Sunday, 31 August 2008

Re-reading: The Secret Garden. . .

It's been a goal of mine to consciously make time to re-read books from my bookworm past to see if I react differently to them many years later. This morning, a pot of tea at the ready, I tackled Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved 1911 classic The Secret Garden. It must have been over thirty years since I first read this. It was a favourite of mine as a child because I was born (although not bred) in Yorkshire and have always kept a certain romantic notion of the moors in my imaginative consciousness. I found that I remembered the first half of the book extremely well - the sullen Mary Lennox's first arrival in England and her lonely first days until she finds a way into the secret garden that has been locked up for ten years until, with the help of the Yorkshire lad Dickon, she brings it, herself and Colin, the sickly master of the manor, back to life.

Reading it again, I'm struck by how many echoes of the Bronte sisters reverberate through the pages. The reverence and love of the moors is constant of course, but Colin's strange crying in the night as he's hidden away, not in an attic but a forbidden corridor, surely is a nod to Jane Eyre. As is the "voice" calling back Mr. Craven from his aimless European wandering (I had completely forgotten this entire chapter). I was also intrigued by the insistence of "Magic" as a life-force that Colin calls upon to make things happen. There are certainly religous implications in the novel, and today, it's what we'd probably call the power of positive thinking. But time and again, the word "Magic" with a capital M is repeated. Which is interesting having just read Hartley's The Go-Between, about a child who believes in his magical powers and the ability to put curses on people. That novel is written much later than Burnett's, but set only ten years earlier. So was there an intense interest in the occult then, particularly among children? Hmmmm.

I also found myself thinking of the first part of Rupert Brooke's famous sonnet, "The Soldier", whenever Mary's request for "a bit of earth" is referred to.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

Dickon is thirteen in the novel - he'd be sixteen when the war started. What would have happened to him? And after finishing the last chapter, I'm surprised by how suddenly Mary disappears from what has been mostly her story. Now that she has helped heal Colin and he's reunited with his father, is that the end of her usefulness and she can just fade into the background again?

1 comment:

BooksPlease said...

This was one of my favourite books as a child and I re-read it earlier this year too. I still loved it and like you remembered the first half very well. I was surprised by the life-force elements, although I do remember it was all about Magic and the power of good food, air and exercise. I wrote about it here.