Thursday, January 9, 2014
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Source: this is our copy
Mary Lennox has no one left in the world when she arrives at Misselthwaite Manor, her mysterious uncle's enormous, drafty mansion looming on the edge of the moors. A cholera epidemic has ravaged the Indian village in which she was born, killing both her parents and the "Ayah," or Indian servant, who cared for her. Not that being alone is new to her. Her socialite mother had no time between parties for Mary, and her father was both too ill and too occupied by his work to raise his daughter. Not long after coming to live with her uncle, Mr. Craven, Mary discovers a walled garden, neglected and in ruins. Soon she meets her servant Martha's brother Dickon, a robust country boy nourished both by his mother's love and by the natural surroundings of the countryside; and her tyrannical cousin Colin, whose mother died giving birth to him. So traumatized was Mr. Craven by the sudden death of his beloved wife that he effectively abandoned the infant Colin and buried the keys to the garden that she adored. His son has grown into a self-loathing hypochondriacal child whose tantrums strike fear into the hearts of servants. The lush garden is now overgrown and all are forbidden to enter it. No one can even remember where the door is, until a robin leads Mary to its hidden key. It is in the "secret garden," and with the help of Dickon, that Mary and Colin find the path to physical and spiritual health. Along the way the three children discover that in their imaginations—called "magic" by Colin—is the power to transform lives.
I found The Secret Garden charming and sweet and strongly encourage you to read it to your young daughters. Although you may want to skim over some of the fairly longish garden descriptions (I'll admit it, I did). And you may grow a bit frustrated trying to read the Yorkshire dialect.
But truly, Mary Lennox is a girl that all young girls should meet, particularly if they have days when they can be a bit bearish. Mary is a fairly horrid little girl when she arrives at Misselthwaite and she never entirely losses her temper which, as it turns out, is not always a bad thing.
Like all truly great children's books, The Secret Garden gives adults an extra layer to think about - common sense versus conventional wisdom, the transformative power of living things, the effect of positive thought, and the many kinds of "magic" including faith and science.
It seems odd to me that I have never read this book before considering that a) one of my all-time favorite books is Burnett's A Little Princess (in fact, it's a book I will sooner or later give to most young girls I know) and b) I bought this copy specifically to read to my daughter...which, apparently, I never did. This makes me very sad because I think I would have loved it had I read it through a child's eyes.