“She was standing inside the secret garden.”

Title: The Secret Garden
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publication Date: 1911
Purchase Price: $5.95 (paperback)

Gothic Reading Challenge

Much like The Last Unicorn, this book wasn’t on my original list for the Gothic Reading Challenge. Now that I’m looking for them, the elements of Gothic literature are everywhere. Here’s The Secret Garden.

The plot

After her parents’ deaths, Mary Lennox, a spoiled sickly girl of eleven, is sent to live with her Uncle Craven at Misselthwaite Manor. The gloomy English countryside is very different from her home in India, and the sour child wants nothing to do with the moor and its “wuthering” winds.

But with her uncle always away and no servants to coddle her, Mary is forced to go exploring the extensive gardens. And soon she begins to hear whispers of a secret garden, locked up behind a hidden door. Then she is awakened in the night by the sound of someone crying…

Some thoughts

This is actually my second time reading Burnett’s classic tale. Several years ago I realized that the only version of The Secret Garden I had read was an abridged children’s edition — and although it got the basic plot points, the unabridged edition blew my mind. So here I am, reading it again.

I hadn’t known that Burnett spent the latter part of her life as a Christian Scientist, and this explains the themes present in The Secret Garden: if you believe yourself to be sick, you will be; if you believe you are healthy, you will be; being outside in nature and communing with God is the way to become your best self.

But those are all rather adult themes. Reading the abridged version and seeing the 1993 film adaptation, I remember the sadness and loneliness of Mary and Colin, and how the garden brought them together, brought them to life, and brought Colin’s grieving father (Uncle Craven) back to Misselthwaite just in time to see his son healthy and walking. It was all very magical.

And it still is.

The Gothic element

A tragic death: check. Creepy house with a hundred locked doors: check. Mysterious crying sounds: check. A secret garden with no door: check. Prescient mystical dreams: check. Sounds like a Gothic novel to me!

Suggested Soundtrack:

The Secret Garden (Boys Choir of the Cracovia)
The Secret Garden (the Broadway musical)

Kick-ass Quotes:

” ‘Perhaps it has been buried for ten years,’ she said in a whisper. ‘Perhaps it is the key to the garden!’ ” (p. 56)

“Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off and they are nearly always doing it.” (p. 62)

What do you think about abridged/children’s versions of books? Ever read one and then read the “real” one later? Wouldn’t you love to have a secret garden?

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4 thoughts on ““She was standing inside the secret garden.”

  1. Yup, that sounds like a Gothic story to me. I wish I had read this as a child, I think I would have loved it. It’s never too late, though, is it? I may have to start my own ‘books-I-wished-I-had-read-as-a-child’ challenge. I love that creepy element. Hence my joining the Gothic Challenge 😉

    1. I think for some books, if you wait too long you lose some of the magic. But The Secret Garden is just as much a book for adults as it is for kids, so I don’t think it’s ever too late to read it. If you start that challenge, Trish, I would join in — and I imagine lots of other people would too. The Gothic challenge is my first challenge, and I think I made a good choice too. 🙂

    1. Which version of the movie did you see? I think the 1993 version is the most popular, but the one from 1949 was big too. I think the oldest version is from 1919 — not too terribly long after the book itself was written.

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