Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden is a classic novel written by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

It tells the story of three kids, and a man, whose lives were transformed by a secret garden.

The main characters in the story are Mary, the little girl who lost her parents to an outbreak of cholera in India; Colin, the son of the master of the mansion; Dickson, the younger brother of one of the female servants in the household; and Archibald Craven, Colin’s father.

The minor characters are Ben Weatherstaff, the old gardener; Martha, one of the female servants and who becomes Mary’s friend; Mrs. Medlock, the head servant; and Susan Sowerby, Dickon’s and Martha’s mother.

Mary lost her parents in India. Having no one else to take care of her, she was sent to England to her uncle who owns a huge manor in the middle of a moor. She is an ill-tempered and ill-mannered child for she has never received any of her mother’s love and attention.

Colin is almost as old as Mary. He is a very sickly child. He is bed-ridden out of choice, and he is prone to bouts of anger and hysteria. He is a miserable child who believes that he looks horrible and that he is dying. He, too, is a neglected child. His father doesn’t want to look at him because he reminds him very much of his mother who died when he was a baby. So his father is almost always out of the house, wandering from place to place.

Archibald Craven is a severely depressed and troubled man. His wife died ten years ago due to a freak accident. They have a very beautiful garden filled with roses. The garden is sort of their secret hideaway. When she died, he almost went mad with grief. He locked the garden, buried the key, and forgot all about it. He also abandoned his son, because he reminded him so much of his wife. He provided for his every need — food, shelter, clothing — except love and attention.

Dickson is a country lad. He is a few years older than Mary and Colin. He loves the outdoors, has foxes and birds for his friends, and enjoys making plants grow.

Mary, Colin, and Dickon quickly become friends. Mary discovers the secret garden with the help of a robin, and she shares her discovery with them.

The garden, with all its beauty, serenity and secrecy, as well as their friendship, transformed them. There is a parallel change between the garden and their characters. At first, the garden looked dead and gray. But with care, the children were able to transform it into a haven of beautiful blooming flowers. At first, Mary and Colin looked sullen, morbid, ill-tempered and mean. But with the passing of time, and with the nourishing power of their friendship, and the beautiful effect the garden had on them (Colin called it “Magic”), the children became more healthy and bursting with life.

Archibald Craven dreamt of his wife calling out to him to go back to the garden. He went back and was utterly amazed when he saw the secret garden come alive again. But he was more moved by the sight of his son, no longer sickly, but strong and bright. Colin carried in the light of his eyes the same eyes of his mother, Archibald’s wife. He somehow finds his peace.

I liked the story, but somehow I didn’t find it very enjoyable. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really try hard enough to imagine the setting of the story. I’m not very familiar with the different kinds of flowers and plants it describes (nor am I fond of flowers and gardens, for that matter). I also don’t know what a Yorkshire accent sounds like, so I found it a bit difficult to make sense of what the characters were saying.

I like the theme of the novel, though. Mary, Colin, and Archibald are wounded characters. Mary and Colin suffered from parental neglect. Archibald was haunted by the death of his wife. He loved her so much, and she was so beautiful inside and out that, when he lost her, he couldn’t live sanely anymore. He had to run away from the boy who reminded him of her, and he had to seek out elsewhere the beauty that he once beheld in his wife and their secret garden. But all three of them eventually found peace. Friendship, love, and beauty — these were the things that healed them in the end.

My Review: 3 out of 5 stars.
Date Read: December 28, 2010

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