Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Genre: Children’s Classic
Publisher: Kingfisher Publications
Publish Date: 2002 (orig 1911)
Format: Hardcover Illustrated | 384 pages
Ten year old Mary Lennox was not the most likeable child. After her parents died during a cholera outbreak in India, Mary was sent to live with a clergyman until a permanent home could be found for her. Most people found her to be quite disagreeable and she easily earned the nickname “Mistress Mary Quite Contrary” from the local children.
Mistress Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, and marigolds all in a row.
Eventually Mary is sent to Yorkshire, England, to live with her uncle. No one at the Yorkshire Manor has much time for her, so she is left to amuse herself. One of the servants tells Mary a story about a Secret Garden which was locked up and abandoned 10 years ago after the sudden death of her uncle’s wife.
With the help of Robin Redbreast, Mary locates the garden and the key to the gate. Later she shares her knowledge of the garden with Dickon, the maid’s brother, and her cousin, Colin, a frail boy who rarely ventures outside. Together they begin an amazing journey of discovery and restoration. Through their care and nurturing the garden returns to life and, with Dickon’s help, Mary and Colin transform into healthy, happy children.
This was my first reading of The Secret Garden. While I’ve been an avid reader all my life, somehow I missed reading this book as a child. I’ve always intended to read it, someday, but never did. My motivation was the read-a-long hosted by Sheila at BookJourney.
After finally reading the book, I realize why it is so beloved by so many people. While the book has many themes, motifs and symbols, at it’s core is a beautiful story about children and their natural love of nature and its healing powers. As the garden returned to life, the children grew happier and healthier. Humans have a connection to the land and the animal creatures. To deny it is unhealthy but to embrace it encourages growth and strength.
This is much more than a children’s story. There is a message here for adults too: Slow down, appreciate nature, go for a walk in the park, spend a little time in the garden with the plants and animals, it’s good for the soul. As an avid gardener I can attest to the therapeutic feeling of nurturing a garden and experiencing it coming to life, of watching a bird build a nest, the eggs hatching and then feeding the little ones.
It probably goes without saying that the robin was my favorite character. He was the first one to befriend Mary and encourage her to enter the garden. From my experience with birds, they are naturally cautious and keep their distance. If a bird takes a liking to someone, it must be a person he feels he can trust.
When the robin meets Dickon, his presence in the garden didn’t disturb the bird at all, not even when he had a nest and eggs to look after, because Dickon understood feathered speech and could talk to the Robin. Dickon was a magical presence, he could communicate with all the birds and other small creatures like the rabbits and squirrels. The portions of the story that took place in the garden were like a fairy tale. Other times the book read like a literary novel.
There is something here for everyone, young or old. Anyone who already knows the joy of the garden returning to life in the spring will be delighted as the children experience each new day. If you haven’t read this yet, what are you waiting for?
A few notes:
The photos are my own garden. Already this year I have blooming flowers, budding vegetables, baby bunnies, baby squirrels and too many birds to count. Robin Redbreast in The Secret Garden is a European Robin. The photo here is an American Robin, the type seen in my yard. Similar name, entirely different birds.
Source: Public Library
Available as a free download from Project Gutenberg.
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