I love this book, it’s one of my favourites as it is so comforting and beautiful to read. And I adore the robin!
Mary Lennox is brought to England from India to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven, after her parents die. Her uncle is away travelling, however, and Mary is left to amuse herself in the big rambling Misselthwaite Manor and grounds on the Yorkshire Moors. She gradually becomes friends with the servant, Martha, who introduces her to her family, and in particular her brother, Dickon, who has an affinity with animals. Mary discovers, guided by the lovely robin who is a major character of the book, a neglected and secret garden in the grounds of the house, and determines, with Dickon’s help, to restore it. The garden was locked up by Craven when his wife had an accident and died in it. Mary also discovers a child living in the house, Colin, the son of Craven, who has been told and firmly believes he is a hunchback and cannot walk. They become friends and Mary takes Colin to the garden in his wheelchair and he helps Mary and Colin restore it, and also tries walking in the garden and discovers he can actually walk and gradually builds up strength and health, though they keep this a secret from the servants. Craven then arrives home and finds the garden full of flowers and Colin healthy and happy.
I am surprised at how Mary is represented at the start of this book, being described as disagreeable and unfriendly and demanding, when she has been through some terrible traumas. She was neglected and ignored as a child, knowing she was clearly unwanted by her parents and not being shown any affection from them and barely seeing them, then her parents die and she has to move from India and everything she knows and go to England where everything is strange and unfamiliar and live with a stranger, her uncle, and she’s not even greeted by him on her arrival. My heart just bleeds for her and how scared and alone she must have felt. I know this was written in a different time when children and their problems were dealt with differently, but I can’t help being surprised that the author isn’t more sympathetic towards Mary, or explains her behaviours as being due to these traumas. I imagine if the book was written today, then the first few chapters describing Mary would be much more sympathetic towards her. Poor poor Mary, bless her.
And I love Mary’s relationship with the servant, Martha, and how their trust grows with each other and how they both gain from each other, their backgrounds being so different and the contrast that Martha’s family lacks money but has much affection and love, and Mary has much money but has always lacked affection and love. It is so touching when Martha’s mother uses their little bit of money to buy a skipping rope for Mary. And also Mary’s excitement at the prospect of meeting Martha’s family, which must seem like a dream life for Mary who has never really had a family or people who care for her, it is so lovely to read.
I think my favourite bit of the book though is the lovely exchanges with the robin and the descriptions of his inquisitive and cheeky behaviour, ‘the robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall and he opened his beak and sang a loud lovely trill, merely to show off. Nothing in the world is quite so adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off – and they are nearly always doing it’. This just warms my heart and cheers me, it is so beautifully written and so charming, and whenever I see a robin it always makes me smile.
And another favourite bit is obviously the excitement of Mary finally finding the door to the secret garden, this is also so beautifully written with the description of the breeze blowing back the ivy and her seeing the door handle and taking it in both hands and turning the stiff key, then actually entering the garden and seeing all the draping mystical-like branches, and her joy at seeing green shoots in the ground and knowing that the garden is actually still alive. This is one of my all-time favourite passages in a book, I think. And I’m sure this section stayed with me when I read it as a child and gave me that hope that I’ll stumble across a secret garden myself, and I’m also sure is the cause of me always gazing wistfully and speculatively at lovely little unusual doors I see in garden walls! It is such a wonderful book. I’ve not read any other books by this author but have been looking at a few that sound worth reading, particular A Lady of Quality which sounds like more of an adults book than a children’s book, and Little Lord Fauntleroy which sounds interesting with the mix of English and New York life.