The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett | ©

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett revolves around Mary Lennox, a nine-year-old girl who initially resides in India with her wealthy British parents. The rejection from her parents goes a long way in defining her character. She is later relocated to England to live with her uncle. She meets her cousin, Colin Craven who also faces his father’s rejection. Mary and Colin grow into disruptive children due to the absence of this love. Whereas Dickon Sowerby, who Mary and Colin perceive as thrillingly strange and exotic, is nourished by his parent’s love. The moral lessons in this children’s classic book are as suitable for the children as they are for parents.


The Secret Garden is one of those books that play desirable in grooming morals in children. The book tells the story of a young girl known as Mary Lennox, who is nine years old at the start. She resides in India, but due to a cholera epidemic, she is forced to relocate to England to live in her uncle’s mansion. The very first impression that people have about Mary is that she is the most disagreeable-looking child. Sadly, it is an accurate observation considering she has a little-thin yellow face, a little-thin body, and yellow hair.

The author attributes her physical appearance to her being born in India. Right from birth, Mary’s father never wanted her. She is thus treated as an outcast and is handed over to Ayah, with firm instructions to isolates and hides the little girl because they had to please Mem Sahib. Sadly, every time little Mary became sick, she is kept out of the way. She cannot recall seeing any familiar face besides the dark looks of Ayah and other servants.

This book effectively compliments available children’s literature. First published in book form in 1911, it continues to attract a considerable audience today. The author believed in Christian Science. These believes can be seen all over the book.

Outcast children’s lives change when given love

The way Frances Hodgson Burnett starts her narration is enough to keep you reading; it attracts sympathy and empathy. As you read this book, you begin to feel for the unpleasant little Mary and wish things would turn around for her. The fact that Frances successfully captures the reader’s emotions from the start is enough to make the book the success that it is today.

The author’s choice of words and chronology of events takes the reader along. One sees how Mary’s life transits from being a horrible, little brat to a sweat likable girl. Probably your parents showed you love right from the time you were born, not so many children around the world are that lucky. Little Mary is a prototype of such oppressed children.

Burnett’s choice of characters should be deliberate. She wants the readers to understand the pain some children go through for lack of parental love, and how their lives change when given more attention. More than we know it, children often find themselves cast aside because of the lack of specific attributes. Sadly, something as simple as being born of the opposite gender could make a child lose the parent’s love.

Where is the Secret Garden?

Wait a minute, and where is the Secret Garden in all this? Don’t worry, and you shall be excited about the ultimate discovery of the garden. The author’s prowess in scene description is evident here. She captures a near Garden of Eden, describing a garden that no one may have seen for over a decade. She gives a clear narration of how things turn out and, through reading, you find yourself like watching a film right from the screen.

You realize that the title of the book may be misleading. But be not deceived. Whether you are a boy, a girl, or a parent, you will find this book quite interesting. You will be most pleased if you care about nature. There are numerous descriptions of flowers and trees. And if you have little or no interest in nature, The Secret Garden could change your mind.

Parental Irresponsibility

Even young as she is, in need of tender care more than ever, people flee from her. Worse of all servants escape from her home when both of her parents die from cholera. But fate had previewed in otherwise. And when the reader sobs seeing that her end is near, some officers stumble upon her. She is all alone. “Mercy on us!” Their reaction when they visit the Lennox’s house is a clear demonstration of how bad the situation is. They are alarmed that a child could be in that environment.

Mary is hidden from the world by her self-absorbed mother. As a result, she turns out to be a sour little girl. When the reader later encounters Colin, her cousin, the same thing happens. His mother dies, and the father is unable to deal with the grief. In retaliation, Colin is stowed away at Misselthwaite Manor and is rarely at home. The way Colin is treated makes him become a tantrum-throwing boy.

Both Mary and Colin showcase the things that happen to children when they are sidelined. They get the impression that they amount to nothing, and air out their anger in the most dramatic way they can think of. When interacting with such kids, it is essential first to understand the background story.

Psychological effect

When a child is abandoned, the psychological impact can be so deep-rooted. It influences the way they interact with other children. Because kids will remain to be kids, they could start teasing the one who seems indifferent, just like Basil does with Mary. When he tries to play with her, she chases him away. Basil, in retaliation, starts teasing and calling her mistress Mary. Mary gets very angry as the other children join in the singing and laughter.

Rejection can take place in various forms. It could be physical where a father or mother distances from the child, or it could be emotional and financial. Most countries have laws protecting children from this kind of abandonment. Through litigation, a parent could be forced to be there for their child if they refuse to do so out of pure love like expected.

Humans and the Natural World

How do we explore and exploit our natural environment without waste and depletion? A considerable debate nowadays amongst environmentalists that the author Frances Burnett captured many decades ago. The Secret Garden gives a lovely description of the Yorkshire moors, a territory that is expected to be wild but is under the control of humans. We see Dickon, who is fond of going there to tame cows, foxes, and ponies. Even though Dickon is a great kid, he exerts human control over the natural world.

Considering issues like global warming, earthquakes, and tornadoes are directly blamed on humans, the author might have used this book to warn us about how we interact with the natural world. Some humans are quite proud of their natural habitats. Mrs. Medlock is one of them, judging by the way she greets Mary in her Yorkshire accent. The Yorkshire dialect is deliberately used to demonstrate human love for nature. Dickon’s love for nature makes him a likable character in the whole novel. The same cannot be said for Ben Weatherstaff, who is crabby and irritable.

The interaction between Mary and Mrs. Craven with the gardens are also worth noting. Mrs. Craven spends most of her time in a private walled garden growing roses. She has a positive interaction with nature, and she is willing to do anything to see its survival. At the same time, there is Mary who finds the key to a locked garden and the garden’s door. The discovery is useful, but the exciting part is what would happen later on. Would it have been better for the secret garden to remain hidden, or is Mary’s discovery the right thing?


Frances, who also wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy, provides us with one interesting addition to children’s classic literature. The Secret Garden effectively explores numerous themes, including that of children’s abandonment and human interaction with nature. The author was conscious of reaching a cross-generational audience. Thus children and parents alike would find a love- read in this book.


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