Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


A friend gave me a nice 'gift' edition of this book several years ago for my birthday. She said it was one of her favorites from childhood. It's one of those books that I somehow missed growing up. I wasn't as avid a reader as I am now, but I did read more than most kids I knew. But, this one slipped through the cracks. I'm so glad my friend gave it to me, and I'm glad I finally pulled it out of the middle of one of the teetering towers of books taking over my house. I loved it. Most of you reading this will have no doubt read this book, but in case there are still those who haven't read it, it's basically a story about two children who are thrown together through a series of circumstances beyond their control. Mary Lennox is a spoiled, willful, 10-year old child living with her parents in India. She's given everything a child could possibly want, except love and affection. She has little contact with her parents and is raised by her Ayah, a nursemaid. The reader learns how Mary came to be the spoiled, unhappy child that she is on the first page of the book.

"Her father had held a position under the English government and had always been busy and ill himself, and her mother had been a great beauty who cared only to go to parties and amuse herself with carefree people. She had not wanted a little girl at all, and when Mary was born she handed her over to the care of an Ayah, who was made to understand that if she wished to please the Mem Sahib she must keep the child out of sight as much as possible. . . She never remembered seeing familiarly anything but the dark faces of her Ayah and the other native servants, and as they always obeyed her and gave her own way in everything, because the Mem Sahib would be angry if she was disturbed by her crying, by the time she was six years old she was a tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived."

During a terrible cholera outbreak, both her parents are stricken and die suddenly along with many of the servants. The few servants that remain flee to escape the epidemic, and Mary is forgotten and left alone. When she is discovered, it's decided that she'll be sent to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, England. Mary soon learns from the housekeeper that her uncle and his home are both eerily strange.

" It sounded like something in a book and it did not make Mary feel cheerful. A house with a hundred rooms, nearly all shut up and with their doors locked -- a house on the edge of a moor -- whatsoever a moor was -- sounded dreary. A man with a crooked back who shut himself up also!"

Mary is given two rooms in which she is allowed to live and is told not to go poking around the house. But, Mary soon discovers that there's more to this house than meets the eye. She hears a mysterious cry in the night several times and begins to investigate. She stumbles upon a hidden room in which there is a little boy alone and crying. She soon learns that Mr. Craven has a son who lives a life similar to the one Mary had lived in India. Colin is given anything he wants and knows that the servants must obey his every command, which has made him a very disagreeable little boy. Colin's mother died giving birth to him, and his father hasn't had much of anything to do with his son since. He secretly blames the child for his mother's death and is also afraid that the child will become a hunchback because he's such a sickly, feeble child. Neither Mary nor Colin have ever had a friend, but they find a kinship in their similar circumstances and slowly build a friendship.

Colin is not the only discovery that Mary makes. She stumbles onto a secret garden that has been neglected and locked up for the last ten years (since the death of Mrs. Craven). With the help of a robin, she discovers the hidden key and enters the garden. Mary becomes obsessed with restoring the garden. It's obvious even in its present state, that it was once a very beautiful place with a air of magic. She enlists the help of Dickon, a local village boy with the ability to 'talk' to animals, in helping her bring the garden back to life. The garden begins to work its magic on Mary and Colin and finally plays a role in changing the lives of everyone in the story forever.

This is one of those books that should be read aloud. The language is beautiful. I have no doubt that I'll read this book again at some point. Hopefully to my future grandchildren!

15 comments:

Andi said...

I was supposed to read this book for an undergrad seminar I TA'ed in one time. The lead prof did the discussion of this book, so I don't think I ever finished it! Eeek! I did like what I read, though.

I have an ongoing situation wherein I seem to have read *part* of every great book. I guess I'm just a bad finisher.

Lisa said...

andi, I know what you mean. I find myself thinking that I've read some of these famous books, which I realize later that I haven't. I've just heard about them and read things about them for so long so that it seems as if I have read them. How weird is that? At least you've read parts of them. :)

Table Talk said...

I think this is one of the great books of all time and the proof of that is that whenever I introduce it to students they want to talk and talk about it. The fact that it describes a way of life that has no connection with theirs in any obvious way makes no difference, they recognise the eternal truth that lies at the heart of it to do with the way that children should be brought up with love and discipline. The central metaphor of Mary and the harden is absolutely perfect.

Lisa said...

table talk, I agree that this book has timeless appeal. It's another one of those books that should be read by all children growing up, but it's equally well-loved by those who come to it later in life (like myself). I guess that's why it's considered a classic.

Nymeth said...

I missed this one when growing up too, but I will really have to read it at some point. It sounds beautiful.

Jeane said...

This is one of my very favorite books. My mother read it to me as a child, and I have read it probably five or six times since. I really enjoyed reading your review of it.

Lisa said...

nymeth, that makes me feel better. I thought I was probably the only person who hadn't ever read this book growing up. It really is a nice story, and I loved the way it read. I found myself reading it aloud at time.

jeane, what a lucky little girl you were! This is the perfect book for a parent to read to a child. It's almost as if its meant to be read aloud.

BooksPlease said...

This was one of my faovurite books as a child and I'm planning to re-read it for the Heart of a Child Challenge. I'm really looking forward to it - it's such a magical story.

Carl V. said...

It has been forever since I have read A Secret Garden. I do know that I really enjoyed it and have also enjoyed a few of the theatrical interpretations of it as well. It is such an endearing story. I love the cover illustration on this version.

Lisa said...

margaret, what a perfect book for The Heart of a Child Challenge. I actually thought about joining that one but resisted the temptation. I have a bad track record with challenges. I hope you enjoy it just as much this time as you did when you were younger.

carl, you're the second person to mention enjoying theatrical interpretations of this book. I must admit I haven't seen any, but I would like to now after having read the book.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my all time favorite books from childhood. While my Science teacher was sending me to the principal, my English teacher said I was a "gem". This was 8th grade. I had to make a book cover and I used a piece of green shag carpet. I wish I still had it. I do have a copy of the book. Oh, the movie was on last weekend and of course I had to watch it for the 100th time.

ravenousreader said...

I have to join the majority here, for this is truly a lovely story. Did you know there is a musical version, which I love as well? I'm a musician, and I've performed it twice now.

I hope you have grandchildren who appreciate it!

Lisa said...

ravenousreader, Some others have mentioned musical versions of this, and I have to admit I've never seen one. But, I'm curious now. Alas, it will be a while before I have grandchildren, but I do hope they love books and reading! I'm going to do everything in my power to help them along. :)

raych said...

I loved this book so much growing up. Even better was her 'A Little Princess.' My mom brought it for me from the library one day when I had the flu, and I read it cover-to-cover. I am DEFinitely reading these books to my kids.

Lisa said...

raych, isn't it funny how much of an influence books read in childhood have on us? I think everyone has those vivid memories from childhood of a particular book that continues to hold special meaning for them.