Catching Up on the Classics: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Catching Up on the Classics is a new feature on the blog where I’ll be doing some much needed catching up on classic novels. 


secretWhen orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle’s great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.

The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary’s only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?


Year Published: 1911 (105 years ago)

  • Inspiration – Burnett was inspired by the Gothic tales of  Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights 
  • Personal Life – Burnett was a romantic who loved gardens, but the basing of the story in real life events goes deeper than that. Burnett’s son, Lionel, died at the age of 16 from tuberculosis, she also lost her home, Maytham Hall, where she spent many happy years and tended a garden and tamed a robin. These two events clearly inspired The Secret Garden.


“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.” 

I adored this novel (albeit the abridged version) as a child, and have wondered, for the longest time, whether I’d enjoy it as much now. Well, I loved it just as much as I did then.

The Secret Garden is highly entertaining, exceptionally well-written, and despite having a relatively simple plot it is remarkably engaging. It is impossible to pick this up and not want to know what will happen to Mary and the garden. The blend of fairy tale and gothic elements makes for a mysterious and vividly imagined story about the joys of nature and friendship. The touch of magical realism is lovely too.

The Secret Garden speaks directly to the magic and beauty of nature. I love being outdoors, walking through a forest or tending a garden, and this novel captures the wonder and transcendence of the natural world so perfectly. The novel is aptly titled, for the garden is truly the heart of the story, and is almost its own character, changing and responding to the attentions of others. This novel would be perfect to read in the middle of winter to temporarily dispel the longing for summer; a mental vacation. Also, who doesn’t want their own secret garden after reading this?

Yet, nature is not the only breed of magic present in the novel, thoughts are magical too in regards to the mental and physical changes they can bring about. For when Mary gets to believing that she can have friends and Colin believes that he can walk and won’t die, and these things come true, is that not a sort of magic too?

Another thing The Secret Garden captures so poignantly and truthfully is childhood. Colin and Mary act like children from every conceivable angle  They are stubborn and petulant, but also instatiably curious and imaginative. With the help of the secret garden, they enter their own world of magic and activity. Colin’s ‘experiments’ are so hilariously reminiscent of days spent lost in thought and imagination. Colin is an astoundingly well fleshed out character, and his tantrums and haughtiness are not in the least bit idealized.Watching him slowly transform into a healthy boy is beautiful and heartwarming. The scene that stuck out to me the most as a child was the one in which Colin is hysterical about the imagined lumps on his back, and still now, it remains a powerful moment.

The novel is can be viewed as racist in a few places, but it didn’t bother me as I understand that when reading classic literature, and part of the reason I’m attracted to it, is that it is a reflection of the time period in which it was written. Mary’s attitidue towards India and the servants she had there, is a relfection of the beliefs of the early 1900s. But, in a lot of ways, this novel can be read as anti-imperialist. Power imbalances are shown to lead to snobbishness, anger, and lonliness. Mary is deserted because her parents are too caught up in the world of Imperialism. In fact, the main ill she suffered there had nothing to do with the country itself, but the lack of parenting, much like with Colin.

Highly recommended.

Modern Recommendation:

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon



One thought on “Catching Up on the Classics: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

  1. I didn’t know the author was inspired by the Brontës! It’s been a while since I’ve read The Secret Garden but now I want to read it again to see if I can sense the inspiration. 🙂

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