‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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Colin, Mary and Dickon in the 1993 film version

There are many tales from my childhood which I absolutely adore (The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Madeline, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc.), but The Secret Garden is my absolute favourite.  I watched the VHS of the 1993 film so often when I was younger that I managed to wear it out.

The story in The Secret Garden is lovely.  On the surface of it, the plot seems rather simple – a young girl is sent to England after the death of her parents during a cholera epidemic, and is forced to stay in the middle of nowhere (rural Yorkshire, to be precise) with a mysterious uncle whom she does not know.  At first Mary Lennox, the young girl in question, is lonely, but her inherent stubbornness allows her to make the best of her situation.  Those who persevere with her – the kindly maid Martha, for example – alter her personality, and she begins to care about those around her in consequence.  Mary finds out about a secret walled garden which belonged to her aunt, and which has been shut up since her death.  She vows to resurrect it with the help of kindly Martha’s lovely brother, Dickon.

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‘The Secret Garden’ Penguin Threads edition

What complexities there are creep into the plot almost immediately.  Hodgson Burnett weaves ever such a lot of different details into the story – life in colonial India, disparities between different societies around the world, cholera, disability, death, suffering, the bleakness of surroundings, loneliness, the building of relationships and an appreciation of the natural world.  I absolutely adore all of the characters in their own ways.  Mary is headstrong – amusingly so at times – and her determination is often rather inspiring.  Mrs Medlock is nowhere near as awful as the film makes her out to be (Maggie Smith’s portrayal of her did used to frighten me a little, I admit), and she does have compassion for her charge.  Colin, despite his petulant nature and obsession with having a lump on his back like his father’s, is rather adorable.

I adore Hodgson Burnett’s writing style.  With it, she has crafted a beautiful and memorable tale which gets better with every read, and she has introduced me to some of the finest literary characters I could ever hope to meet.  The Secret Garden is an utterly enchanting novel, and the story and its characters will always have a place within my heart.  I love the way in which they grow and develop as the story progresses, and their interactions with one another have been portrayed so well.  A truly heartwarming tale, and a perfect summery read.

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