Book review

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

If you could choose, I don't suppose you would choose Mary Lennox for a playmate:

When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression.

But you would probably be disagreeable too if you had lived in India all your short life, dumped on servants while your parents busied themselves with parties and entertaining. Mary Lennox was unwanted and unloved and almost went unnoticed when cholera hit the household. Both her parents died and she was shipped off to the wild moors of Yorkshire to live with her reclusive, hunch-backed uncle.

'And you mustn't expect that there will be people to talk to you. You'll have to play about and look after yourself. You'll be told what rooms you can go into and what rooms you're to keep out of. There's gardens enough. But when you're in the house don't go wandering and poking about. Mr Craven won't have it.'

Not a very inviting start to a new life, is it? Actually, things are very different for Miss Mary. The Yorkshire housemaid, Martha, doesn't respond like her old Indian Ayah:

'Who are you callin' names?' she said. 'You needn't be so vexed. That's not th'way for a young lady to talk ...'

Ben Weatherstaff, the old gardener, doesn't take to her very readily:

'Tha' an' me are a good bit alike,' he said, 'We was wove out of th' same cloth. We're neither of us good-lookin' an' we're both of us as sour as we look. We've got the same nasty tempers, both of us, I'll warrant.'

And she's very lonely.

She takes to roaming round the gardens, because there really isn't anything else to do. And there is this queer matter of the locked garden which she must never go into:

'Mr Craven had it shut when his wife died so sudden. He won't let no one go inside. It was her garden. He locked th' door an' dug a hole and buried th' key ...'

But there is one thing at Misselthwaite Manor that Mary didn't reckon on - and neither did anyone else. There is a special kind of magic. As Mary wanders round the windy gardens the magic begins to do its work. First, the robin befriends her, and then old Ben Weatherstaff pauses for a chat. Mary finds she likes to listen to Martha the housemaid, about her mother and brothers and sisters in the cottage on the moor. And when Mary finally meets her uncle Craven, she finds a crippled man, grief-stricken at the death of his wife ten years ago, but not unkind.

I'm going to have to leave the rest of the story for you to find out for yourself. But I can tell you that Martha's got a super brother called Dickon who does live a life of pure magic out on the moor from dawn until dusk. And, to Mary's great surprise, she finds she also has a cousin. Read on ... I think you will love this book. Slowly, slowly Mary is transformed by the wholesome life that she lives at Misselthwaite Manor. It's a very emotional story, beautifully told, and comes to a happy, triumphant end.

What can I read next?

If you enjoy this book I'm sure you will enjoy the other books by Frances Hodgson Burnett:

  • A Little Princess
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy

You might also like to look at anything by E. Nesbit who was writing similar magical stories at the same time as Frances Hodgson Burnett:

John Masefield wrote his books a little later, but they are very similar, also magical:

I think you would love this series by Mary Norton:

And I think you couldn't help but enjoy anything by Stephen Elboz:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

The Secret Garden features in these lists: