The Gardener

by

Rudyard Kipling

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Helen Turrell Character Analysis

Helen is Michael’s mother and the central protagonist. She gives birth to her illegitimate son, Michael, in secret and raises him as her “nephew” to conform with the standards of propriety in British Edwardian society. Helen is a conventional, upper class woman. The fact that she chooses to raise Michael as her nephew—passing him off as the son of her dead brother, George—suggests that Helen cares about upholding cultural norms and retaining an outward appearance of respectability. This also suggests that she believes she has committed a sin by having a child out of wedlock and wishes to be redeemed in the eyes of society; the invented story about Michael’s birth achieves this, since everyone quietly intuits that Michael is really Helen’s son but calls Helen noble anyways for choosing to raise the boy. Helen is a strong willed and determined character. Her decision to raise Michael, and to hide his illegitimacy, suggests that she has a large amount of self-control. She only allows Michael to call her “mummy” at bedtime even though this clearly hurts him. Years later, when Michael goes missing in World War I, Helen does not allow herself to be comforted by platitudes and privately accepts Michael’s death, even though she maintains a public façade of hope for his return. When Helen goes to visit Michael’s grave after the war, she begins to lose some of this control while on her desperate search for his grave among the “chaos” of the cemetery. The climax of the story revolves around Helen’s interaction with the gardener in the graveyard, who symbolically acknowledges Michael’s illegitimacy and shows Helen compassion despite this by leading her to where Michael is buried.

Helen Turrell Quotes in The Gardener

The The Gardener quotes below are all either spoken by Helen Turrell or refer to Helen Turrell. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Propriety, Performance, and Secrecy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Borzoi edition of The Gardener published in 1994.
The Gardener Quotes

Everyone in the village knew that Helen Turrell did her duty by all her world, and by none more honorably than by her only brother’s unfortunate child. The village knew, too, that George Turrell had tried his family severely since early youth, and […] after many fresh starts given and thrown away, he […] had entangled himself with the daughter of a retired non-commissioned officer, and had died […] a few weeks before his child was born.

Page Number: 827
Explanation and Analysis:

All these details were public property, for Helen was as open as the day, and held that scandals are only increased by hushing them up. She admitted that George had always been rather a black sheep, but that things might have been much worse if the mother had insisted on her right to keep the boy. Luckily, it seemed that people of that class would do almost anything for money.

Page Number: 828
Explanation and Analysis:

In a few years Michael took his place, as accepted as Helen—fearless, philosophical, and fairly good-looking. At six he wished to know why he could not call her “Mummy,” as other boys called their mothers. She explained that she was only his auntie, and that aunties were not quite the same as mummies, but that, if it gave him pleasure, he might call her “Mummy” at bedtime, for a pet name between themselves.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell
Page Number: 828
Explanation and Analysis:

At ten years old, after two terms at prep. school, something or somebody gave him the idea that his civil status was not quite regular. He attacked Helen on the subject, breaking down her stammered defenses with the “family directness.”

“Don’t believe a word of it,” he said cheerily, at the end. “People wouldn’t have talked like that if my people had been married. But don’t you bother, Auntie. I’ve found out all about my sort in English Hist’ry […] There was William the Conqueror to begin with, and—oh, heaps more, and they all got on first-rate. ‘T’wont make any difference to you, my being that – will it?”

Related Characters: Michael Turrell (speaker), Helen Turrell
Page Number: 829
Explanation and Analysis:

“All right. We won’t talk about it anymore if it makes you cry.” He never mentioned the thing again of his own will, but when, two years later, he skillfully managed to have measles in the holidays, as his temperature went up to the appointed one hundred and four, he muttered of nothing else, till Helen’s voice, piercing at last his delirium, reached him with the assurance that nothing on earth or beyond could make a difference between them.

Related Characters: Michael Turrell (speaker), Helen Turrell
Page Number: 830
Explanation and Analysis:

Since Michael was no fool, the War took him just before what was like to have been a most promising career. He was to have gone up to Oxford, with a scholarship, in October. At the end of August, he was on the edge of joining the first holocaust of public-school boys who threw themselves into the Line.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell
Page Number: 830
Explanation and Analysis:

Helen had been shocked at the idea of direct enlistment.

“But it’s in the family,” Michael laughed.

“You don’t mean to tell me that you believed that old story all this time?” Helen said […] “I gave you my word of honor—and I give it again—that—that—it’s alright. It is indeed.”

“Oh, that doesn’t worry me. It never did,” he replied valiantly. “What I meant was, I should have got into the thing sooner if I’d enlisted—like my grandfather.”

Related Characters: Helen Turrell (speaker), Michael Turrell (speaker)
Page Number: 830
Explanation and Analysis:

A month later, and just after Michael had written Helen that there was nothing special doing and therefore no need to worry, a shell-splinter dropping out of a wet dawn killed him at once. The next shell uprooted and laid down over the body what had been the foundation of a barn wall, so neatly that none but an expert would have guessed that anything unpleasant had happened.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell
Related Symbols: The Shell
Page Number: 831
Explanation and Analysis:

Helen, presently, found herself pulling down the house-blinds one after another with great care, and saying earnestly to each one: “Missing always means dead.” Then she took her place in the dreary procession that was impelled to go through a series of unprofitable emotions. The Rector, of course, preached hope and prophesized word, very soon, from a prison camp. Several friends too, told her perfectly truthful tales, but always about other women, to whom, after months and months of silence, their missing had been miraculously restored.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell (speaker), Michael Turrell
Related Symbols: The Gardener
Page Number: 832
Explanation and Analysis:

Helen did and wrote and signed everything that was suggested or put before her. Once, on one of Michael’s leaves, he had taken her over a munition factory, where she saw the progress of a shell from blank-iron to all but the finished article. It struck her at the time that the wretched thing was never left alone for a single second; and “I’m being manufactured into a bereaved next of kin,” she told herself, as she prepared her documents.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell (speaker), Michael Turrell
Related Symbols: The Shell
Page Number: 832
Explanation and Analysis:

The agony of being waked up to some sort of second life drove Helen across the Channel, where, in a new world of abbreviated titles, she learnt that Hagenzeele Third could be comfortably reached by an afternoon train which fitted in with the morning boat, and that there was a comfortable little hotel not three kilometers from Hagenzeele itself where one could spend quite a comfortable night, and go to see one’s grave the next morning. All this she had from a Central Authority who lived in a tar and paper shed on the skirt of a razed city full of whirling lime-dust and blowing papers.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell
Page Number: 834
Explanation and Analysis:

Helen was grateful, but when they reached the hotel Mrs. Scarsworth […] insisted on dining at the same table with her and, after the meal […] took Helen through her “commissions” with biographies of the dead, where she happened to know them, and sketches of their next of kin. Helen endured this till nearly half-past nine, ere she fled to her room. Almost at once there was a knock on the door and Mrs. Scarsworth entered; her hands, holding the dreadful list, clasped before her.

Related Characters: Helen Turrell, Mrs. Scarsworth
Page Number: 835
Explanation and Analysis:

Because I’m so tired of lying […] year in and year out. When I don’t tell lies I’ve got to act ‘em and I’ve got to think ‘em, always. You don’t know what that means. He was everything to me that he oughtn’t have been—the only real thing—the only thing that happened to me in all my life; and I’ve had to pretend he wasn’t. I’ve had to watch every word, and think out what lie I’d tell next, for years and years!

Related Characters: Mrs. Scarsworth (speaker), Helen Turrell, Michael Turrell
Page Number: 836
Explanation and Analysis:

“Lieutenant Michael Turrell—my nephew,” said Helen slowly and word for word, as she had many thousands of times in her life. The man lifted his eyes and looked at her with infinite compassion before he turned from the fresh-sown toward the naked black crosses. “Come with me,” he said, “and I will show you where your son lies.”

Related Characters: Helen Turrell (speaker), Michael Turrell, Mrs. Scarsworth
Related Symbols: The Gardener
Page Number: 838
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Gardener LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Gardener PDF

Helen Turrell Character Timeline in The Gardener

The timeline below shows where the character Helen Turrell appears in The Gardener. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Gardener
Propriety, Performance, and Secrecy Theme Icon
Christianity and Compassion Theme Icon
Everyone in Helen Turrell’s community believes that she has done “her duty by all the world.” Her brother,... (full context)
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Helen is “open as the day” about this situation and allows all of the unsavory details... (full context)
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Michael grows up to be “as accepted as Helen had always been.” When he’s six years old, he asks Helen why he can’t call... (full context)
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Helen, “as usual,” shares these details with her friends. When Michael finds out, he’s furious, angrily... (full context)
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...school gives him the idea that his “civil status” is “not quite regular.” Michael questions Helen about this with the “family directness.” He tries to brush off what he has heard... (full context)
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Michael does not bring the subject of his illegitimacy up again with Helen “of his own will.” Two years later however, Michael comes down with measles during the... (full context)
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Michael spends his school holidays at home with Helen and the two remain close as Michael grows up. Helen “treasures” her holidays with Michael... (full context)
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...because of his social connections, and is made a commissioned officer in a new battalion.  Helen is shocked to hear that Michael has been thinking about direct enlistment, but Michael jokes... (full context)
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...They are finally sent to France on a day when Michael had planned to meet Helen for several hours while on leave. Once in France, “luck” helps the battalion again and... (full context)
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By the time Michael is killed, the village in which Helen lives is “old in experience of war” and, “English fashion” has “evolved a ritual to... (full context)
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With news of Michael’s death Helen “takes her place among the dreary procession” of grieving relatives and is “impelled to go... (full context)
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During this time Helen remembers one of Michael’s leaves when he took her to visit a munition factory and... (full context)
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 None of the organizations which Helen writes to have any success looking for Michael and, as time goes on, Helen feels... (full context)
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Helen receives Michael’s watch and his army identity tag in the post, along with a letter... (full context)
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When Helen arrives in France, she learns that the cemetery at Hagenzeele can be “comfortably reached” by... (full context)
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Helen moves has “tea in a crowded mauve and blue wooden structure” which carries her “still... (full context)
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Helen and Mrs. Scarsworth get into a train carriage together, Helen “shivering” a little at Mrs.... (full context)
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 Helen is “grateful” when they arrive at the hotel, but Mrs. Scarsworth “insists” on sitting with... (full context)
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Shocked, Helen asks Mrs. Scarsworth why she is telling her this. Mrs. Scarsworth cries that she is... (full context)
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The next day, Mrs. Scarsworth leaves the hotel early and Helen travels to the cemetery alone. When she arrives however, she is surprised at how vast... (full context)
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While she is lost in the cemetery, Helen sees a man kneeling among the graves and, assuming him to be the gardener, she... (full context)
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As Helen is leaving the cemetery she turns back for “one last look.”  Again, in the distance,... (full context)