The Secret Garden

While devouring my usual dose of urban fantasy  and sci-fi, I have encountered so many mentions about Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tale that I felt I had to read it. I wanted to understand  what made The Secret Garden memorable. I downloaded it on my Kindle and read it between books, as a snack before and after meals. I started slowly; I normally need some time to get used to a different author’s pace and style. Especially if the novel was written more than one hundred years ago, when authors fancied to do all the talking, and narrate the story as if they were master puppeteers. The third person omniscient is hard to get used to, and Burnett gave thoughts even to the animals and the plants in her novel. Although I find that a thinking bud is a rather fascinating subject, and that given the right amount of persuasion even rocks can talk, switching between point of views, sentence after sentence, can result in a pounding headache for the modern reader. Knowing everything about everybody at any given moment feels like cheating. It is like leafing through the pages of a thriller and when you can’t stand it anymore, jumping to the last one to discover who is the murderer. Nonetheless there is something about the characters in this novel that made me keep going despite the narrator’s distinctive voice intruding in the flow. Miss Mary and Master Colin are selfish and unlikable kids. Both born rich and used to command an army of servants. Both neglected by their parents from birth. Mary is sent back to England  after her parents die of an outbreak of cholera in India. Archibald Craven, Colin’s father, a reclusive widow who is Mary’s uncle, becomes her guardian. He doesn’t care about her and forgets she even exists as soon as Mary set foot in England. After being left alone in India, Mary is left alone, again, in Misselthwaite Manor where she has only Martha, a young servant unimpressed by the sour kid, to help her. Martha teaches Mary the Yorkshire dialect, and the invaluable lesson of being able to fetch things for herself. Mary for once in her life is forced to find amusement without anybody attending on her. She soon discovers that Misselthwaite Manor has two big secrets. Among the gardens there is a walled space where nobody is allowed in by master’s orders. Mary, helped by a robin that has befriended her, finds the buried key to the secret garden. Soon after Martha’s brother, Dickon, starts helping her digging and planting in the garden. Following the first wondrous discovery, Mary meets Colin, the young master who never leaves his room for fear of being a cripple doomed to die soon. It is friendship at first sight between the two. Mary introduces Colin to Dickon, and with his help they start a journey of self-healing and physical and spiritual  growth. The three kids work in the secret garden and observe the miracle of life while nature awakes before their eyes. Mary and Colin are taught by Dickon’s actions that positive thinking leads to good things to happen. Even Colin’s father, visiting the Alps, is called back home by a supernatural calling. Archibald Craven can feel that miraculous changings are taking places at Misselthwaite Manor and that is finally time to be a father for Colin. Burnett was a follower of the Christian Science, and the garden, as a central theme of the novel, symbolize both death and life. Destruction and creation. The garden loved by Colin’s mother, and closed after her death by Colin’s father, reunites a family that is on a path of self-destruction. Although the concept of willing anything in life by just wanting it is rather naïve, I enjoyed the simplemindedness of the three kids. Colin decides to get on living, and Mary decides that the garden will grow, and they talk each other to it. Dickon’s character is pure light and goodness because he is one with nature and all its living creatures. He helps Mary and Colin, who have been living in bitterness, to achieve the same enlightenment. It is interesting that there is no villain in the novel, but Mary, Colin, and Mr. Craven, are their own enemies. The negative attitude the main characters have toward life is their own demise. Colin is bedridden because he thinks, like his father, that he is going to be a hunchback and die young. Mary, unwanted by her mother, doesn’t care for anybody, because nobody cared for her. They are what they think they are. Until they discover that they have the power to change what they don’t like. The Secret Garden is a motivational speech wrapped up in a novel, but despite the blatant religious message I ended up rooting for the kids, and the animals, and even the plants. Everybody and everything in the novel got my approval, but Archibald Craven. He remained a little bit of a douche until the end, I am afraid. I can’t find in my heart any sympathy for adult characters who act like spoiled children. It also didn’t help that, apart from a brief appearance in the middle of the story, he suddenly comes back when everything has already been said and done. But that’s just my opinion.  A final comment about the third person omniscient is due. It was all the rage back when the novel was written, so I can’t fault the author. And who knows, maybe it will come back like the eighties leg warmers.

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The Secret Garden

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