The Secret Garden
“The Secret Garden, ” written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1911, has always been one of my favorite children’s classics. I see from the fly leaf that it was given to me for Christmas, 1947, which means that my Uncle Sam read it to me the winter I was in fourth grade, and I probably read it to myself the next year. The descriptions are so well written, the characters so clearly drawn that it was easy for me to immerse myself in the story and become Mary Lennox, an orphan who was sent to live with a rich but unfeeling uncle in England. Her friends became my friends : Colin, the uncle ‘s invalid son and Dickon, a local boy who was filled with spirit and practical knowledge. The secret garden, a place of great beauty, was as real to me as my father ‘s Victory Garden. The plot was a compelling one.
My love for this story continued into adulthood as I saw the musical version of it on Broadway in 1991 and then the movie in 1993. Last summer I decided to reread the book and discovered, to my amazement, that it was multi-layered. Although there is no evidence in Burnett’s biography that she was a believer in “New Thought,” a belief that our thoughts are manifested in our experience, nor is there evidence that including such examples was intentional, here are some quotes:
When Mary asks Martha, one of uncle’s servants (the mother of Dickon) whether she thinks Dickon will like her, Martha replies, “How does tha’ like thyself?” Pp. 78 -79
The power of positive thinking, long before Norman Vincent Peale: Ben Weatherstaff, the old gardener, told Colin to repeat over and over to himself: “Magic is in me. Magic is making me well.” “You learn things by saying them over and over and thinking about them until they stay in your mind forever and I think it will be the same with Magic. If you keep calling it to come to you and help you it will get to be part of you and it will stay and do things.” P.301
P.353. “One of the new things that people began to find out…was that thoughts – just mere thoughts- are as powerful as electric. Batteries…To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.”
Somehow I don’t think the books I see kids reading today provide the “lessons” which books like “The Secret Garden” slipped into a fascinating story. Sadly, parents and caregivers seem to stop reading aloud to children soon after the picture book stage, and it is unlikely that today’s children would read “The Secret Garden” on their own. The vocabulary is advanced, the paragraphs too dense, and there is more description than action. It’s unfortunate that books of this sort, with their vocabulary development and character-building have fallen out of fashion. I, for one, am thankful that I experienced the story and several others of this genre.
© Dorothy C. Judd
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