The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
After the death of her parents, Mary is brought back from India as a forlorn and unwanted child, to live in her uncle's great lonely house on the moors. Then one day she discovers the key to a secret garden and, like magic, her life begins to brighten in so many ways.
There is nothing I find more humbling and heart-warming than reading an old childhood favourite. I don't think I've read this for fifteen years or so, and it was a wonderful experience. The Secret Garden really is such a deserving classic, and I have absolutely nothing but praise for it.
One of the greatest things about this novel is that it is completely and utterly filled with secrets: the garden itself, Colin's existence, the locked rooms in Misselthwaite Manor, and the servants all sworn to secrecy on various matters. Then, as each of these secrets are disclosed over the course of the novel, situations improve, people feel better, and the general atmosphere becomes a great deal more pleasant. It gives the impression that secrets are better out in the open, and I think that is a wonderful message to send.
Another great part of this novel, and possibly my favourite aspect, is that our two foul, selfish little ten-year-olds become wonderful, loving, caring and quite simply delightful human beings by the end of the novel. This is all down to friendship, love, and trust, and is something simply inspiring to watch pan out. Also, it is interesting to note that both Mary and Colin are not cruel, selfish children at heart; they are this way due to isolation. As soon as they find each other, and see each other as friends, they begin to improve and become their own true people. The idea that one only needs some companionship to help bring oneself out of sheer despair is absolutely gorgeous, and very true.
This book was initially published over one hundred years ago, but I found really interesting the commentary on what makes a child healthy. Colin was a sickly boy, with absolutely no strength or desire to be outdoors. With some encouragement from a couple of friends, lots of fresh air, and lots of capering around his secret garden, he was able to become strong and healthy. My personal opinion is that children these days are becoming less healthy, less disciplined, and much fatter: why not unplug their computers and send them for a wee dance around a garden? It worked for Colin, although I don't think Misselthwaite Manor had a PS3 to distract him.
With Colin in mind, the novel also said a lot about hypochondria, and how people may not be as ill as they think they are. Colin would only lie inert, thinking about his weak back and how he would surely die soon. He felt incredibly like a victim, and very sorry for himself. As soon as he had activities to distract him from these thoughts, he felt a hell of a lot better and by the end of the novel there was absolutely nothing wrong with him. I think this applies not only in illness, but in all of life's little perceived problems: when you finally take the plunge, no matter the outcome, you will feel better for it.
I would recommend this novel to anyone, but most of all I would recommend it to those who read it when they were younger. Re-reading books from childhood always risks corrupting your memories of the novel with your adult cynicism and judgement, but The Secret Garden absolutely does not disappoint. It is beautiful, wonderful, and has taught me so many lessons. I will definitely read this over again and again. It is truly breath-taking.