Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I am not sure if I actually read The Secret Garden when I was a child but I do remember reading it at University. As I was working on our library stock take I discovered we had the CD of this classic read by Helena Bonham Carter so for the last week I have listened to this magical story driving to and from school.

Helena Bonham Carter has the perfect voice for this story especially the parts for the characters with Yorkshire accents. When Ben Weatherstaff encounters Colin, Mary and Dickon in the secret garden it is a moment of high emotion which made me cry.

There was Ben Weatherstaff’s indignant face glaring at them over wall from the top of a ladder! He actually shook his fist at Mary.” He begins a tirade of abuse that Mary has betrayed his trust when he suddenly stops. Dickon has wheeled Colin over to the wall and Colin confronts Ben. Ben recognizes Colin as he has his mother’s eyes but also exclaims that he cannot imagine how a crippled boy like Colin could have made it out into the garden. This puts Colin into a rage and he stands up, supported by Dickon, and shows that he has neither a crooked back not crooked legs. Ben “choked and gulped and suddenly tears ran down his weather-wrinkled cheeks as he struck his old hands together.”

If you do not know this famous book it all begins when Mary, an only child of busy and disinterested parents, is caught up in a Cholera outbreak in India. When both her parents die she is sent to England into the care of her Uncle, a recluse who lives at the beautifully named Misselthwaite Manor which is located on the edge of the moor. I have never seen a moor but books like The Secret Garden and of course Wuthering Heights have given me a lasting impression of this landscape. At the manor Mary must amuse herself and so she wanders around the extensive gardens and discovers there is a mystery -a secret garden that has been locked up for ten years and the key is lost. Mary, with the help of a friendly robin, finds a way into the garden and she begins to tend and nurture it. She also discovers Colin.

Often I have to advise parents that ‘classics’ of their childhood memory may not appeal to modern children but I do not think this will ever be the case for The Secret Garden first published in 1912. The joy of watching the garden grow, of seeing Mary and Colin transformed into happy, healthy and friendly children and the care and love shown by Dickon and his mother are timeless threads.

I seem to always talk about food in this blog but another favorite scene of mine is when Mrs Sowerby, Dickon’s mother, sends along food for the growing children. “Dickon … bought forth two tin pails and revealed that one was full of rich new milk with cream on the top of it, and that the other held cottage-made currant buns folded in a clean blue and white napkin, buns so carefully tucked in that they were still hot.” The image of the blue and white napkin is such a lovely one.

We have several copies of The Secret Garden in our school library – an abridged version for younger readers, a beautiful illustrated large text illustrated by Robert Ingpen and the audio CD. Look for this wonderful story in our library soon. If you enjoy The Secret Garden you might also look for books by Rumer Godden especially Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and books by Noel Stretfeild which I have already talked about in this blog.

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