The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett has been a children’s classic for many, many years. I’m just now getting around to reading it. Better late than never, right? The story is about a young, selfish, spoiled, sour girl named Mary Lennox who lived out the first ten years of her life in India. Her mother was also very selfish and never saw her and her father catered to her mother. Both her parents died and she was sent to live with her uncle in Yorkshire, England.
Enter Mrs. Medlock, the formidable housekeeper of her uncle’s who never says what she actually thinks (in my opinion). Mary is left mostly to herself in the big house and is told she can’t go anywhere in the house but a very dull room. Therefore, she is practically forced to go out and play in the gardens around the house. It is here that she meet the Robin, a playful young bird who takes a special liking to the sour girl. He shows her the key and the door to the Secret Garden and it is there that the transformation truly begins.
Over time Mary meets Martha, the young Yorkshire maid who can’t keep her mouth shut, Dickon, Martha’s brother who is an animal charmer, and Colin, her cousin, who is convinced he will not live and that if he does it will be a miserable existance and that he will have a lump on his back. Mary grows up a little and realizes that the world is not as horrid as it once appeared and she helps Colin see that he will not, in fact, die, but quite possibly live a very full and healthy life.
Francis Burnett believed strongly in the power of mind over matter, most especially the body. Or so my Barnes and Noble copy tells me. It explains a lot about the story and the obsession the children have with “Magic” which is not magic at all but belief in something greater.
My only knowledge of the plot of this story came from the movie with Maggie Smith. I highly recommend it to everyone. It is a beautiful portrayal. It is not, however, the complete story (as happens so often with movies and books) and leaves out some things that I found to be delightful parts. Dickon and Martha’s mother, for example, proved to be one of the most important characters. It is she who tells the Master that those children should play outside. And it is she who writes to him and tells him to come home once Colin is well. Everyone spoke well of her and the cousins had a curiousity about her that forced them to step outside of themselves.
Mary was much more sour-sounding in the book than I had really ever imagined her to be and her transformation is one of the best in the written word I think. It came on gradually and in the end was not really complete, there was much left to be desired. However, I hated her in the beginning and loved her in the end.
My biggest disappointment in the book was the relationship between Medlock and Colin. In the movie it was always displayed as a harsh one, but you can tell that she cared about the young master. She gave the orders and was obeyed and often his wishes were ignored because he didn’t know what was best for himself, in her opinion. In the book he gives her many orders which she obeys. It made me sad, because that was one of the best parts in the movie, when they kind of triumph over the horrid tyrant of Misselthwaite.
Dickon was, as always, my favorite character. His relationship with everybody was perhaps a little too good to be true, but overall he’s delightful. I love the way he knows and understands humans as well as the animals around him.
Overall, it was a well-written tale and I enjoyed it. It isn’t an essential, I think, to one’s library, but if you can pick it up or happen to have an abundance of spare time, I’d encourage you to read it.