Tag Archives: The Secret Garden

Fictional Fragrances: or, What If Yankee Candle Created Scents from Classic Novels?

Confession: I’m addicted to Yankee Candles. From Butter Cream and Blueberry Scone to Pumpkin Pie and Pineapple Cilantro, you name it, I own it. I cannot walk past a Yankee Candle store without rushing inside to catch a whiff of the fragrant fun. I can spend hours losing myself in the scents, and walking out of the store empty-handed works about as well as trying to defy the laws of gravity.

Since I often work from home, my focus depends on maintaining an atmosphere of peace and productivity, and I’ve found that I achieve this balance with fragrance. One whiff of Fresh Cut Rose instantly transports me to an English country garden reminiscent of a scene you might encounter in a Jane Austen novel. For those days when I long for nothing more than a margarita and a massage, Pineapple Cilantro sends me on a mental trip to the tropics. During a recent trip to Bed Bath and Beyond with a friend, I attempted, bravely and ultimately unsuccessfully, to resist the temptation to browse their Yankee Candle selection. After several minutes of sniffing, savoring, and sighing, my friend shoved a jar at me, declaring “Smell this! Girl Scout Cookie!” I wanted to respond, but I was in the throes of an olfactory orgasm.

My fondness for fragrance and the images I associate with various scents has resulted in a number of amusing conversations, the most recent of which involving a debate about what literary characters, like Mr. Darcy, might smell like. The exercise is a bit like that scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Professor Slughorn explains that the love potion Amortensia has a distinctive fragrance for each person, based on what attracts him or her. When I think of Mr. Darcy, I imagine pine trees, a hint of pipe tobacco, and the well-worn smell of saddle and boot leather familiar to anyone who’s grown up around horses. Combining this with my love of scented candles, I’ve hit upon a brilliant marketing concept that will probably rocket me to the apex of affluence, and I’ll be able to spend the remainder of my days sitting on a beach somewhere, sipping margaritas and reading all of the books on the BBC’s “Big Read” list that there haven’t been enough hours in my day to tackle. Fictional fragrances!

Seriously, just run with me here. The concept is scented candles inspired by classic novels that booklovers everywhere will bury their noses in. Here are just a few examples:

1. Donwell Strawberry

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, this delicious scent that replicates freshly picked strawberries will instantly transport you to Donwell Abbey. One whiff, and you’ll be strolling through the strawberry fields, arm in arm with Mr. Knightley, chatting comfortably about the latest Highbury gossip while occasionally slipping a succulent berry between his laughing lips. Who knows? He might even find a sunny spot perfect for enlightening you with his knowledge of crop rotation.

Cover image of Jane Austen's Emma, image credit Penguin Classics
Emma by Jane Austen (1815)

2. Passion of Pemberley

Another Austen-inspired fragrance (because of course) this candle will envelop you in the comforting smell of a crackling fire combined with well-worn leather. Close your eyes, and when you reopen them, you’ve been magically whisked away to the library of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. And there’s Mr. Darcy, alluringly, Austenianly handsome from the crisp collar of his ruffled shirt and impeccably tailored waistcoat to the tips of his perfectly polished boots. He glances up from the volume in his hands, and his dark eyes fix you with a smoldering gaze to rival the blaze of the fire at your back.

Cover image of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, image credit Penguin Classics
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

3. Thornfield Summer

Enter the world of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre with the smell of haymaking and the strawberries Adele has spent the afternoon gathering. As you stroll the grounds of Thornfield Hall with Mr. Rochester, admiring the gloss of his dark hair in the setting sun and the light of love in his eyes, you want nothing more than to pass through life at his side.

cover image of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, image credit Penguin Classics
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)

4. Springtime on the Moors

Set your spirit free with the scent of fresh, spring rain, running wild, barefoot and free across Emily Brontë’s moors in Wuthering Heights with Cathy and Heathcliff, chainless souls swept up in the whirlwind of their passionate, boundless love.

Cover image of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, image credit Penguin Classics
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1846)

5. In the Garden

Bury your face in a bouquet of roses picked straight from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden. If you close your eyes, you can feel their silky petals tickling your nose and hear Mary and Colin giggling at Dicken’s Yorkshire accent, with Captain the Fox curled in Mary’s lap and Soot the Crow occasionally interjecting a wise comment from his perch on Dicken’s shoulder.

Cover image of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, image credit Puffin Classics
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

So, there you have it. Fictional fragrances: available wherever imaginations are sold.

Got any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

The Firthday Five: Viewing and Reviewing Colin at his Best

For years–ever since I was a child–I’ve been an avid Colin Firth fan, and over time, my fascination has evolved into an academic investment of sorts,
from the occasional graduate student seminar paper addressing his work in literary adaptation to employing it as a teaching tool in my own courses (God
bless you, Colin, for being almost single-handedly responsible for contributing to renewed student interest in Jane Austen. If literary academia hasn’t
collectively written you a letter of thanks, It’s high time we did).

In a celebratory tribute to the man on his birthday, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite Firth performances. For purposes of practicality, time, and space, I’ve limited the list to five films, mostly because any more than that would make narrowing my choices considerably more challenging. Four out of five of these films are literary adaptations because I think that this branch of film represents some of his most impressive work. The intuitiveness with which he brings literary characters to life manages to tap into the popular imagination’s image of that character while presenting an authentic interpretation of his own. So: let’s have a look!

1. A Single Man (2009):

This adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel of the same title features Firth as the middle-aged English professor George Falconer as he struggles to cope with life following the tragic death of his partner, Jim. After nearly two years since seeing this movie in theater, his performance still resonates with me—the way he gives every fiber of his being over to the character of George. In general, the movie strikes at the white hot center of life, snaps your head around and challenges you to stare your own mortality in the face, and Firth captures that perfectly, dissolving the boundary between actor and audience and inviting us into his personal space. At once shocking and sensitive, heart-warming and heart-wrenching, I’ve only since reluctantly forgiven the Academy for overlooking this performance because they redeemed themselves with “The King’s Speech.”

2. The King’s Speech (2010):

I’ve never missed an opportunity to wax rhapsodic about this film; Firth’s portrayal of the stammering monarch George VI is masterful; he maneuvers the mechanics of stammering with amazing authenticity and presents an intimate portrait of Bertie as a man, not a monarch. Needless to say, a very well-deserved Oscar. Kudos to the king.

3. Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003):

Yet another of Firth’s appearances in a literary film adaptation and, I think, one of his best. Here he plays Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer in an adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel of the same title. Though his character has little screen time, he is allocated a very pervasive presence throughout the film, and Firth capitalizes on every visible moment he does have. His interpretation of Vermeer is precisely how I imagined him when reading the novel; seemingly withdrawn and enigmatic, with a quiet, mesmerizing intensity, he draws his audience into his gaze and into Vermeer’s world—a world of swirling colors and intense passion. We feel, even as he entraps us in this web of color, that we want to be held captive by his gaze, if only for a moment.

4. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001:

This film needs no introduction; in a witty adaptation of Helen Fielding’s novel—itself a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Firth’s portrayal of Mark Darcy manages to pay tribute both to the Mr. Darcy of Austen’s making that remains one of popular culture’s iconic Byronic heroes and to Fielding’s contemporary recasting of Darcy while reprising his own legendary performance of Mr. Darcy in the BBC/A & E Pride and Prejudice with grace and good humor.

5. The Importance of being Earnest (2002):

I first saw this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play as an undergraduate in a Victorian Literature course several years ago, and it’s the Firth film I inevitably reach for when my life needs a little comic relief. Alternately witty and ridiculous, Firth’s spot-on performance of Jack Worthing is one of which I think Wilde himself would have been proud—a true tribute to one of the Victorian era’s most celebrated playwrights.

Finally: two bonus picks: Pride and Prejudice (1995):

I didn’t include this in the above list because I think—and Jane Austen andColin Firth fans alike will likely agree with me—this performance defies categorization. A staple of the Austen film phenomenon, Firth’s Mr. Darcy brings our beloved hero to life in a memorable and, I think, unmatchable performance.

Lastly, The Secret Garden (1987):

I’ve included this one purely for sentimental value; Firth appears briefly here as the adult Colin Craven in Hallmark’s television adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel, and it was my first encounter with Firth’s work. Short-lived and little-known though this role is, I remember, as an eleven year-old girl, being mesmerized by that face. There wasn’t anything immediately remarkable about it;
so neutral in appearance, so passive in expression, but with a hint of something rippling beneath the surface like a lake stirred by a light wind. That
was what intrigued me; that carefully modulated reserve; that passion kept in check, a characteristic Colinesque trait that fans have come to love and admire over the years.

So, Happy Birthday, Colin Firth; your talent is a gift that many cherish. Thank you for serving as a constant reminder to me, as to many others, that a life without laughter is no life at all.

Over Dickon’s Dead Body? Virility/Masculinity in The Secret Garden

Like countless lovers of literature, I couldn’t tell you just how many times I’ve read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, but this semester I get to experience the joy of teaching it for the first time, and as always, the greatest pleasure I get from teaching old favorites is rediscovering them along with students who are reading them for the first time.

I’m teaching the novel in a course on 20th Century British Literature, subtitled British Literature and the Body, and yesterday, a seemingly predictable discussion of nature symbolism as metonymic  of the female womb/female genitalia took a rather unexpected turn when one of my students–a male, not surprisingly–pointed out that the garden might be Mary’s, and the land–Misselthwaite Manor and its grounds–might be Colin’s, but Dickon is the first to really plant anything in the garden; he is the one who knows the land intimately and how best to cultivate it; he is the one who sows the seeds. This comment invited an investigation of the contrast between Dickon and Colin and the notion that Dickon is the more masculine of the two; he is, of course, an obvious rival for Mary’s affection–as indicated by Colin’s fierce jealousy–but Burnett scholars have quite exhaustively commented upon the fact that the final third of the novel focuses almost entirely on Colin’s transformation from effeminate invalid to healthy boy-man (see for instance Danielle E. Price, “Cultivating Mary: the Victorian Secret Garden” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 26, no.1  (2001); Anna Krugovoy Silver, “Domesticating Bronte’s Moors: Motherhood in The Secret Garden,” The Lion and the Unicorn 21, no.2 (1997).

Two of the novel’s adaptations–the 1993 Warner Adaptation and the 1987 Hallmark adaptation–clearly recognize Dickon’s threat to Colin’s burgeoning masculinity; in the Warner adaptation, Dickon, in knight-in-shining-armor fashion, appears in a scene at Colin’s window on horseback, calling to Mary to come outside, which Mary does; compared with the weak, whining Colin, confined to his couch, Dickon is the embodiment of ideal victorian masculinity.

The Hallmark adaptation ends following World War I; Colin has received a shrapnel wound in the leg and appears leaning on a cane; Dickon, Ben Weatherstaff reveals, has been killed. Colin’s limp and his cane naturally suggest impotence–underscored by the frustration in his tone when he questions Mary about her refusal to respond to not one, but two proposals of marriage.

I’ve always read this scene as a revision of the text that responds to the argument that the novel’s conclusion, by marginalizing Mary and making Colin the narrative focus, problematizes a feminist interpretation of the narrative. The focus in this final scene is largely on Mary and Mary’s agency. This reading, of course, conveniently overlooks Dickon because he is (physically) absent, though like Mrs. Craven, his spirit is allocated a pervasive presence.

Both Colin and Dickon are heros; Colin’s symbolic impotence might also be interpreted as a necessary rite of passage to legitimate his manhood; no longer a poor, pitiful, wining creature, he is a brave defender of the empire. When Mary expresses concern about his release from the hospital, he replies gallantly, “Do you think I’d let a little shrapnel stop me?”, wearing his battle wound as a badge of courage.
Dickon, on the other hand, has died; Colin might be wounded, but Dickon’s entire body–his life–is the ultimate sacrifice and call to heroism. Is Dickon then the braver, stronger, and ultimately more masculine man? Had he lived, would Mary have  chosen him? She gives every indication that she loves Colin and wants to Mary him, but she speaks so tenderly of Dickon and his memory that one can’t help wondering if she had secretly prefered him at some time.

Yet we don’t know how Dickon dies, precisely, nor how Colin is wounded, but the fact that Dickon’s death occurs in a forest–a place with “green, growing things” in Mary’s words–suggests a place of peace far-removed from the bloodstained battlefield where Colin is presumably shot. Limp notwithstanding, Colin still cuts a rather striking pose in this final scene; his battle has been one of personhood as well as patriotism. He has faught not just for his country, but for his manhood, and he has won both. In the end, Colin, not Dickon, gets the girl. Despite the textual evidence–however minimal–Dickon is only a perceived, not an actual threat to Colin simply because he has no design on Mary. Mary is arguably marginalized in the novel, but if she is, so is Dickon. Neither of them receive any credit in the final hour for restoring Colin to health and longevity, but Dickon most certainly doesn’t expect it. He simply fades into the foliage from which he emerged, leaving in his wake a  trail of roses and the lingering love that is his gift.