The Secret Garden

The secret garden (1949)
2011 is the centenary of the first publication of Frances Hodgson Burnett's childrens' classic The secret garden. The beginning of the twentieth century saw a flowering in girls' stories with the creation of some truly feisty heroines : Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908), Roberta in E. Nesbit's The Railway Children (1906) and Sara Crewe in Burnett's other great girls' classic A Little Princess (1905). These were very different girls from earlier stories and from many contemporary school stories. All of them were independent minded girls, who would almost certainly grow into equally independent women. They're great role models at a time when womens' lives were changing dramatically.

Secret garden has lost none of its charm over the last century. It's the story of an initially rather unpleasant and lonely child, Mary Lennox, whose life is changed when her parents are killed in a cholera epidemic in India - a stunningly bleak and memorable opening to a novel. She moves to Yorkshire to stay with her uncle, who wants nothing to do with his niece. There, Mary blossoms as she meets Colin, her cousin, and Mary's equal in unpleasantness, and Dickon - a young boy who rejoices in nature. Most magical of all she finds the forgotten secret garden, and she, Colin and Dickon gradually bring it to life.

Some of the garden detail, and the purple patches about it, do rather pall, and I'm not sure how appealing that would be to a modern day child, but there is a real charm about it, and you'd have to be made of stone not to be moved by the final scenes. A classic childrens' story for 100 years, I think it's probably set to continue for another 100 years, not least because of the many successful film adaptations. My favourite is still the Margaret O'Brian, Dean Stockwell 1949 version with brilliant performances from both the child stars. A wonderful tale of redemption, happy birthday The secret garden.


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