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Mary is sent to live with an English clergyman and his family in the period immediately following the death of her parents. Her misfortune has done little to change her worldview, however, and she instantly despises the clergyman's five children and the poverty of the family's circumstances. They, for their part, are quite frank in their dislike for her, and she finds herself ostracized by the other children. They delight in making fun of her, and, upon finding her playing at gardening, give her a mocking nickname borrowed from a nursery rhyme: "Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary."
Basil, the favorite among the children, informs Mary that she is to be sent to England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven. As she has heard of neither England nor her uncle, this comes as something of a surprise to her. It is also from Basil that Mary begins to hear the peculiar rumors that surround her uncle: it is said that he is a hunchback and hermit who lives in a mysterious, rambling old house in the middle of nowhere. Though Mary roundly spurns Basil and his story, she is preoccupied by what he has told her. A few days later, she does indeed set sail for England, in the care of an officer's wife who is on her way to leave her own children in a boarding school.
In London, Mary is handed over to Archibald Craven's housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock. The pair loathe each other on sight—a turn of events that is quite common for Mary, whose plain face and bitter disposition seem to impress everyone unfavorably. It is in Mrs. Medlock's company that Mary first begins to feel lonely.
Mrs. Medlock and her charge take a train to Yorkshire, the site of Misselthwaite Manor. Mrs. Medlock passes the journey by telling Mary dismal stories about the house and its master. Archibald Craven is indeed a hunchback, and a widower; the death of his lovely wife had been, for him, the end of any possibility of happiness. Most of his house's hundred rooms are now kept locked and shuttered. To Mary, her uncle's story seems like a fairytale, or "like something in a book." As she contemplates this, it begins to rain, and Mary is lulled to sleep.
When Mary awakes, the train has arrived in Yorkshire. She and Mrs. Medlock board a carriage there, which takes them through a village and over Missel Moor, until they finally reach the manor. There, the travelers are greeted by Mr. Pitcher, her uncle's manservant, who tells them that Mr. Craven does not wish to see them. Medlock shuts Mary up in a room by herself, and reminds her again that she is not to explore the house or its grounds, as Mr. Craven "won't have it." Mary's contrariness reaches new levels of intensity.
This second chapter further details Mary's friendlessness and its causes. Both the clergyman's family and Mrs. Medlock dislike her on sight; her ugliness and sour disposition seem incapable of inspiring any other response. Mary is made doubly sour by her growing sense of dislocation and loneliness: when Basil tells her that she is going home, Mary replies "Where is home?" Absolutely dispossessed of everything that she has ever known, Mary begins to reflect upon her lot, and realizes that she has never really belonged anywhere, nor to anyone. Mary's newfound capacity for self-examination provides her with several important insights in the ensuing chapters.
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