The Blurb (from Goodreads):
The plot centers round Mary Lennox, a young English girl who returns to England from India, having suffered the immense trauma by losing both her parents in a cholera epidemic. However, her memories of her parents are not pleasant, as they were a selfish, neglectful and pleasure-seeking couple. Mary is given to the care of her uncle Archibald Craven, whom she has never met. She travels to his home, Misselthwaite Manor located in the gloomy Yorkshire, a vast change from the sunny and warm climate she was used to. When she arrives, she is a rude, stubborn and given to stormy temper tantrums. However, her nature undergoes a gradual transformation when she learns of the tragedies that have befallen her strict and disciplinarian uncle whom she earlier feared and despised. Once when he’s away from home, Mary discovers a charming walled garden which is always kept locked. The mystery deepens when she hears sounds of sobbing from somewhere within her uncle’s vast mansion. The kindly servants ignore her queries or pretend they haven’t heard, spiking Mary’s curiosity.
The Secret Garden appeals to both young and old alike. It has wonderful elements of mystery, spirituality, charming characters and an authentic rendering of childhood emotions and experiences. Commonsense, truth and kindness, compassion and a belief in the essential goodness of human beings lie at the heart of this unforgettable story. It is the best known of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s works, though most of us have definitely heard of, if not read, her other novel Little Lord Fauntleroy.
The book has been adapted extensively on stage, film and television and translated into all the world’s major languages. In 1991, a Japanese anime version was launched for television in Japan. It remains a popular and beloved story of a child’s journey into maturity, and a must-read for every child, parent, teacher and anyone who would enjoy this fascinating glimpse of childhood. One of the most delightful and enduring classics of children’s literature, The Secret Garden by Victorian author Frances Hodgson Burnett has remained a firm favorite with children the world over ever since it made its first appearance. Initially published as a serial story in 1910 in The American Magazine, it was brought out in novel form in 1911.”
Every year on my birthday I re-read a beloved old children’s book, one I haven’t read for a while. I take a while choosing it, gazing at the antique dresser in my front hall where they take pride of place, pulling down one or another, turning over the pages, re-discovering and remembering. Then I choose one, find somewhere warm and comfy, and settle down to read. It’s my favourite birthday ritual.
This year I chose The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1910. I have a few different editions of it, but my favourite is a gorgeous big hardback illustrated by Inga Moore. Her art is so beautiful and so perfect for the story.
The Secret Garden has one of the most intriguing and unusual first lines ever:
“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.”
Mary is not a sympathetic character – she is thin, sour-faced, and selfish. Born and raised in India, she has lost both her parents in a cholera epidemic. She does not grieve very hard, though, for they were both distant and unloving. She is sent to live at her uncle’s house, Misselthwaite Manor, which is located in the wilds of Yorkshire. It is cold and damp and misty, and she is all alone. She wanders about the huge house and garden, talks to a few of the servants, and one night hears a child sobbing somewhere in the house.
A gardener tells her about a secret garden, hidden away somewhere in the grounds. It belonged to her uncle’s wife, and she loved and nurtured it so that it was always full of flowers. But one day she dies there, and Mary’s uncle locked the garden up and hid the key. No-one has seen it since.
The idea of a secret garden fascinates Mary, and she longs to find it. One day a robin shows her the way. As the garden begins to wake and come back to life, so does Mary. She discovers she has a cousin hidden away in the house, and shares the secret with him. Along with the delightful Yorkshire boy, Dickon, they work together in the garden and both are transformed and healed by the magical workings of nature. I love this book so much – I think it’s one of the things that gave me such a deep love of gardens which has been a source-well of joy all my life.