Recently I have felt like revisiting some of the books I loved when I was younger. I remember reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and watching the film several times a long time ago, but for some reason not in the past few years. It seemed like a good choice for a light read.
Despite having read and re-read this book countless times when I was younger, and knowing the plot very well at this point, The Secret Garden still has that sort of magic to it that is difficult to describe. Despite the events of the book being mostly contained in one setting (Misselthwaite Manor and the surrounding gardens) , and there being little conflict in the book, it is somehow still so engaging and lovely to read. You just can’t help but fall in love with the “contrary” Mary, the charming Dickon and the poor, pathetic Colin.
The Secret Garden is definitely one of the books that got me into reading classics years ago, and it’s clear why. A children’s book above all, it is sweet and happy and moral, and an overall pleasing read. Burnett succeeds in creating an enticing setting, and brings readers into the secret of the garden and the beauty of nature.
One thing I did notice though when reading the book this time was that there is some darkness to it. The idea of Colin being shut away, sleeping under a portrait of his dead mother, crying out at night, and being told by a relative – who wants his inheritance for himself – to remember that he is dying and weak is strangely disturbing. Coupled with the setting of the novel on the wild Yorkshire moors, the locked up rooms and the strange, absentee Mr Craven, there is definitely (in my opinion) a Gothic undertone to the story. The darkness that is a backdrop to the story also includes, of course, Mary’s upbringing in India: forgotten by her parents, and the deaths of her family and servants from cholera. There is something almost Bronte-esque about The Secret Garden.
Of course, being a children’s book, the darkness remained only an undertone to the mystery of the Secret Garden and the main characters learning about being good people and friendship. I almost wish there was another book about Mr Craven and Colin’s mother or about the children when they grow up that delved into the possible further mysteries of Misselthwaite. However, this would undoubtedly spoil the magic of the first book. There are some unofficial sequels, which perhaps I will have a go at, but I really don’t want to be disappointed.
Overall, I still really like this book, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes classics or wants to get into them. It really is a beautiful story for all ages. I’d be interested to hear what any of you might think about the underlying darker themes in the novel.