October 23rd, 2012


Mary and Colin Didn't Get Married

In a recent post I asked about attitudes to first-cousin divorce marriage, and said that my impression was that it seemed to be more of a taboo with young British people today than it had been for my own generation.

I considered asking my students what they thought, but refrained for a while, as it seemed a slightly disconcerting thing to bring up out of the blue. However, today I was handed the perfect opportunity, when a student remarked that there was no hint of an incipient romantic relationship between Mary and Colin in The Secret Garden, adding, "But of course they're cousins anyway."

I leapt in then, you may be sure, and asked for a show of hands. Did they consider first-cousin marriage (medical issues aside) to be taboo? I can report that every hand shot up: 18 out of 18. The group were 20 and 21 year-olds mostly, predominantly from southern England and Wales. All were white.

As a postscript to the postscript, I can add for interest that when Hallmark made a film version of the book in 1987, they framed it with a story in which the adult Mary (now a WWI nurse) returns to Misselthwaite and meets the adult Colin, played by a pre-Darcy Colin Firth. Romance is certainly in the air in that film, but Hallmark changed the back-story to make Mary no blood relation of the Cravens at all. So that was all right...