Friday, May 6, 2011

May 2011: The Forgotten Garden ... meeting summary

We had a great visit last night, with a good member turnout (6/8), a great discussion, and lots of fantastic food. Mmmmm, yummy!


1. On the night of Nell's twenty-first birthday, her father Hugh tells her a secret that shatters her sense of self. How important is a strong sense of identity to a person's life? Was Hugh right to tell her about her past? How might Nell's life have turned out differently had she not discovered the truth?

We determined that a sense of self is definitely important in a person's life (as evidenced by adoptees who feel a strong need to learn about their birth parents to find out who they "really" are), but we also felt that Nell went overboard with her obsession. Needing a strong sense of identity is fine, but she yearned for that at the expense of everyone else. She completely destroyed the wonderful relationship she had with her father, fiance, and sisters, and selfishly focused only on herself. Wad Hugh right to tell her? The consensus was "yes", but he could never have imagined that she would react so strongly, and we didn't feel that he choose a good time and venue to tell her. We all felt pretty strongly that if she had not discovered the truth...she would have led a good life, happily married, with a good, strong family around her.

2. Did Hugh and Lil make the right decision when they kept Nell?

Knowing what we do about where Nell would have ended up otherwise (in the care of a grandmother who didn't want her, and a grandfather who would have been obsessed with her), we can be glad that they did keep her from that. However, the fact is that what they did was wrong, and was done 100% for selfish motives.

3. How might Nell's choice of occupation have been related to her fractured identity?

Dealing with antiques, things that have an unknown or mysterious past, trying to give them a story and a home; restoring old furniture to make it new and lovely again. Both are clear representations of how she felt about her unknown/fractured identity.

4. Is it possible to escape the past, or does one's history always find a way to revisit the present?

Some good discussion about this. Especially in this technological age, it is virtually impossible to escape your past...much to the chagrin of any of us who have had undesirable pictures of our young and wild days pop up on Facebook! :P But back then it would have been much more possible, although even then, often certain things would follow you, like food like and culturally important things (eg. you'd still likely want oliebollen at New Year's).

5. Eliza, Nell and Cassandra all lose their birth mothers when they are still children. How are their lives affected differently by this loss? How might their lives have evolved had they not had this experience?

I cant really remember where we went with this discussion. I remember talking about how Eliza was the only one who truly lost her mom, as Nell was too young to really have felt the loss of her mom, and she moved on to a really good mom in Lil, and Cassandra never really lost her mom, she just was a wanderer.

6. Nell believes that she comes from a tradition of "bad mothers." Does this belief become a self-fulfilling prophecy? How does Nell's relationship with her granddaughter, Cassandra, allow her to revisit this perception of herself as a "bad mother"?

We weren't really sure where the first part of this question came from, since we weren't sure that one mother abandoning her child (as Nell believed must have happened) constitutes a "tradition" of bad mothers. But it did certainly become a self-fulfilling prophesy for Nell. She did have a chance to redeem herself as a mother though, through parenting Cassandra. She seemed reluctant in some ways, still aloof and prickly, and yet she sacrificed everything to care for Cassandra, which shows how much she really did care about being a good mother to her.

7. Is The Forgotten Garden a love story? If so, in what way/s?

There are love stories within it (Nathaniel and Rose, Cassandra and Christian, and some other minor love stories or references), but we did not feel that the book, as a whole, was a love story.

8. Tragedy has been described as "the conflict between desire and possibility." Following this definition, is The Forgotten Garden a tragedy? If so, in what way/s?

We felt that it was certainly a tragedy for Nell, who spent her whole life desiring to learn about her past, only to be thwarted by her other responsibilities. It cost her all of her relationships, and left her basically as a lonely, prickly old woman.

9. In what ways do Eliza's fairy tales underline and develop other themes within the novel?

There's a clear correlation between the fairy tales and the events of her own life, especially the story of the Golden Egg.

10. In what ways do the settings in The Forgotten Garden represent or reflect the character's experiences?

The environment fits very well with the different stages of the book and the character's lives. The garden, for example, goes through several phases:

Being built initially, it was planted during a healthy phase of Eliza and Nell's relationship, and it flourished. When Rose and Eliza died, it was neglected and became overgrown. When Nell came, it was still overgrown and not yet ready to have its secrets revealed. When Cassandra came and started unpeeling all the layers, new life and beauty was discovered ion conjunction with the discoveries about her grandmother's past.


  1. Wow! That was the quickest ever!

  2. Ha, it was also my first ever! Figured I'd better do it quickly to make up for my previous delinquency. :P


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