The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Though Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849 – 1924) wrote more than forty novels, The Secret Garden (1911) remains one of her most enduring works, along with A Little Princess (1905).

Burnett was a poet and playwright in addition to her prolific output of novels and short stories for adults and children. Quite successful professionally, she had a difficult, sometimes tragic life.

The Secret Garden was published in 1911 after an original version was first serialized in The American Magazine in 1910. The story follows the journey of Mary Lennox, a sickly and unloved ten-year-old girl born to wealthy British parents in India.

After a cholera epidemic kills her parents, Mary is sent to England to live with her Uncle Archibald in an isolated, mysterious house. The tale follows the spoiled and sulky young girl as she slowly sheds her sour demeanor after discovering a secret, locked garden on the grounds of her uncle’s manor.

Mary befriends Dickon, one of the servant’s brother, a free spirit who was able to communicate with animals, and Colin, her uncle’s son, a neglected invalid. The Secret Garden has remained a timeless classic for its themes of friendship and the power of nature to heal the body and spirit.

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A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

See also: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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An original 1911 review of The Secret Garden

From the original review of The Secret Garden in The Times Dispatch, Richmond, VA, October 29, 1911:

Readers of all the many charming books that Frances Hodgson Burnett has written to delight the world and make it better will find The Secret Garden full of sweet and unexpected pleasures.

It’s a portrayal of the joyous laughter of childhood, the scents and sounds of fragrant growing things, and the bloom of roses,  and the magic that heals and comforts and makes the weak and sick strong. 

The titled garden was secret because the door to it had been locked and the key buried — along with its secrets. A long time before the book’s story began, the lady of the manor — a wife and mother — bent above its borders and tended its flowers. But because her life ended tragically early, it was barred, and the flowers were left untended and forsaken.

Introducing the contrary Mary Lennox

After years had passed, a little girl named Mary Lennox, whose parents had died in India from cholera, cat to Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, England, the place were the secret garden stood.

Archibald Craven, the owner of the manor, was Mary’s uncle. She was a thin, sallow child, with thin light hair and a sour expression. She had never enjoyed any affection from her thoughtless, carefree young mother, and became a disagreeable child even before the untimely death of her parents.

Before Mary came to Misselthwaite Manor, she had had none of the amusements of a healthy childhood. 

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Secret Garden Quote by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Quotes from The Secret Garden

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Discovering the secret garden and meeting Dickon

Soon after coming under the care of her uncle, Mary discovered the secret garden. She picked up the key, pushed aside an overhanging curtain of ivy, and went inside the ancient walls.

Once she had been working in the garden for a tie, her little peaked face began to grow round and rosy. 

Mary found a playmate, a boy named Dickon, who was a brother of the housemaid. Dickon was the son of a kind, motherly woman named Susan Sowerby and was versed in all the nature lore of the Yorkshire moors.

Dickon had made friends with many of the wild things and taught Mary a great deal about the ways of birds and squirrels and lambs. He taught her how to plant and tend flowers, too.

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Fronticepiece from The Secret Garden by Charles Robinson, 1911 edition

Charles Robinson illustration from The Secret Garden, 1911 edition
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Everyone finds their own contentment

Mary had begun to feel the good effects of her changed surroundings, thriving and growing in a natural, healthy way. Then, she happened upon her cousin Colin Craven, who was the son of her Uncle Archibald. An invalid, he was over-doctored, over-nursed, and over-indulged. 

Colin was brought to the point of believing that he couldn’t walk, run, or participate in any of the games that children love. Instead, he had a highly developed set of nerves and an undeveloped spine due to lack of exercise and fresh air.

As to what the garden did for these two unhappy children, Mary and Colin, readers of the book will discover. Perhaps it did more for Colin’s father than for anyone else. 

But it might not have done so much had it not been for Dickon and Susan Sowerby and the encouragement they gave in making the weak grow strong, and the unhappy to find contentment.

The Secret Garden will have a place in the affections of the world along with Little Lord Fauntleroy and A Little Princess.


More about The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

… and read about more Literary Orphan Girls.

2 Responses to “The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)”

  1. One of my all time favorite books. I’ve listened to the audio version many times which is a treat to hear the different accents of the characters.

    “May I have a bit of earth?” Any gardener will understand the magic that is about to begin in the lives of these characters. It all starts in the garden.

    I think it’s time to listen to this treasure again. Thanks for the reminder!

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