29/10/2004

The Secret Garden (by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

There's something very reassuring about re-reading old favourite children's books. Frances Hodgson Burnett didn't write very many, but they're all worth reading again, by adults and children. They make good books to read aloud, too.

'The Secret Garden' is probably the best-known of her works. It's mainly about the spoilt Mary Lennox, who arrives at Misselthwaite Manor after tragedy strikes her parents out in India. Mary has known no life other than that as a colonial daughter surrounded by servants, and has never had to do anything for herself.

The maid Martha is assigned to Mary, and is so friendly that Mary soon accepts her, which is just as well since almost everyone else mostly ignores her. Her guardian is the owner of the manor, but is a recluse since his young wife died.

Mary gradually explores the huge gardens, discovers some secrets, and meets the delightful free spirit Dickon who has a remarkably gift with animals. Gradually she gains health and strength of body and mind - sadly missing from her days in India - through fresh air and wholesome food. It also helps that she no longer gets her own way all the time!

I do like the way that unlovable characters are at the fore of this book, yet still make the reader care about them, and even empathise with them to some degree. There is, of course, some snobbery and class consciousness, but then it was written well over a hundred years ago.

There's a very pleasant film version of 'The Secret Garden', available on DVD. I don't always like movies made from books, but thought this one worked well, although some of the plot was changed rather more than I like!

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