The Big Read

Books from Childhood – No. 51 The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Another one of my childhood favourites. I have always loved classics as they fall into the ‘another world’ category, the visiting of which is why I read. Stubborn, spoilt Mary Lennox, named for the nursery rhyme Mary Mary Quite Contrary, is sent to live with an Uncle she has never met after a cholera epidemic in colonial India where her parents are killed. At first she resents her new home and everyone in it but then she finds the secret garden and soon starts to realise all is not as it seems with her new home.

Reflecting on this story as an adult it strikes me that it follows several Gothic traditions: the healing power of nature, the spooky house and the mysterious noises. The entire story is shrouded in mystery, which I loved, as you try to unravel the secret of the garden and of Misselthwaite Manor with Mary. The suspense is well built keeping you reading desperate to find out what will happen but at the same time you never fear for Mary’s safety; the balance is perfectly struck for children.

It is also a story about finding love. Mary’s contrary ways are a result of the lack of affection that she suffered at the hands of her parents in India, and her Uncle’s cold nature is due to his own heartbreak. The garden brings the family together and we leave the story confident that they will all live happily ever after. It is a sentimental ending I admit but what else can you expect from a piece of Edwardian children’s literature? I love it, it fits so nicely with the characters’ progression you almost feel as if they earned their happily ever after.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: children aged 9-13 (the language is a little archaic)

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