play by herself beneath a tree. There, she overhears a conversation between her mother and a British officer, after which the events of the morning are explained to her. The fact that her Ayah has died of the cholera does not bother Mary at all, as she did not love her nanny or anyone else.
The household is seized by terror and confusion, and in the ensuing chaos Mary is completely forgotten.... [continua]
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