Review by KM Lockwood
This edition 364 pages
published by Vintage Classics 2012
(originally published in 1911)
‘People never like me and I never like people, Mary thought.’
Good Reads Summary
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-centred 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 100 years ago. The strength of her characterisations 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. A reissue of an old classic to be treasured by a new generation of children (and their parents)!
I will be completely honest – when I was asked to pick one of Random House’s new editions of Vintage Classics, I jumped at the chance of reviewing ‘The Secret Garden’. It has been one of my absolute favourite books for years.
There was a certain anxiety too – would my adult self still find it a delight?
Well, I laughed in the same places, cried in the same places and finished it with a big teary grin. I was also aware from a writer’s point of view what a cracking good story it is.
I don’t think I am in too much danger of spoiling it for anyone when I say that our heroine at first is a thoroughly unlikeable little girl. Mary Lennox is not in the slightest ‘aspirational’ to start with, but it is the gradually unfolding development of her character and action that captivates the reader.
The theme of growth and new life pervades the entire book. There is a lovely sense of place throughout – though I will cheerfully admit to a passion for the moors myself – so I may be biased. Which came first though - did Mrs Hodgson Burnett’s book inspire me?
I also loved the dialect. To me, it was wonderful to read my own Yorkshire speech in the mouths of characters you could love- Martha and Dickon and their Mother. They weren’t funny sidekicks or coarse villains and they spoke pretty much how I did. A grand thing for a Yorkshire lass.
Now it has to be said that both the dialect and some of the other vocabulary is a bit tricky at the distance of a hundred years. Random House have very thoughtfully provided a glossary at the back if you get stuck – but I’d have to say many words you can work out with a bit of a think. Just enjoy the wonderful story.
It is also true that the reader is told what to think rather more than a contemporary author would judge necessary but it’s easy enough to see that as part of its historical appeal for the older reader. The basic story is still deeply moving – there have been at least half a dozen film or TV adaptations.
The modern reader will appreciate the bonus material in the extra pages that Random House publishers have added – and the cover is both colourful and appealing (though I do think Mary’s outfit looks more 1941 than 1911). I would recommend it to any confident reader over eight years old: boys might very well enjoy having it read to them as both Dickon and Colin are such central characters.
I’ve loved the even the minor characters for over forty years – I’d encourage more readers to enjoy the company of the Robin Redbreast; Ben Weatherstaff; the wonderful wuthering moorland and the Secret Garden itself. Read this story and find the Magic for yourself.