Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden
This is a delightful book for both young and old.
It is the story of a young girl, little “Mistress” Mary Lennox,
Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And marigolds all in a row.
She was born into privileged circumstances and grows up in India. But when she lost her parents at a tender age, she had to be sent back to live with her Uncle in his big manor house with gardens, situated on the edge of a great moor in Yorkshire.
The place is called Misselthwaite Manor.
There are many lessons to be learnt from the story which revolves around two main characters, Mary, and her spoilt cousin, Colin, and their adventures and experiences in the “secret garden” of the book’s title. They discovered it on the manor grounds after it had been left untended for almost ten years. In becoming deeply involved with bringing it back to life, they both become better children, more open to nature.
The great therapist who works her magic in marvelous ways, is always Mother Nature: she does this by making things grow; through the alternation of the seasons, she works wonderful changes in the great moor, and the children are permitted to watch the unfolding of this wonder. The moor itself reflects the vitality and always wonderful invisible things happening in nature: through the animals there, great and small, in the heath and also in the gardens of the manor itself, the diversity of flowering life on meadows of the moor, and in the way all of these are always cared for, and ultimately flourish under the care of invisible hands which these children sense and called “magic”.
In a sense, too, the secret garden is allegorical of human life – what happens to human life and relationships when people, whether young or old, become estranged from nature and what is natural, and how by drawing close to nature again, they can be healed, experience a kind of re-awakening, can unfold, and become a blessing and a joy.
Some of the salient lessons come by being presented in contrasts:
in contrast to sourness, and being unfriendly
as opposed to ill-temper and ill-humour
- Out of doors in nature
contrasted with being always stuck inside a great big house
as opposed to the darkness in enclosed spaces which do not admit any natural light
- Wholesomeness of the clean fresh air sweeping in, sometimes gusting, from the moor
in contrast to closed fetid air indoors when windows are kept closed all the time
- Closeness to nature: to the animals, birds, to the earth, to flowers, to flower buds when in the process of turning to flower, the coming of Spring, and the rotation of the seasons
as against a close-minded bookishness, fear of and remoteness from nature.
The boy Dickon who lives in a poor cottage on the other side of the moor is open to and well connected with nature and is a great contrast to Colin who is described as a domineering “little rajah”, who is demanding, petulant, and altogether unpleasant.
For adults, there are important lessons about the upbringing of children.
I quote one of many very delightful passages from the book:
… to her surprise the surly old weather-beaten face actually changed its expression. A slow smile spread over it and the gardener looked quite different. It made her think that it was curious how much nicer a person looked when he smiled. She had not thought of it before …
The main lesson is summarized as:
Seeking for the childlike in both young and old rather than being childish, ill-bred and ill-mannered.
I quote again from the last chapter of the book called “In the garden”:
… much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable, determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place:
“Where you tend a rose, my lad,
A thistle cannot grow.”