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Frances Hodgson Burnett – The Secret Garden

Book Cover

On the moor there is a manor house and at the manor house there is a garden. And in the garden there is a force beyond reckoning.

Publisher: (Numerous, but I’d wager Vintage would be a good one)
Pages: N/A
Type: Fiction
Age: Children’s
First Published: 1911
Date Reviewed: 9th December 2010
Rating: 5/5

I didn’t enjoy Julie Buxbaum’s After You but it ignited in me the want to read The Secret Garden. I went out and looked for a copy by Vintage, my favourite publisher of classics, which as it so happened, had published the book only days before. Upon starting the book the irony wasn’t lost on me; here, having just finished Wuthering Heights, I was reading another book set in a big house on the Yorkshire moors, and to add to the accidental theme of my winter reading there were mentions of a “wuthering” wind.

Mary Lennox was born in India, to parents who had no time for her. As a result she was spoilt and selfish and when cholera swept the land the servants appointed to look after her fled without a thought for their charge. Mary was found and brought to England to live in her uncle’s manor, but her uncle seeks the company of no one and is frequently away. In the manor many doors are closed, secrets are kept, and there is no lady to look after children. But there used to be a lady, and she had a beautiful garden. If Mary can find the garden surely all will be well?

This book is magic. It may be heralded as a story for children but you’d have to have standards reaching to heaven to not enjoy the story at any age.

I call the book “magic” well aware that magic is a subject greatly involved in the latter part of the book. Although for a long time the story is unquestionably straightforward, there comes a point at which it changes track and becomes heavily focused on spirituality and well-being. The magic described is not that which is seen in tales of fantasy, but the qualities we, as humans, possess along with nature.

To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever gem get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.

The book deals with changes – obvious physical changes, obvious mental changes, subtle personal changes – which are spotlighted by the shifting of seasons. Hodgson Burnett makes good use of these to match the feelings of her characters. This is where one could agree with the initial publication of the story being targeted at adults, the wording being such that although the idea is comprehensible for children the composition of it can, perhaps, only be fully appreciated by adults. Yet the personalities in the novel are those that a child would find most compelling and it is children who are most likely to reassess themselves on confronting their fictional peers.

There are few main characters in the book but a whole host of supporting ones, each with a unique purpose. What’s interesting is the way Hodgson Burnett presents a person as bad but then gives you all the reasons why you should like them.

Something I absolutely loved was the way the servants were treated. Apart from the first few chapters, where we see first-hand how Mary has been brought up to treat servants as far below her, everyone is more or less on an equal footing. The very poor are respected by the wealthy, their words heeded.

The premise may seem unrealistic, that a garden can change people so much and in such a way, but these are children and this is a special garden. I began this book knowing the story and hoping, but not being certain, that I would be as blown away as I was by the film adaptation. I was blown, as deftly as the moor’s wind could propel me, and I know that the story will remain in my mind now as it always had before.

This is fiction at it’s best.

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December 22, 2010, 3:04 am

I read this as a child, but since then I’ve only seen the Broadway adaptation. I’m just now listening to A Christmas Carol by Dickens for the first time and realizing how much more powerful the original can be than its adaptations. This post makes me want to go back and revisit the book! I’m adding it to my classics project list.

Charlie: I never knew there was a Broadway adaptation! I can imagine it worked well on stage though, the possibilities! I wasn’t sure if I could call it a proper classic or not (definitely want to!) so your adding it has confirmed this for me.

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