Sunday 22 April 2018

Cheat read: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Written in 1910 in England Children's Classic

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Justine Carbery

THE RUNDOWN Mary Lennox, a disagreeable, solitary 10-year-old, grew up in India getting her own way in everything, making her "so spoiled that salt won't save her". When an outbreak of cholera claims the lives of both her parents, she is shipped to England to live with her only remaining relative, her dour uncle Archibald Craven at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire.

A widower, mourning the death of his wife, who fell out of a tree in their special garden 10 years ago, he leaves Mary to her own devices. She becomes intrigued with the idea of the forgotten garden, which has been locked up since the tragedy. She succeeds in gaining entry and gets to work cleaning it up, becoming healthier and less spoiled by the day as she works outdoors and befriends her servant's brother Dickon, who teaches her all about plants and animals. One evening Mary hears someone crying, and goes searching the huge house and discovers her cousin, Colin Craven, a sickly, reclusive child, prone to raging tantrums. Mary tells him about the secret garden and he becomes determined to see it.


In 1910, The Secret Garden appeared in serial format in The American Magazine, a publication aimed at adults. While it sold well and received good reviews, it didn't compare in popularity to other works such as Little Lord Fauntleroy or The Little Princess.

In fact, when Burnett died in 1924, The Secret Garden wasn't even mentioned in her obituaries.

It wasn't until the 1940s, and the rise of scholarship around children's literature, that people started calling The Secret Garden a classic.


Mary brings Dickon to meet Colin and together they conspire to take Colin to the garden in his wheelchair. There, Colin, who has not been outside for years, stands up from his chair and finds that his legs are fine, though weak from disuse for so long. The children keep this a secret from the adults until Colin's father returns from his travels. Mr Craven, surprised to find that the garden is now thriving again, is thrilled that his son has become strong, invigorated and healthy through his connection with the secret garden and the transformative powers of nature and love.


Initially The Secret Garden had lukewarm success and became little more than a footnote in Burnett's prolific career but with the rise of interest in children's literature and the appearance of beautiful illustrated editions, The Secret Garden has become a true children's classic, translated into nearly every known language. Several notable film and theatre adaptations of this much beloved novel have been made.


The original title was Mistress Mary, from the popular nursery rhyme 'Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow?'

In 1898, Burnett rented a Downton Abbey-style manor in Kent called Great Maytham Hall. It had a walled kitchen garden, where the ivy on the walls was so overgrown that she couldn't find the entrance. Finally, like Mary in The Secret Garden, a robin sitting on a nearby branch showed her where it was.

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