Day: July 17, 2021

by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Lovely book I remember so well from my childhood. Although the characters aren’t so lovely themselves at first! but that’s part of the charm, seeing how they grow and change. Orphaned Mary Lennox is downright unpleasant when she arrives in England from India, where her parents had died of cholera. She’s to stay with her distant uncle in a huge old house full of unused rooms. He travels a lot and she’s pretty much left to her own devices. Bored and lonely, she wanders the grounds where she finds a gruff older gardener working. Mary discovers that there’s a locked garden somewhere on the grounds, and curiosity drives her to locate it, and find a way to get inside. She wants to know if anything is left alive, since the garden was locked up for ten years. Partly guided by a friendly robin, she does find the garden and its door- and then keeps it a secret as she works to bring it back to life herself- weeding and coaxing the flowers to grow. Of course she can’t hide it forever. Soon she makes friends with the housemaid’s boy Dickon, and lets him in on her secret. Later she makes a shocking discovery (at least, it shocked me as a child) that she has an invalid cousin, who keeps to his room in another part of the house. The boy is just as spoiled as she was upon arrival to the house, but now she wants to help him grow healthier and enjoy life- by showing him the garden. Together the children conspire to keep their use of the garden hidden from adults- while being out in the fresh air, exercising and enjoying other’s company seems to help the sickly cousin Colin grow stronger. Mary is convinced that the garden is magic- that being among the beautiful growing things helped her, and now it’s helping Colin.

It’s hard to argue with that. A lot of the story has some obvious metaphors- as spring unfolds with the growth of plants, Mary gradually blossoms into a lively, kind child (though she still has her moments of sour temper). It seems the author’s message was that attitude can have a huge influence on how one feels, even affected your health- but I think that’s only to a point. Maybe she carries this idea a little too far- especially in Colin’s case. Everyone around him believed he was a sickly baby who grew into a sickly child who might never live. So he believed it himself. Until Mary startled him out of feeling sorry for himself and took him out in to the garden. Nature the great healer. I liked better the beginning of the story when Mary was attempting to clear things in the garden and help the plants even though she knew so little about it, rather than the end when some of the characters got a bit preachy. But overall it’s still a wonderful story.

I wanted to read this one again because I watched a recent movie version of it with my ten-year-old. I expected some parts to be different from the book, but I was a little disappointed how different they were. For starters, there’s no dog in the original story. The movie left out the old gardener entirely, and he was one of my favorite characters! I was dismayed at how much the movie emphasized the idea of magic, rather than just wholesome living and positive attitudes, working their cure on Mary and Colin. And the garden was oddly full of tropical plants, not at all like I’d pictured it from the book. I recognize that nowadays people have issues with racist attitudes the book showed- particularly towards people of color, and the servants, and even maybe the Yorkshire accent is offensive? those things didn’t bother me at all on a re-read, I suppose nostalgia let me breeze over them too easily. For all that, I still much prefer the original book to what this movie portrayed. However I found in poking around online there’s quite a few older film versions, some look interesting and closer to what I felt was the original feel of the book. I might try and find a few!

Rating: 4/5
256 pages, 1911

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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