Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This is a favourite of Billy's. It is the second time I've read the book to him and he's seen the film several times.
It is the story of Mary Lennox, a girl born in India in the nineteenth century. Her parents are part of the social whirl of the British Raj and have very little time for their daughter. Consequently Mary is lonely and spoilt, without friends and without the social skills to make friends. A cholera epidemic sweeps through the community and Mary's parents die. At the age of 10 Mary is sent to England to live with her uncle, in the huge Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire.
This is where  the bulk of the story takes place. Misselthwaite Manor is not a homely place  and Mary arrives in winter when the landscape is forbidding and bleak. Her uncle is absent most of the time and the plain speaking Yorkshire servants are very different to what she has been used to. Despite her flaws (which aren't really her fault) Mary is an intelligent and curious girl and she begins to adapt. She meets her cousin Colin, a sickly boy of her own age. Like her he is lonely and spoilt but together they discover companionship and learn how to be children and have fun. Mary has also met Dickon, a local boy who has a wonderful affinity with nature. The three children work together to bring Colin back to health.
Their main tool in this is the garden of the title. The children are the only ones who go into the abandoned, overgrown walled garden. It is a magical place for them as they work to make it beautiful again and Mary and Colin come to life as the garden does.
The book was first published in 1911 and it's a moral tale, as I suppose most children's books of its time were. But it's not at all preachy, and I think that its lessons are true; fresh air and exercise are healthy, children need affection to thrive, and it does no good to dwell on your problems. I think it is a timeless book and one that I can't see ever going out of fashion.


  1. Hi Joanne,

    My 9yo daughter Paige read this last week and told me she loved it. The interesting thing was that we have always had a copy on the bookshelf, but it didn't appeal to her. She decided to read it when she received a game on her DS that had 100 books including that on it. It was the same story with What Katy Did, and Alice Through the Looking Glass.

    Have you tried reading the Lemony Snicket stories to your son? Paige resisted all suggestions to try them for years, and when she finally agreed to try the first book, she read it all the way through in one evening. She went on to read all 13 books within a fortnight.

  2. Karyn I haven't tried the Lemony Snicket books yet though I have had them in mind for a while. I take a look at one next time I'm in the library and see if I think he'll like them.
    Thank you for reminding me about What Katy Did. I loved that book when I was a girl. Did Paige enjoy it? She might enjoy the film of The Secret Garden, I thought it was really well done, though there are a few changes from the book.

  3. It's an interesting thing discussing books with a 9yo. She can describe the plot in great detail, and tell me whether she liked it or not, but she cannot yet analyse why she liked it. So Paige told me all about What Katy Did (and it sounded very sad), and that she liked it better than The Secret Garden, but she didn't know why.

    I showed her the video of The Secret Garden a few years ago, and she became so distressed by one scene (maybe there is a scene in which the mother dies, although I may be mistaken), that I've been wary of letting her watch it again. Perhaps now that she is older and knows the story it would be more of a success.