I had tried to read this book perhaps two or three times in my childhood, but had always been put off by the first few paragraphs, which spoke of a “tyrannical and selfish little pig” of a girl who “was yellow because she had been born in India.” The introduction of the book conveyed the image of such a negative and disagreeable character that I didn’t feel like going on! Recently, however, I was required to read Burnett’s The Secret Garden for one of my English literature courses, and though I still wouldn’t consider it one of my all time favourites, I must say that it was much better than I had originally expected it to be.
The Secret Garden is a story about a girl named Mary Lennox, a selfish and sickly child born in India and raised, not by her parents - who being rich, powerful and popular, were far too busy for her - but by servants who gave her anything she wanted to keep her out of the way. The extent of her neglect can be seen when, during a bout of cholera which takes her parents lives, she is forgotten as all of the household makes a flee from the disease. After she is re-discovered by two officers checking up on the abandoned bungalow, she is sent to live at Misselthwaite Manor, the house of her widowed and reclusive uncle Archibald Craven, located at the distant edge of a moor in Yorkshire, Northern England.
There is an air of tremendous mystery about Misselthwaite Manor, which gives the novel an almost gothic feel. The house has nearly one hundred rooms, most of which are locked up. Archibald Craven, immersed in grief for his wife Lilias ten years dead, is all but never seen. Uncanny cries are heard between the wailings of the wind on the moor at night, and when Mary asks questions about them, the household servants are evasive. And, of course, there is a secret garden which hasn’t been opened for a decade, with walls hidden by ivy, and a buried key.
As Mary gradually uncovers these secrets, she unconsciously uncovers the secret of a healthy and happy life as well. Through nurturing the secret garden as well as her relationships with newfound friends, she undergoes a complete transformation of character, and grows into a wholesome and loving little girl.
This novel will strike a chord with those who are of the mindset that kids should be playing with friends outdoors rather than watching TV and rotting away indoors. I also think gardeners and nature-lovers would enjoy the story and find something to identify with in the symbiotic relationship between the children and the garden. If you are a literature enthusiast, you’ll enjoy this classic for its many layers of meaning, as well as the careful detail the author has put into elements such as character names. The only thing I disliked about the book was its Eurocentric viewpoint. Adult readers are sure to notice the implication in the text that English culture is better than the Indian culture in which Mary had been living; child readers may or may not acknowledge it. Overall though, while I think the language is a bit sophisticated for the average young child today, The Secret Garden is a novel that has plenty to offer for most people and is well worth the read.
I would read this book all the time in grade school and enjoy reading it again from time to time. Orphaned Mary is sent from India, where she was born and semi-raised by inattentive parents who die in a cholera epidemic, to England to be raised by an uncle she didn't know she had. She's mostly kept under the care of the house manager and finds the garden of the title that had once belonged to her aunt. Of course, she becomes healthier and less sallow as she tends the garden. She discoverers … more