Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

Nothing stirs me up like a book involving misty wutherin' moors, scary old mansions, invalids locked away in back rooms and hunchbacks. I love me some fictitious hunchbacks, especially when they're named Archibald. They just don't make quaintly Gothic children's literature like this any more.

I hadn't read this as a kid, but I'm a big fan of the 1993 movie...

Mary and, sigh, Dickon the sexy animal-whisperer

...and so it wasn't like I was in suspense the whole time about what was going to happen next. Which is a very good thing, too, because Burnett takes her sweet time, and half the pleasure comes just from being immersed in the Edwardian atmosphere of this feel-good story (feel-good aside from everybody dying of cholera at the beginning).

So yeah, it starts off with Mary's wealthy-but-absent parents dying of cholera in India, and she's whisked off to live with her wealthy-but-absent uncle in England. He doesn't much care about her since he's too preoccupied with being sullen and morose over his dead wife, and we don't see hide nor hump of him for most of the novel. Mary is a bit sullen and morose too, not to mention snotty from having been waited on hand and foot by ayahs all her life. In any case, after many health-giving romps across the Yorkshire moorland, Mary grows fatter and happier, and she makes friends with the rustic locals (and various friendly fowl) and starts speaking in broad local dialect, saying things like, "Mun" instead of "must" and "Tha'" instead of you and she sort of sounds like Hagrid by the end. Then she finds her locked-up invalid cousin and blah blah blah they are healed by the restorative powers of nature, with the help of Dickon who is some kind of Yorkshire mahatma. Oh yeah, and there's a secret garden, but I didn't like those scenes as much as the ones describing in great detail how Mary and Colin get fatter and fatter from eating all sorts of delicious foods.

Perhaps it's just the way books were written for kids back then, but it often feels as if the author is very aware of her place as a superior adult figure relative to the reader. There's none of that authorial invisibility that I often feel while reading, like, Judy Blume for instance. This didn't bother me, it just made me feel very conscious of the fact that I Am Reading A Book. But if tha' think that's a bad thing, I mean nowt o' the soart, and tha mun read this 'ere book if tha knows what's best for thee - tha mun!

1 comment:

  1. Did you know that the author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, was a devout Christian Scientist (she became one after the death of her son), and that this book is chockablock with Christian Scientist tenets? Christian Scientists don't believe in medical intervention. Disease is not physiological, they purport; it's a result of distorted thinking. Mary becomes healed only after she learns to displace her negativity with friendship, her thorns with roses.