July 27, 2012
For bibliophiles, few adventures compare to crossing the threshold of a used bookstore. The musty air, overcrowded shelves, and tantalizing phrases on faded cloth spines always hint of buried treasure. My trip to the bookseller’s shop near Mecosta, Michigan was no exception. I remember stepping inside with a small band of college students, and exploring until an old brown volume caught my eye. The cover bore the name of a familiar author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and a curious title: The Shuttle.
Like many girls, I read and loved Burnett’s The Secret Garden as a child. Until my trip to Mecosta, however, I didn’t realize that she had published a “grown up secret garden” several years prior to the classic children’s tale. The longer novel draws its motif from weaving shuttles, which carry yarn or thread back and forth across the looms in ever tighter, ever more complex patterns. The Shuttle tells of interwoven families and fates following the marriage of an American heiress and an Englishman of title (a not uncommon occurrence in the late nineteenth century).
The heroine of The Shuttle is the beautiful Bettina Vanderpoel, who journeys to England in search of her married older sister after years of family silence. Betty discovers a locked garden in her sister’s heart and languishing, unkempt grounds on her Stornham Court estate. To restore what has been forgotten and lost, Betty must challenge the cold, faithless Sir Nigel, who left her sister’s spirit to wither and their home to rot. With strong practicality and a sunlit countenance, Betty finally awakens spring in yet another dormant heart – in the fiery but downtrodden Lord Mount Dunstan.
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This month, I was privileged to travel to Giverny, a small village in Normandy, France. There, impressionist Claude Monet lived for over forty years, cultivating his garden and capturing nature’s palette with his paintbrush and canvas. Following his death, Monet’s landscaping masterpiece became another “secret garden,” as family members passed away and preservation funds dwindled. Beloved trees died while weeds ran wild; trellises rusted and the famed bridge decayed. Then, restoration began in earnest, culminating in the summer of 1980 with a warm welcome to the public. Since then, art lovers from far and near have discovered the shady peace and blooming euphoria of the gardens at Claude Monet’s estate.
Loving hands keep green things growing in Giverny, just as they did in the beloved fictional worlds of writers like Frances Hodgson Burnett….