‘The Secret Garden‘ by Frances Hodgson Burnett tells the story of a young orphan who was born into luxury, but loneliness. When she finds herself in another part of the world, she navigates through life with friends and nature. She eventually learns to see life in a better and happier light.
‘The Secret Garden’ is a coming-of-age children’s literature that emphasizes the importance of positive thinking and hope. Friendship, love for nature, and curiosity are themes also written about.
‘Spoiler-Free’ Summary of The Secret Garden
The first four pages of this book talk about Mary Lennox; a rich but badly mannered child. She is born to a mother who didn’t want a female child, hence has her kept away as much as possible. Perhaps, if Mary had known what parental love and affection was like, she wouldn’t have been so haughty and disagreeable to the maids who attended to her. Mary always wanted to have her way and anything short of that made her fall into a fit of rage. When her parents are killed by a cholera pandemic, she is abandoned, then finally sent to live with her uncle.
It does not take Mary a long time to realize that the experience at her uncle’s gigantic Manor is going to be totally different from what she has known all her life. First, the native dialect is different. Also, she has no personal maid to wait upon her all day. The maidservant who attends to her occasionally has a life outside her orders and had blankly told her she was spoiled. Mary slowly learns to be independent.
A while goes by and she comes in contact with interesting other people who include; Ben Weatherstaff, Dickon, and Colin Craven. Mary’s inquisitiveness and lack of a supervising guardian lead her to a secret garden that has been shut for years. She and her newly made friends tend to this garden, which in turn heals their broken hearts.
The Secret Garden Plot Summary
Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below.
The book opens by talking about the sour look that Mary Lennox constantly wears. She is described as an ugly child who looked the opposite of her beautiful mother. At six, she has grown into an extremely selfish and tyrannical child. Her stubbornness and defiance made it impossible to secure for her a steady governess as they always resigned early. One day, Mary wakes up in a sour mood and when she realizes it is a servant, not her Ayah that stood beside her, she throws a tantrum. The servant tries to explain why this is so, but Mary refuses to listen to the voice of reason. She becomes pissed and sour.
After a while, she’s left alone and was wondering why until some officers come to confirm her parents are dead. They are astounded to find out that she’s the only one in the whole house. After the confirmation, she is taken to live with an English clergyman. He is poor and Mary concludes within her that she wouldn’t be comfortable living there. It is at the clergyman’s house she gets the nickname “Miss Mary quite contrary”.
She is finally moved to her uncle’s house in Yorkshire England. The mansion she is taken to is usually quiet, with most of the doors locked. She meets a young maid who she thinks will be at her back and call but is surprised to be denied that privilege.
Since Mary is mostly alone, she has time to explore. During one of her adventures, she meets the gardener who she is able to impress when a bird he is fond of catches her fancy. She is quite drawn to the bird and follows it around until she comes across a key to the garden that was shut for years. She is immediately interested in this garden and seeks to secretly nurse it back to good health.
As the days roll by, Mary meets her cousin, Colin, who is quite as badly behaved and lonely as her. They strike a friendship. When Colin hears about the garden, he is also attracted and plans are made to take him into it. He is a sick child who has lived being attended to.
When Mary and another friend of theirs, Dickon, take Colin into the secret garden, he is wowed and impressed. They secretly work on restoring the garden. When the trio are caught by the gardener, Colin gets so annoyed at being referred to as a cripple, that he rises from his wheelchair to prove a point. This marks the beginning of a new view for the young lad. The once pessimistic, sad, and ungrateful young boy comes into the garden to train his kegs and enjoy the wonder of nature. This was done in secret as the boy planned to surprise his father who he barely saw.
The story climaxes when Colin’s father; Archibald Craven returns from a trip to see the garden that had been on his mind all the while, and Colin Craven unknowingly runs into his arms to his shock and happiness.
How does the secret garden affect Mary?
The garden rouses Mary’s curiosity at first. She determines to find it and when she does, she gets affectionate towards it and works to revive it. The garden has an extremely positive effect on the sour girl and she soon becomes less sickly, and more friendly.
What are the different emotions that the secret garden sparks from the characters?
To Mary Lennox and Dickon Sowerby, the garden is a source of joy and responsibility. They aim to nurture it back to life. Archibald Craven, on the other hand, saw the garden as a source of unhappiness. His wife had died in it and it was a constant source of sorrow.
What is the most important message of ‘The Secret Garden?’
The most important message of Frances Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden‘ was that happiness came from unselfishness. That is, true joy comes when you think less about yourself and more about others.