Friday, July 3, 2009

Book Review - Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published by: Everyman's Library
Publication Date: 1911
Format: Hardcover, 318 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Due to The Secret Garden being classified as a "Classic" (and yes, classic with a capital "C") almost everyone knows the story, even if they have never read the book. Mary is a spoiled brat orphaned in India and sent to live with her Uncle in a big creepy house in Yorkshire that contains many secrets. The Uncle is still reeling from his wife's death ten years previously and thus shuts himself and a mysterious garden off from the world. Mary becomes preoccupied with finding this garden and in the process befriends Dickon, her maid's younger brother and "animal speaker." Along the way she also befriends a Robin and a crotchety old gardener, Ben Weatherstaff. She eventually learns that she has a cousin, Colin, hidden in the house because he is an invalid, but only because he's never heard he can live. They all have fun in the secret garden becoming fatter and healthier and then the Uncle comes back and he is once again happy because even though it was the garden that took his wife and resulted in premature labor, the garden has given him a child (even if he did ignore him for the better part of a decade).

This book was actually not popular during Frances Hodgson Burnett's lifetime, and I can see why. The book really isn't that well written or that original. I personally believe that the book gained classic statues due to the film industry which just loved to make this into movies, which I've seen almost every version of, even the one with the "Wizard of Oz" effect where the movie is all black and white till they are in the garden. But good adaptions do not a good book make!

I'm not sure what it is about this book but I just did not like it. Perhaps if I had read it when I was younger I would not have found Dickon, Mary and Colin such pompous little shits. They were cruel and taunted the locals by imitating their Yorkshire accents. Even if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, mockery of their "plain speak" and good down to earth values isn't. The servants think the children spoiled, obnoxious brats until they are outside getting exercise. But they are still the same kids only with more meat on their bones and the same cruel superiority in their hearts. Also their dialogue felt like it was written by an adult who had no knowledge of how children spoke. And near the end when the book started to go off on the "magic" tangent and Colin's new found love of lecturing, I had to keep repeating, it's almost over, it's almost over.

But I think what was most bothersome about this book was that it was such a mish-mash of other books but without making it a cohesive whole, here's a little Brontes for you, now lets make a character almost 100% like Peter Pan...what shall his name be, how about Dickon! I can only hope due to the Yorkshire setting and the winds "wuthering" that Colin, Mary and Dickon grew up to be like Heathcliff, Cathy and Hindley and that once they all hit puberty it all went down hill and ended in the same fashion.

As a final adendum, I blame Frances Hodgson Burnett for J.K. Rowling's overuse of the word "streaming".


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