Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden is a fondly-remembered childhood favorite of mine. At my seventh birthday party, I was given two copies as gifts! I know we returned one of the duplicates, although I don't recall what we exchanged it for, but I would have done well to keep both books, tucking one away for the future; the one I kept is now falling to pieces. But my bookworm child has read that tattered copy. I love it when she not only reads my old favorites, but especially when she reads the very same book I read when I was little.

What's not to love about the story of a young girl, raised in India and recently orphaned, who is shuttled off to her distant uncle's mysterious house at the edge of the English moors? Throw in a sad account about the untimely death of her beautiful aunt, some strange noises blamed on the wind, and a friendly, bright-eyed robin, and my seven-year-old attention was captured.

Sadly, this is another one of those stories that may not hold the same fascination for a reader first coming to it as an adult. If you missed out on reading this when you were young, leaving you unable to nostalgically unearth childhood memories during a re-read, maybe you need to put yourself into the mind of a child as you read it? Otherwise you may find it boring, as Renae (from book club) did. (Oh, yes, I just named you, girl.) But as for me, there are a few passages that can even now elicit a thrill when I read them: one of those would be, of course, when Mary first discovers the forgotten garden.

I'm not sure how many times I've read this book, but it's odd (even for a literary amnesiac) that I didn't remember all the prattle about Magic. How could I so vividly remember the first half of the book while what I recalled of the second half was so vague and shadowy? Maybe because the first half is delectable and the second half is kind of crap. Not that I have a problem with magic. Where would Harry Potter or the Pevensies be without it? Maybe it's just Magic-with-a-capital-M that gives me trouble.

Despite a bit of crap, I love to watch Mary's transformation throughout this story. As the book opens, she is a sour, lonely, and quite contrary little girl; bit by bit, she becomes a kind and thoughtful friend, while still retaining her spunky pride and stubbornness. It's no fun--and not especially believable--when a character begins with nothing but rough edges and ends as a perfect angel, but you won't find that annoying mistake here. Mary's polishing leaves her improved but still undeniably human.

I call this another book to give to all the little girls in your life, so they can love it now and in the years to come!


Marce said...

I read this for the first time this year and loved it. I can't wait for my 4 year old daughter to get older so we can read it together, lovely, just a magical book. So out of my norm also.

Happy Holidays

Kristi said...

I picked up a copy with that cover recently at a thrift shop. I knew that I wanted it around for when my daughter starts reading.

Andi said...

This one is probably better enjoyed as a kiddo. I haven 't had much luck with it as an adult, though I do torture my Children's Lit for Education Major class with it!

Good to see you blogging!!

Emidy (Une Parole) said...

I read this book a while ago, and you're making me want to pick it up again! It felt so magical back then so I'd be curious to see how I feel about it now. Lovely review by the way!

Vintage Reading said...

Don't think I've read this since childhood and your review has made me want to re-read this. I loved A Little Princess, too.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I loved this book - read it when I was ten for the first time, I think. Re-read it a fair few times as a teenager, but haven't since I hit the twenties.

It's amazing to share your books with your little girl. My parents were avid readers while growing up, but they actually *lost* boxes of books. Was such a waste to re-purchase them all, but... I've learnt from their mistakes, and my books never found their way into any boxes.

I really should re-read this children's classic sometime soon. Like you said, the transformation from 'Mary Mary quite contrary' to the more pleasant girl is quite believable, and at so many points, you can relate to her or sympathise with her, which is what makes this book so special.

Cozy in Texas said...

I love the cover on the book. I don't remember anything about magic when I read it as a child. I need to pick up a copy to re-read and will keep it for my granddaughter.

Kathy said...

I've been remiss in replying to comments for so long that I hardly know what to say, so many months after you all posted here. I guess I would like you to know I did see your comments when you first posted them, and I love that you share with me a sweet nostalgia for this book. Thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting!

Aditi said...

I know you've appropriately labelled it under "stories for children" but it feels really really timeless...such books, they keep the magic alive in us i think. It's because deep inside, we probably never want to grow up! :)

Kathy said...

I agree, this story feels timeless and magical! It also feels old-fashioned, but somehow that only adds to the timelessness and magic.