Genre: Classic children’s literature
Setting: Early 1900s, the moors of Yorkshire, England
My copy came from: I’ve had a hardback copy of this since I was a little girl.
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Review: Enchanting and sweet. I loved this book! The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is classic children’s literature. Our main character, a young girl named Mary Lennox, has lost both of her parents in a cholera epidemic in India, and has to leave her home in India to live with her uncle on the moors of England. Mary is a miserable child, she is noted to be “sour”, “disagreeable-looking”, “contrary”, and “sallow”, and it was interesting to read how Mary changes throughout the course of the novel. When The Secret Garden first started, Mary was very annoying, but as she steps outside of herself and discovers the world around her, she becomes easier to read. Mary and the Secret Garden both mimic each other. They start out both almost dead inside, but gradually come back to life. I found the parallel between Mary and the garden interesting.
“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like? You don’t see it in rooms if you are ill.”
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth,” said Mary.
Mary is very curious, so naturally hears of a locked garden and wants to find a way in. She hears crying in the hallway, and wants to investigate. There is a gothic air to this book, and I loved it! I also loved the way the setting came alive, with the descriptions of the moors and the garden. It was so very atmospheric, and made me wish I truly loved gardening. I don’t – I love flowers and gardens, but I don’t like working in them – too many spiders for me!
And the roses—the roses! Rising out of the grass, tangled round the sun-dial, wreathing the tree trunks and hanging from their branches, climbing up the walls and spreading over them with long garlands falling in cascades—they came alive day by day, hour by hour. Fair fresh leaves, and buds—and buds—tiny at first but swelling and working Magic until they burst and uncurled into cups of scent delicately spilling themselves over their brims and filling the garden air.
The atmosphere and setting was my favorite part of the book. While I really loved this book, there are some issues that modern readers might have with a few of the scenes. There are some racist remarks by characters, and there was one mention of wife beating that was inappropriate. I know thinking along these lines were the thoughts of that time, but it’s still hard to read, and hampered my enjoyment of the book somewhat.
“Oh, Dickon! Dickon!” she cried out. “How could you get here so early! How could you! The sun has only just got up!”
He got up himself, laughing and glowing, and tousled; his eyes like a bit of the sky.
“Eh!” he said. “I was up long before him. How could I have stayed abed! Th’ world’s all fair begun again this mornin’, it has. An’ it’s workin’ an’ hummin’ an’ scratchin’ an’ pipin’ an’ nest-buildin’ an’ breathin’ out scents, till you’ve got to be out on it ‘stead o’ lyin’ on your back. When th’ sun did jump up, th’ moor went mad for joy, an’ I was in the midst of th’ heather, an’ I run like mad myself, shoutin’ an’ singin’. An’ I come straight here. I couldn’t have stayed away. Why, th’ garden was lyin’ here waitin’!”
With the characters, I really loved the old gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, and also young Dickon, a boy who has a heart for animals. Ben Weatherstaff and Dickon both teach Mary about plants, and Dickon just had an extremely kind heart. There is another boy, Colin, and without saying too much about his story, he made me smile in that oh-my-word-he-is-obnoxious-but-cutely-obnoxious way. I would really love to read another story about Mary, Dickon, and Colin. One set when they are a bit older, to see how their stories play out, and yes, to see how that garden is faring.
Bottom Line: Sweet and enchanting, with a lovely atmosphere.
Have you read The Secret Garden? Were you as enchanted with it as I was? Aren’t those Tasha Tudor illustrations just precious? Do you love to garden?