Burnett, Frances Hodgson, Children's/Coming-of-Age

Review of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Illustrated by Russell Barnett
Illustrated by Russell Barnett

Here is what Goodreads has to say about The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett:

What secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite Manor? Recently arrived at her uncle’s estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won’t enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty–unaware that she is changing too. But Misselthwaite hides another secret, as Mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin, Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic will work wonders on him.

While most of the work concentrates on Colin’s personal transformation, I would like to say a few words about Mary’s transformation.

At the beginning of the novel, Mary is presented as a spoiled and selfish child. Mary clearly grew up in a privileged environment. At Misselthwaite Manor, she screams at Martha for thinking she was a native:

“You thought I was a native! You dared! You don’t know anything about natives! They are not people – they’re servants who must salaam to you. You know nothing about India.”

It is important to note that Mary is shouting at Martha who is a servant herself. Mary later admits to never having experienced hunger.

But like Colin, Mary was neglected by her parents. She got everything she wanted but not what she needed (parental love, friendship, etc). Mary’s transformation is brought about both by learning to appreciate those with lower social standing than herself and by finally encountering love and friendship. To understand Mary’s growth as an individual, it is important to understand her upbringing as both a privileged and unprivileged girl. The same can be said about Colin’s upbringing.

What did I think about it?

I enjoyed reading The Secret Garden. This is a somewhat atypical coming-of-age story in that the children help each other find their inner strength without much help from adults. For example, Dickon’s love for animals and the earth is contagious; he helps Mary and Colin overcome their personal challenges. Dickon reminds one of St. Francis of Assisi.

There was a lot of mention in the book of Magic as a force of renewal and healing in the world. I think that this was a reflection of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s personal beliefs in Christian Science. The children, especially Colin, come to be very interested in this Magic. I couldn’t help but cringe, though, when Colin said that he considered studying Magic as a type of scientific discovery. Colin is a child and is discovering his inner strength so his beliefs are understandable, but the study of Magic is not exactly scientific.

Martha is my favorite character in the novel. She is worked to the bone at Misselthwaite Manor but she never fails to help her mother and eleven siblings on her holidays. She is also extremely patient and kind toward Mary and Colin.

If you are in need of some inspiration, The Secret Garden is the book to read. It is refreshing to read something with such a positive message.

Favorite Quote:

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done – then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”