I attended a panel recently on children’s classics. On the panel was Kate Saunders (children’s author), Lucy Mangan (columnist and writer for the Guardian and Stylist) and Melissa Cox (children’s buyer for Waterstones). Everyone on the panel spoke about how much they adored The Secret Garden and that it was the ultimate children’s classic. How could I possibly ignore such praise? As I hadn’t yet chosen my second classic of the year, it seemed right to go with The Secret Garden. I remembered watching the adaptation as a child – and loving it – but I’d never read the book.
The Secret Garden is actually less about the garden, to me as an adult, than it was to me as a child. As a child, the garden – this beautiful, safe place that no one else knew about – was the most desirable, exciting, magical place, but now, the story seems more about the three children that occupy Misselwaith Manor, particularly our protagonist, Mary. Mary comes over to England from India after cholera wipes out her parents and servants, leaving her an orphan. Mary is certainly disagreeable – spoiled, bratty and ‘quite contrary’ – until she realises that as the youngest and newest resident of this isolated mansion in the English countryside, she is going to have to learn to dress herself and feed herself instead of being waited on, and above all, amuse herself. Mary might be a wretched child to some people on the surface, but she’s a little more complicated than that – she’s a child who has never experienced love and so she’s awfully lonely, as you can imagine. She’s a tricky protagonist!
‘People never like me and I never like people’.
The Secret Garden – Mary discovers, thanks to a friendly robin – is a special place, full of life and potential, which is just what the children have unknowingly been yearning for. The Secret Garden brings together the three lonely children: Mary, who has no close family and is not fond of people; Colin, who is so full of hatred, self-pity and anger, and who is not even sure whether his father loves him, but is certain that he is going to die; and Dickon, who although constantly has a bright and sunny disposition, prefers the company of animals to people, until he meets Mary.
The Secret Garden is charming and wonderfully written, full of the right amount of intrigue for children and tells the story of three very different children who you get to know well over the months, although you won’t quite know whether you like two of them! I can understand why The Secret Garden is considered to be the epitome of children’s literature and is still read and loved by many children today, even though it’s over 100 years old. Although the story did not quite give me the same magical feeling as it did when I was a child, I became invested in its characters and hoped the ending was as happy as I remembered. I must re-watch the adaptation!
‘I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.’
Have you signed up to the 2014 Classics Challenge?
Publisher: Heinemann, but edition pictured published 2012 by Vintage