Generations have read The Secret Garden, which is prominent on children’s literature lists and has been the inspiration for a variety of films. The film, featuring Colin Firth, Dixie Egerickx, and Amir Wilson, updates the tale in a variety of ways for the modern audience.
An excerpt from the latest film edition of the novel. StudioCanal
The book opens when the nine-year-old Mary Lennox is discovered abandoned in an Indian house after the deaths of her parents in the epidemic of cholera. Burnett portrays India as a country of permissive behavior, sickness, and lassitude
Mary’s hair was yellow, and her face was also yellow due to the fact that she was birthed in India and had been unwell in one form or another.
Mary is “disagreeable,” “contrary,” “selfish,” and “cross.” She tries unsuccessfully at gardening and arranging blooms of hibiscus to create mounds of earth. The Ayah was tasked with taking care of Mary as well as her other “native servants … always obeyed Mary and gave her her way in everything.”
After the death of their parents, Mary is sent away to stay with her isolated Uncle Archibald Craven at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire.
Mary’s first visit to England can be a surprise. It is the “blunt frankness” of the Yorkshire servants – as opposed to the servants in India, she is judged on her conduct. Martha Sowerby, an outspoken young housekeeper, gives Mary a rope that she swings: Yorkshire good sense triumphing over Mary’s colossal illness.
In the manor, too is Colin her 10-year-old cousin. He is hidden from Mary. She finds Colin after hearing his cries in the night.
Colin cannot walk and is convinced he’ll never reach the age of adulthood. In his room, Colin has his staff frightened by his rage: he is known to perform “hysterics” in the model of Gothic feminine beauty.
Read more: The Yellow Wallpaper: a 19th-century short story of nervous exhaustion and the perils of women’s ‘rest cures’
The most famous photograph that is associated with the Burnett words is that of the locked gate that leads to the garden of the same name.
The first edition was of The Secret Garden, published in 1911. Houghton Library, Harvard University
This garden wall was owned by Colin’s mother, Lilias Craven. In the event of her death following an injury in the yard, her husband of, Archibald, was able to lock the garden and then buried the key.
After Mary finds her key to unlock it, she sets off working in the mysterious, overgrown, sloppy garden with her brother, Dickon. In the end, she is able to get Colin from his bedroom with the assistance of Dickon, and the park aids him in recovering his energy.
Burnett is a fan of the connection between nature and childhood in this book, focusing on Edwardian belief in nature and the value of gardens. Similar to other Edwardian works, like the work of Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908) as well J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906), The Secret Garden also examines the English period fascination with paganism and the spiritual, which is reflected in The Secret Garden’s obsession of Pan, the Greek God Pan.
Dickon is a man who has an interest in wildlife and nature. He is introduced first as you watch him sit under a tree “playing on a rough wooden pipe” like Pan’s flute.
The garden is a place to relax for children. IMDB/Studiocanal
Mary, along with Colin, are both psychologically and physically transformed by their work within the parks. The cramped rooms and stifling passageways in Misselthwaite Manor are contrasted with the openness of the hidden garden.
At first, it appeared that the green plants could not stop making their way through the dirt, through the grass, and in the beds, even in the cracks in the wall. Then, the green plants started to show signs of buds, and the buds began to unfold and reveal color, every shade of blue, each shade of red, and every shade and hue of red.
Read more: B&Bs for birds and bees: transform your garden or balcony into a wildlife haven.
The children are healed by gardening in the “fresh wind from the moor.” Both gain weight and strength and lose their whiteness. Colin’s gardening suggests mastery of the space as he plants a rose – the floral emblem of England.