The Secret Garden : Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret GardenThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Secret Garden is a glorious, wonderful book. For a book published over one hundred years ago (1910), I am surprised at how readable and how genuinely heartwarming it is. There’s a richness to this story that survives and thrives even with the elements of the text that are perhaps more dated than others and the other elements that are just a little wince-worthy.

I won’t excuse the Yorkshire-isms present in The Secret Garden, though I will acknowledge this is a strong pet peeve of mine. I have such difficulty with stories that write accents and speech in the local dialect, and yet I think that I even forgive this of the Secret Garden. It’s important to remember the time it was written and the context of when it was written and to realise that stylistic tics like this are, perhaps, intended to create a very different effect.

So if you do not know of The Secret Garden, what can I tell you of it? It’s the story of spoilt, grumpy Mary Lennox who is sent to England following the death of her parents in India. To Mary, England is a foreign world and she doesn’t understand one iota of it. To be sent from India, where she had an ayah and servants, to Misslethwaite Manor, the most Yorkshire of Yorkshire establishments, is one that would affect the most ‘normal’ of children but to Mary, it is a baffling and confusing fate. She doesn’t understand the language, doesn’t know what a ‘moor’ is, and doesn’t even know how to dress herself properly.

Misslethwaite Manor is a difficult and confused place, hiding secrets of it own. Mr Craven, the lord of the Manor, is mourning the death of his beloved wife and has closed up a part of the garden that she used. One night, Mary wakens to hear screaming and crying coming from a part of the house. Upon exploring, she discovers that she is – well, I won’t spoil the rest of it, but her discovery is one of the things that helps to bring her back to the world.

There are a thousand, thousand themes and layers to this madly brilliant book. It reminds me of a cake sometimes, one of those gargantuan multi-layered things you see in a patisserie, being held together by air and cream and the arcane arts of a patissier. There’s space inside it, and maybe a layer of some sort of coulis, or some wafers, and every time you look at it, you wonder how it’s held together but then you realise that it is held together, and it just can’t be any other way.

This is The Secret Garden. It is a book that is different every time you look at it, and it is a book that gives you something different every time you read it.

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9 thoughts on “The Secret Garden : Frances Hodgson Burnett

  1. When I reread Frances Hodgson Burnett as an adult, what struck me was how well-drawn and utterly distinctive her child characters are. Young girls are often written in an identikit way in 19th century fiction, but you could never mix up Mary Lennox with Sara Crewe, for example.
    I don’t mind the Yorkshire dialect in this book, I think because the foreign-ness of Yorkshire to Mary is such an important part of the story, that it earns its place. Phonetically-written dialect can be distracting but it’s central enough to the narrative that it’s ok to draw attention to it.

    1. Yep, you’re very right with that – the dialect is such a big ‘signifier’ for Mary of the foreign-ness of where she is now. Thanks for pointing that out!

  2. I’ve not read it yet, but my copy is getting nearer the top of the pile of books waiting to be read (I have a sort of triage system for reading…). You’ve now made me anticipate it all the more!

  3. I love this book so much! And I have more than once heard mothers accused of turning their sons off of reading with “The Secret Garden” – I have no idea why, but my son loved it as much as I did. (We listened to it on audiobook, as usual.) Maybe because I’m not from the UK, I’ve always enjoyed the Yorkshire written out – I couldn’t hear it properly in my head without it. But written out American dialects usually do turn me off.

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