Tuesday, 15 September 2015

2015 CLASSICS CHALLENGE: THE SECRET GARDEN


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My rating: ☆☆☆.75

What secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite Manor? Recently arrived at her uncle's estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won't enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty--unaware that she is changing too. But Misselthwaite hides another secret, as Mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin, Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic will work wonders on him. [summary from Goodreads]

When I discovered this classic:
Much like A Little Princess and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, I used to watch the film adaption of The Secret Garden all the time as a child. I think at the time I was aware that there was a book and I acquired it at some point before now, I'm not sure where from.

Why I chose to read it:
After two months of Austen, I decided to take a break and go for a children's classic. I've always been interested to see if the book was different from the film and I hoped that the beauty of the garden would be dwelt upon in detailed, descriptive prose. I also thought it would be a nice classic to round out the summer with, by sitting in the garden and enjoying nature whilst reading about it.

What makes it a classic?
I think that it's themes of imagination and childhood fascination with learning and growing are enduring and universal. It is written in a way that is still accessible to children today and it's descriptive language really draws the reader into it's world. It is a story that (apart from the of-it's-time racism and ideas about health) pretty much stands the test of time and remains enjoyable to someone of any age.

What I thought of this classic:
I loved the beautiful descriptions of the garden and the surrounding environments of Misselthwaite Manor. In The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett gave life to the Yorkshire moors and the countryside and described the environment in so much depth that I truly felt like I was there. I can only imagine how captivating this would be for a child whose imagination is far superior to mine. I also thought that the development of the friendships between the children in the book was excellent as they were all very different in terms of background and personality but they were all equal in their enjoyment of the garden. For me this so completely encapsulates the reality of childhood friendship. Children, generally speaking, are far less awkward and far more socially adept than adults and I thought that this was portrayed excellently in the novel.

Although I did enjoy The Secret Garden there were a few things which gave me pause and stopped me from rating it quite as highly as A Little Princess or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. I personally found Mary's character development to be far too sudden. I know that children generally adapt quite easily to change but I kind of refuse to believe that a particular personality can change so easily just be the person being exposed to some old fashioned fresh air. In fact the general representation throughout the novel of nature being a cure-all was a bit too over the top for me. I do understand that this was the perculating theory of the time but I do think it takes away from the timelessness of the novel. Also as a person living with chronic illness it just kind of left a bitter taste in my mouth (but that's an extremely subjective opinion). It is definitely a good read but it's not quite as timeless as other children's classics.

Will it stay a classic?
I imagine so, I think that it's a book that is still read in primary schools and the existence of the film helps to solidify it's status as a classic and will hopefully, as it did for me, direct people towards the book.

Who I would recommend it to:
People who LOVE gardens! But seriously, anyone who wants to be transported to the great outdoors via books, and anyone who enjoys a good descriptive passage.

The 2015 Classics Challenge is hosted by Stacey of Pretty Books and you can find out more about it here.

Have you read The Secret Garden? What did you think?


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