Review: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden deserves its long-standing reputation as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s masterpiece.  Perhaps her most famous novel, The Secret Garden has a very credible storyline built slowly by well created circumstances and characters that rise up from the pages and introduce themselves.  Mary Lennox is the opposite of Sara Crewe in A Little Princess, except that they both become abandoned orphans.  She is completely disagreeable and there seems to be no hope for her in regards to her temperament.  Mary is so willful, selfish, and conceited that every other selfish person she meets instantly dislikes her.  However, her parents were a less than perfect example of how to behave toward others.  As selfish and thoughtless as their child, they ignored Mary from her birth until their untimely deaths.

In fact, the demise of both her parents and her move from India to England was the only way Mary could ever have any hope for anything.  She is a character who needs serious lessons in manners and love.  One of the more curious aspects of The Secret Garden is the use of Mary’s faults, which make her so human and realistic in the first place.  For example, the reason Mary had any courage to enter the secret garden at all was because she was always obstinate and strong-willed, with a blatant disregard of anyone’s authority but her own.  Moreover, her own selfishness and tyrannical manners clash so hard with that of her cousin, Colin, that she actually teaches him how to behave correctly when she sees her own flaws in him.  Colin and Mary are two sides of the same coin, so to speak.

Colin had been led to believe since he was young that he was definitely going to die or be a paralyzed hunchback for the rest of his life.  His stance as a hypochondriac irritates Mary to the point that she is determined to convince him otherwise, she who did not believe in life and growth herself.  She teaches Colin how to walk again, a veritable miracle reminiscent of Heidi, and she changes Colin’s bitter confidence in death into a strong confidence in life and the power of the secret garden.  It is sweetly ironic how an unwanted and unloved child like Mary is the key to bringing happiness and vitality back to the lives of her miserable uncle and cousin.  Relentless courage and determination were the only gifts her ruined childhood in India gave her personality, and Mary made the most of both by proving that the secret garden had potential and value, just like with her relatives.  Mary learns how to care about something other than herself for once, and through the discovery of the secret garden she learns about the power of love, growth, renewal, and change.

The Secret Garden shows the two childhoods of Mary and Colin, two children who were robbed of their first childhoods on account of bad circumstances and then were later given a second chance at growing up.  The Secret Garden is in fact a complicated reflection of Heidi, but the heroine must change herself before she can change the temperaments of those around her.  It is a moving and outstanding illustration of human nature’s capabilities and of a broken family reunited.  Therefore, if one must choose between the merit of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, the final choice is quite clear.

Original review: Part 2: Which of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “girl books” is the best?Part 3: Which of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “girl books” is the best?,


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