Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Secret Garden by Frances H. Burnett

When Mary Lennox is left an orphan, stranded in India, she is shipped off to a distant uncle who lives amongst the moors in Yorkshire.  For a girl who was used to getting her way in everything, servants to dress her and obey her every command, the lonely house is a great change.  She is a bratty child, though that's the result of neglect more than anything else.

When she learns of a secret garden, shut up since the death of her uncle's late wife, she seizes on the idea to discover it for herself.  With the help of an ancient gardener, the younger brother of a house maid, and her long hidden cousin, Mary brings the garden back to life and as a result discovers a new life for herself and her cousin.

Back in July of 2010 I bought a few classic books from Barnes & Noble for $1.79 per book.  I bought five of them, have read two of them, and the rest have been languishing on my shelves ever since.  One of those books, waiting to be read, was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I'm going to admit, right up front, that even though I bought it and planned on reading it someday, I was never in a hurry to do so.  If it hadn't been less than two dollars for a hardcover, I probably would not have purchased it that day.  I guess I could make some sort of unbiased excuse, but the real reason I didn't feel a fire to read it, I always thought of it as girl's book.  Now what that actually means in reality, I have no frickin clue.  I know that's not a valid reason to not read a book that many consider a classic, but it's the only one I got.  So when Sheila at Book Journey suggested a read-a-long when some of us mentioned on one of her posts hat we haven't read it, I figured I might as well get it over with.

I will even have to admit to finding my line of thinking validated about a third of the way through the book.  I even remember telling a friend of mine who loves this book that I felt like such a "girl" while I was reading it.  I will even have to go as far as saying, part of me was a little embarrassed to tell anyone I was reading it.  Then something a little strange happened.  I started to relax and allow myself to put all my preconceived notions behind me.  I wish I could tell you what triggered that change in my thinking, but I can't.  All I can say is that once I allowed myself to really take in what I was reading, I started to fall in love with Mary and her quest to discover the hidden garden.

I found myself utterly fascinated with the change in temperament and behavior that Mary was undergoing as she started to realize the life may actually be interesting if she gets out and does something about it.  With nobody around who was willing to coddle her and tolerate her bad behavior, Mary started to grow in ways that only her changed environment would ever allow.  Now granted, the book over simplifies the changes show goes through, giving a lot of the credit to physical exercise in the outdoors.  Don't get me wrong, I love being outside. As a kid, I was truly happy camping in the great outdoors, swimming in the lakes of Northern Minnesota, and climbing trees.  I understand the benefits of being outside, I just think Mary's behavioral changes are a little bit much for the catalyst that kicked started it.

The other aspect I truly loved was the discovery and transformation of her cousin.  Much like Mary, Colin starts off as a whiny brat.  His mother died during childbirth and ever since then, he has been coddled and babied in such a way that has left the household in terror of him.  He blames himself, but most importantly, thinks everyone else for the death of his mother.  He thinks he is going to to die young and has a bag that is deformed.  While everyone in the community knows about him, nobody really talks about it.  He is hidden in a separate wing of the house, a wing Mary is told to never visit.  Because of some mysterious crying, Mary discovers her cousin and sees in him, her past behavior.  Because of the friendship that develops between the two of them, they both awaken into the children they should have been given different circumstances.

Now while I really enjoyed and could even say I loved this story, I'm not going to be very good at getting across the way it made me feel.  This was a affirmation for me of the magic of childhood and what it means to be accepted by those around you and how important "home" is to your identity.  It's a celebration of nature and the benefits of being in sync with your environment.  I will also have to admit that had I read this as a kid, I would have loved it, and never admitted to reading it.  Now as an adult, I will proudly proclaim that not only have I read The Secret Garden, but I fell in love with it.

The copy I own is filled with wonderful full color illustrations by Tasha Tudor.  I wish I was able to share all of them with you, but I hope the ones I picked gave a good overall impression of the magical world she was able to capture.

I would like to thank Sheila for the excuse to read the book and share my experience with others who were reading it around the same time.  Please join us for the discussion.  So join us for the garden party over at Sheilas.


bermudaonion said...

I'm so glad you were able to let go of your preconceived notions - isn't it funny how expectations can affect our response to a book? Tasha Tudor's illustrations are fabulous!

JaneGS said...

It is a magical book, and you express it so well.

>This was a affirmation for me of the magic of childhood and what it means to be accepted by those around you and how important "home" is to your identity. It's a celebration of nature and the benefits of being in sync with your environment.

Glad you read it and enjoyed it--Colin is actually my favorite character in the book. So much more complex than your average kids' book character.

Anonymous said...

The drawings are gorgeous!! I love The Secret Garden so much and haven't re-read it many years.

I'm actually looking forward to when my boys are old enough that I can read it to them :)

Audra said...

I so loved this whole post -- the edition you have is gorgeous -- and I love reading about people reading, if that makes sense -- your thoughts on how you changed your attitude during your read was fascinating. I haven't done an adult reread of this but as a kid, I adored this book. I really need to pick it up again.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I really should buy this for my mom. I'll have to see if it's at the same price still. It was her fave growing up. I enjoyed the movie versions when I was little. The illustrations looks good.

Simcha said...

You know, I actually can't remember if I ever read this book or if I just know the story from the movie. Though just to be sure, I should probably read the book. I've always loved the idea of secret places, and the secret garden appealed to me both as an adult and as a kid.

Faith Hope and Cherrytea said...

Love Tasha Tudor!
so double dipping on a great book with great illustrations :) thx for sharing them w/ us !
and glad you got into the story so you could get the goodness out of it!

loved your personal sharing & book journey... thx for partying today :)

Sharon Galligar Chance said...

Loved your opinion of this book - real men can read classics! :) Wanna tackle Jane Eyre now?

Angela's Anxious Life said...

I love your review. If it wasn't for your blog I wouldn't even have known about the Garden Party!!

Angela's Anxious Life

Anonymous said...

Bravo for being open-minded - you should be rightly proud for having read it!

(Psst...I think it's a girl's book too.)

Teddyree said...

I think it's very sweet that you've read & loved The Secret Garden, you would have seriously missed out if you had of wimped out LOL.

Lovely copy you picked up too. This was a childhood favourite of mine, I re-read it for a challenge a couple of years ago and loved it just as much.

Joy Renee said...

kudos for fighting against cultural prejudice to give The Secret Garden a chance to charm you.

I can see why you might think the transformations in the children happened too abruptly to seem realistic but I'm not sure I see it that way--at least for Mary. There would have been months between the death of her parents and arrival at Mistlewaite. A lot of time during which she would have encountered much to mull on the difference between her family life and the families she interacted with in those months. First the pastor's family in India, whose children gave her the nicname, then the mother who chaperoned her on the sea voyage and then Martha's.

I believe Burnette put more emphasis on the power and influence of relationship to effect change in the children than in the other elements like fresh air, exercise and nutrition which she considered essential yes but not enough on their own.

They seem to me analogous to turning the winter soil to prepare the ground while relationships are the actual planting of the seeds.

it also seem no accident to me that the entire story took place inside one growing season--winter thru summer. That seems to me an extended metaphor for the step involved in change and growth--fallow ground, tilling, planting, nurturing, blooming, harvesting.

thanx for dropping in on my post

Wrighty said...

Sometimes we just need that excuse to get us started! So glad you enjoyed it. The illustrations are beautiful!

Staci said...

Can I just say that I loved this post???!!! I fight that stereotype every day when helping a student pick out a book. Sometimes I think they should steer away from putting boys or girls on covers and find another way to convey the story to the prospective reader. I think many of us have discounted a book because we thought it was for girls only or boys only! Bravo, Ryan!

Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) said...

I think magical is the right description for this book. I just wish I had discovered it as a child. While I thoroughly loved the book as an adult I probably would have related to it differently as a youngster.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Finally life has slowed down enough where I can get to these posts. I love your review Ryan, its heartfelt and I enjoyed what you said about the book.

My review is finally going up tomorrow.