(2012) #24 book review: The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden


Frances Hodgson BURNETT

220 pages

Originally published in 1911

I read this book for

It also  counts for the following challenges:


First, a few introductory notes?

  1. I’m in my 40s, so why read this children book?
  • Well, I was not raised in an anglophone country, and so I never had the chance to read this book as a child. I don’t remember it being popular in French, but maybe it was after all, and I just missed it by reading books for adults too early!
  • A few weeks ago, as you may recall, I posted my review of the fantastic book by Kate Morton: The Forgotten Garden.
  • In an interview, the author referred to The Secret Garden. So I really needed to read it to see where she had got some of her inspiration.
      1. Now about the format: I read it as a free ebook; but to check the number of pages, for my crazy reading statistics, I checked at my local library, and lo and behold, I discovered my favorite illustrator, Ruth Sanderson, had illustrated the book! It is a gorgeous book! This is the picture I chose for the top of the post.

If you do not know yet Ruth Sanderson, I suggest you check her webpage. You will see the covers of all the books she has illustrated so far, plus extra cool material, like a video of her latest book.

I discovered Ruth Sanderson a few years ago, when a member of my family asked me to decorate a crib with pictures from Mother Goose. I found a gorgeous book, illustrated by Ruth, I contacted her, and she agreed I copied her art, as this crib is just a gift to my family. Have you seen my painting of this crib yet? If not, go here. Click on each picture to zoom in. This represents hours and hours of painting, it was a fun project.

I guess it is high time to consider the book itself now.


I loved this book very very much.

I loved it mostly for the nature elements; plus reading it in the Spring, when we just planted our vegetable garden, was definitely a plus.

I also love birds, and the robin participation was really cute and things you can definitely experience when you often work in a garden. Actually, we had a bit of a similar experience: as we were planting our own vegetable garden, a cardinal came on the next roof and kept singing for a long time, as if encouraging us. I could only smile, thinking about the robin!

It was an interesting perspective on coming of age as well : how one child can help another one grow, which is probably the most healthy way of growing. And what most healthy way of growing than in a natural setting, growing, patiently, one day at  a time, opening yourself to the sun, drawing your strength from your inner resources and from the wealth of your environment, with the flowers, and weeds!
I spent my first 10 years in a French rural village of less than 250 inhabitants, and I did enjoy growing things in the garden, though they were more herbs and vegetables than flowers.

At a linguistic level, it was fun seeing here a kid speaks with the local accent, almost dialect, though I need to totally rely on the author to trust this was authentic, as I do not know people from that region.

Finally, it is refreshing to read books surrounded by a kind of “magical” aura, but “white magical”, with nothing pertaining to the world of evil. I believe there are too many books and movies of the other kind these days, as if that could help kids grow in an healthy way.

Shortly after reading this book, I discovered that a very recent adaptation had been made of this classic: The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter.


You probably all know what it is about, but just in case I need to refresh your memory:

A ten-year-old orphan comes to live in a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors where she discovers an invalid cousin and the mysteries of a locked garden.
Burnett’s classic story of a disagreeable and self-centered little girl and her equally disagreeable invalid cousin is as real and wise and enthralling now as it was when it was first written over 75 years ago. The strength of her characterizations pulls readers into the story, and the depth inherent in the seemingly simple plot continues to make this sometimes forgotten story as vital to the maturation of young readers as Tom Sawyer and Little Women.

And look, Hurtled To 60 And Now Beyond has a beautiful post on the place that inspired the author to write The Secret garden! Really gorgeous.


Frances Eliza Hodgson was the daughter of ironmonger Edwin Hodgson, who died three years after her birth, and his wife Eliza Boond. She was educated at The Select Seminary for Young Ladies and Gentleman until the age of fifteen, at which point the family ironmongery, then being run by her mother, failed, and the family emigrated to Knoxville, Tennessee. Here Hodgson began to write, in order to supplement the family income, assuming full responsibility for the family upon the death of her mother, in 1870. In 1872 she married Dr. Swan Burnett, with whom she had two sons, Lionel and Vivian. The marriage was dissolved in 1898, and Burnett was briefly remarried, to actor Stephen Townsend. That marriage too, ended in divorce. Following her great success as a novelist, playwright, and children’s author, Burnett maintained homes in both England and America, traveling back and forth quite frequently. She died in her Long Island, New York home, in 1924.

Primarily remembered today for her trio of classic children’s novels – Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), A Little Princess (1905), and The Secret Garden (1911) – Burnett was also a popular adult novelist, in her own day, publishing romantic stories such as The Making of a Marchioness (1901) for older readers.


This is part of a read-along, so you can click on the Read-along image,
and you will find lots of other reviews,
and long comments to the great questions
offered by our hostess Book Journey
AND win prizes!

Here are the questions Sheila proposed for our discussion:

1.  When Mary loses both of her parents to the epidemic, why do you feel she expresses no grief for them but is more concerned with who will now take care of her?

2.  Mary and Colin are often described as being unpleasant and rude. Martha, in fact, says Mary is “as tyrannical as a pig” and that Colin is the “worst young newt as ever was.” Why are both of these children so ill-tempered? Whom does Burnett hold responsible for their behavior—themselves or their parents? How does this fit into one of the larger themes of the novel, that of the “fallen world of adults”?

3.  Upon Mary’s first encounter with Dickon, Burnett describes the boy in this way: “His speech was so quick and easy. It sounded as if he liked her and was not the least afraid she would not like him, though he was a common moor boy, in patched clothes and with a funny face and a rough, rusty-red head. As she came closer to him she noticed that there was a clean fresh scent of heather and grass and leaves about him, almost as if he were made of them.” What is significant about this passage? Are there any particular motifs that seem to be connected specifically to Dickon?

4.  Why do you feel Mr. Craven has avoided his son Colin so?  In the end, is Craven worthy of Colin’s forgiveness?

5.  What role does the robin play in the book?

6.  How does “Indian-ness” function in the novel?   How does class and status?

7.  Which characters are most strongly associated with the world of the manor house? Which characters are most strongly associated with the secret garden? What does this opposition suggest?

8.  Which narrative features were employed by the author to make The Secret Garden speak to children? Why do you think this novel appeals to an adult audience as well? What makes it a classic?

9.  Was the Secret Garden what you thought it would be?  What did you enjoy most about this read?  What do you think makes it a classic?

Again, click here if you want to see all our answers
to these great question



22 thoughts on “(2012) #24 book review: The Secret Garden

    • Thank you so much for your comment on my painting. Have you read also The Forgotten Garden, and The Humming Roo? I would like to know your take on them. I’m now following you with Google Reader and will try to join some Tues chats on Twitter


  1. Pingback: (2012) #25 review: The Humming Room « Words And Peace

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  5. my first time to read it and motivated by Sheila’s Read a long to actually get to it!
    very pleased i did – so much missed detail in relying solely on movie and theatre productions 🙂
    glad to find you partying with us today and your personal insights on The Secret Garden !


  6. This was my first reading of the book too. Like you, I have a strong connection with nature. For the past few weeks I have been working in the garden almost daily and consider the little creatures that visit to be my friends. There are baby birds everywhere. I even talk to them. Like Dickon, I’m starting to understand ‘feathered speak’.


      • It’s fascinating! Birds have a completely different language in the summer than in the winter. I’ve been paying attention to a pair of robins that are nesting on the neighbor’s side of my fence. There is the happy singing mating song, the squawking that means ‘this is my territory’, a sharp, chipping warning call when danger is near, and a gentle clucking followed by a chirp when they were coaxing the nestlings to fledge. Every night just after sunset, all the robins begin to chirp for about 5 minutes. I have no idea what this means other than to say goodnight.


        • I know also a bit the chickadee language. It’s fun very early Spring or even late Winter to notice when their song switches; for me it’s the first harbinger of Spring, it’s even before any robin arrives here – in the Midwest.
          Talking about Birds, have you ever read Life List? Fascinating, about a woman with cancer going all over the world to see as many birds as she can. I read this before blogging, so I have no review, but here is the Goodreads link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4620058-life-list


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