Soon after I finished Notes From A Small Room, I picked up Frances Hodgson Bennett’s The Secret Garden. I completed it over the weekend.
The Secret Garden is the story of Mary Lennox, a little English girl who is lives in India with her parents. A sudden outbreak of cholera renders her an orphan, and she is taken to England to live with her uncle and guardian henceforth, Mr. Archibald Craven. Mary has never received love or the right kind of attention from her parents and, as a result, is a rather sour-faced child who does not like anyone or anything. The ‘contrary’ Miss Mary is pale and sickly as well. Little does Mary realize when she sets foot in Mr. Craven’s huge countryside mansion – Misselthwaite Manor – that her life is about to take a huge turn.
Mary finds that Misselthwaite Manor has an air of mystery around it, and soon grows curious. She discovers the joys of living in the beautiful English countryside. She begins to explore the mansion and its huge lawns and, in the process, gains a healthy appetite and starts growing into an agreeable and sweet child. One day, playing about in the Manor’s lawns, she finds the key to the Secret Garden, which has been locked ever since the death of the pretty Mrs. Craven – as her husband cannot bear to enter it. Mary sets foot into the Secret Garden, which no one has gone into for a decade and is awed by the beauty of it. She realizes that the garden has been gradually dying, and is saddened by the thought that it might soon be completely dead. It is the Secret Garden that helps change Mary, by inculcating the love of nature in her and bringing her some close friends.
I must say this has been the most life-affirming and positive books I have read in quite a while. It is definitely a book with soul, where everything is alive and teeming with life. It is about change and the beauty of life. It is about friendship and recovery. However, I must confess that I was somehow not charmed by the book in its entirety. I did love the way parts of it were written – they touched me so much that I had to close my eyes and smile, as I imagined the scene in my mind. This book did make me imagine a lot – I could quite see the Secret Garden in my mind’s eye, and I even craved for one of my own. Overall, though, it did not make me fall in love for life, the way Paddington Bear or 84 Charing Cross Road did. I feel I read it with too much of a cynical adult’s eye and not the way a child would. Maybe I ruined the book for myself. Maybe I should read and feel it again.
What say you? Have you read this book? How did you feel about it?