Tuesday, 12 July 2011
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
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.