The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Suzie Eisfelder

Tracey, in the Aussie Book Bloggers group on Facebook, suggested we do a readalong in the Community Chat with The Secret Garden. Figuring it was a good chance to reread the book and always wanting a new book experience I indicated my interest. When I couldn’t find the book on my shelves I popped across to my closest library and borrowed it.

The story is fairly basic. Spoiled little girl loses her parents and is sent from her home in India to an uncle’s place in England. The uncle is morose and still grieving the loss of his beloved wife, only ten years prior. Mary is brought down to earth by the servant assigned to look after her on top of her other duties. She comes to love the moors and the people around her. Magic happens, not real magic, but the magic that is nature and the magic that sometimes happens in people’s hearts and in their bodies when they’re eating well and getting exercise.

Mary puts on weight, gets colour into her cheeks and finds The Secret Garden. Not in that order, mind you, but it feels as if she had to be healthier in order to find it.

She then becomes friends with Dickon, the brother of Martha, the servant assigned to look after her. He’s a down-to-earth chap who knows animals, birds and gardens as if he can talk to them all in their language.

Finally, she finds Colin and tames him. He seems to be a sickly little boy until Mary gets him outside and nature works its magic on him as well.

The last person to add to the mix is Ben, the gardener. Out of all of the characters in this book I think I like Ben the most. He’s old and crabby, he’s still missing his master’s wife and he’s a rebel at heart. Just remember, this is a children’s book and there is nothing inappropriate happening between the adults. His master’s wife was just a lovely lady, loved by all.

I first read this book when I was about ten years old, about the age that Mary is for most of the book. It had a kind of magic back then and nothing has changed for this reread.

Things I loved about this book

The use of Yorkshire words and dialect. It was wonderful to learn new words, I probably won’t use them but I’ve learned them once. I enjoyed slowing my reading to read the dialect and get some idea of how people in that area speak. Mary and Colin started taking on some Yorkshire, feeling quite proud of themselves for having learned it.

I enjoyed reading about Martha, Dickon and their family. We didn’t see most of them, but we heard about how there were twelve children and they lived with their parents in a four room house. This is to distinguish it from the big house where Mary was sent, it had one hundred rooms, all locked up.

It was fascinating to watch the class system at work. Martha’s Mum is depicted as very down-to-earth, but also very clever. What seems to hold her back is her broad Yorkshire. Apparently, you can’t be seen as clever if you speak such strong dialect. And we’re told that back in India the English have servants who do everything for them, pick everything up, dress them and so much more. These concepts are laid out in such a clear and simple manner that I didn’t feel patronised by any of the information.

Mary and Colin are both spoiled, but for different reasons. They have no empathy for other people and they show that in so many little ways. But during the course of this book they learn empathy and they learn how to share. They also learn to appreciate other people and their skills. Some great lessons in this book.

Not understanding how the readalong worked I came into the Community Chat a little late. Most people were still reading so it all worked. So far, everyone has rated this book quite highly. For me, it’s in my favourites. I should write about this list one day, most of the books are for children, I find that intriguing and want to explore that more.

If you’d like to look at the book at Booktopia here’s a link. I chose a cheap copy in case you want to buy a copy and read the magic for yourself.

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