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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

Book review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Manybooks.net/Project Gutenberg [1911])

thesecretgardenbookMary Lennox was horrid. Selfish and spoilt, she was sent to stay with her hunchback uncle in Yorkshire. She hated it. But when she finds the way into a secret garden and begins to tend it, a change comes over her and her life. She meets and befriends a local boy, the talented Dickon, and comes across her sickly cousin Colin who had been kept hidden from her. Between them, the three children work astonishing magic in themselves and those around them.

This is the book behind the (1994) adaptation we used to watch on video in school (yes, really, we saw it enough times to groan), and I can’t remember why I decided to read this book, but I’m glad that I did. This novel is fantastic, I can’t praise it enough.

What’s so great about it? Where to start? Frances Hodgson Burnett tells a story of a disagreeable and neglected upper class English girl in India, who gets shipped off back to Blighty when her parents die in a cholera outbreak. Mary is to stay at her uncle’s big old hall on the Yorkshire moors (Brontë country! – Oh, that’s probably why, actually – moors, brooding man, hall with secrets) and to begin with, she’s rude and unpleasant and nobody likes her. She has been so spoiled that she doesn’t even know how to dress herself.

The kind and cheerful Martha is the youngest of the servants at Misslethwaite Manor and she’s the one who’s tasked with looking after Mary. When finding out Martha has lots of brothers and sisters, in particular a brother called Dickon who spends all his time out on the moors with the animals, Mary wants to meet him. She makes a friend and learns about living, about a secret garden that has been shut up for the past ten years, and eventually, comes across her sickly cousin Colin … who is even more stuck up and obnoxious than Mary ever was. Has she finally met her match?

If someone asked me to do a Yorkshire accent, I probably wouldn’t be very good because I find it difficult to “picture” the accent spoken. With this novel, though, I could hear the accent when reading, loud and clear. It’s not something that normally happens, so it was really cool.

The writing style is easy to follow, flows well and while written for kids, doesn’t feel dumbed down in any way. Occasionally, when there’s a difficult word, the author will make a point to explain it – so it’s also educational!

Characterisation is great, but the biggest winner for me is Hodgson Burnett’s nature descriptions, the way animals are portrayed and the spiritual ideas of Colin and Dickon. I’d like to give both of them big hugs! Colin says things like, “The Magic worked! That is my first scientific discovery.” How cute is that? 🙂

This is a book I would definitely recommend. It’s full of hope, of encouragement to get out there and do things, be what you want to be, and to get off your lazy bum and stop feeling sorry for yourself – the sun is shining and the outdoors is a magical place and love conquers all. Amazing! 5 tweeting robins out of 5.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

4 thoughts on “The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

  1. I liked this book when I read it as a kid and liked it still when I reread it to my kids awhile ago. I also liked the movie, which I watched a few years ago.

    Good review of a good book…glad you got around to reading it.

  2. Thanks! 🙂 I was pleasantly surprised by reading it, because I didn’t expect it to be anything like what it was. Can’t put my finger on exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn’t quite this. Perhaps that it would feel a bit older and less lively, somehow. Plan on getting a hold of the ’94 adaptation at some point, to relive old memories. The one from the 70s felt a bit … old.

  3. Weird – it’s been years since I read this, but I bought a copy on Saturday — for my daughter though. I have to say that I loved this book as a child, and re read it many times. My favourite character was Dickon.

  4. Oh, I LOVE Dickon! He’s such a sweet guy and I would’ve loved to have him as a friend. Just imagine all the animals you’d get to cuddle! <3

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