Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Put simply, The Secret Garden is a story about the restorative powers of nature and imagination. In a strange way, it’s really a very adult story about grieving and surviving grief (ironically, it was first serialised in an adult’s magazine).

The two main characters who most need to be healed of life’s wounds, Mary Lennox and the sickly, bedridden Colin Craven, learn how to come back to life by discovering and tending a secret garden. The main message seems to be that the powers of nature and imagination (for they create a special garden and imbue it with the qualities of life and health) have the ability to heal psychological wounds.

It’s a beautiful message. Grief must come to an end. We can make ourselves better by appreciating the simple things in life, by rather focusing on what’s important.

When the main character Mary Lennox was selfish and took everything for granted, she was miserably unhappy. When she learns to be a more generous person, she herself becomes happier, and helps many others to achieve happiness.

The chief charm of Hodgson Burnett’s novel is its beautiful execution. The story sustains a wonderful suspense as more layers are revealed, and the psychology of the novel becomes more complex and absorbing.

Frances Hodgson Burnett lost her son Lionel in 1890. As noted above, The Secret Garden is very much a book about grieving and overcoming grief.

This Oxford World’s Classic comes with an illuminating introduction by Dennis Butts.

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