come to my garden, where we believe in evidence-based medicine
August 24, 2018 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Are there any versions of The Secret Garden in which Colin's physical disability is not psychosomatic?

Doing some research on a school project about disability in Victorian kidlit, and I'm wondering if there are adaptations of The Secret Garden in which Colin is not or not ONLY a victim of malicious doctors and not enough fresh air, but actually has a physical disability of some kind that isn't cured by believing he can walk or whatever. I know there's an older anime adaptation where this is the case, is there anything else? Things based on The Secret Garden that aren't direct adaptations, or things that deal with the book wrt disability critique are also welcome! Thanks in advance, fellow nerds!
posted by colorblock sock to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Take up thy bed and walk has a chapter on The Secret Garden and is all about disabilities in Victorian kidlit.
posted by halcyonday at 1:26 AM on August 25, 2018

I haven't seen any version of The Secret Garden where this isn't the case (though there is apparently a new one coming out later this year, so we'll see!) but as you might already know, this is a common theme in Victorian/Edwardian literature. My mind went straight to Clara in Heidi, who has a similar miraculous recovery after visiting her BFF in the Alps; I think Pollyanna has a similar plotline but it's been a long time since I read it and I don't remember if she actually gets better or if she is such a saint she doesn't care.

The concept of evidence-based medicine didn't really exist at the time (the "evidence" refers to randomized controlled trials, which didn't become a thing until the mid-20th century) -- a lot of the things we take for granted, like the germ theory of disease, were pretty controversial, and on the popular lit level, competing with things like miasmas and the four humors and whatnot. There was also a thriving trade in rest cures and seaside resorts and sanatoriums, so "fresh air cures all" was big business, and the popular lit of the time reflects that. Add to that, disabled people were bordering grotesque in the 19th century, whereas children were supposed to be innocent/pure; that cultural tension means that the literary options are for them to die or to be miraculously cured. (Actually, now that I think of it, the only exception to that is Mary in the Little House books, who actually goes to college after becoming blind.)

Anyway, back to the Secret Garden... you might find this article helpful if you can access it through your school's library system. There is also this which includes a chapter specifically on film adaptations.
posted by basalganglia at 5:37 AM on August 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Someone else might be able to say more about this, but I assumed that if people in that era were in an urban area, they were subject to the environment of the times, including unmitigated coal smoke and other combustion-based breatheables, as well as high-volume horse-based transport, in addition to other forgotten aspects of the day-to-day of the times.

If that is realistic, and Colin is asthmatic, immuno-compromised, or allergic to something like horse dander, maybe that helps the book make sense. We are still pretty awful about recognizing invisible disabilities. For that era, recognizing fresh air as a cure does skip over microscopic granular events that support remission or cure. Could food allergies pressed him toward food refusal and secondary scurvy? That could fuel some fan-fic.
posted by childofTethys at 6:14 AM on August 25, 2018

This might already be on your radar, but the original text was inspired by Burnett's background as a Christian Scientist which is likely the reason for the inherent distrust in doctors in it. There's some lit crit on the subject if it's relevant.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:23 AM on August 25, 2018

I just want to say - I know people didn't know about evidence-based medicine at the time, that was a joke.
posted by colorblock sock at 9:59 AM on August 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

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