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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