Classic Readalong Discussion: The Secret Garden

April 3, 2015 2015, middle grade, readalong, Wendy 40

classic readalong secret garden

First off–my sincere apologies for the delay in posting this discussion. It’s the first time something has failed to publish the day it was supposed to, and it’s my fault entirely, as I’m in the middle of a rather intensely busy and crazy-making period offline.

Thank you all for being so patient with me, however, and thanks to Kim and Layla, too. I’m eager to get into this one, so let’s begin!

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the secret garden ojai libraryWendy: This is one of my favorite books of all time. As a child, I responded so strongly to the lovely English-ness of everything–it’s part of what set me on the path of being a lifelong Anglophile.  And whenever I was in botanical gardens and parks, I was always on the lookout for secret doorways and walls that might be hiding something. And look! As an adult, I finally found one. The photo to the right was taken at the Ojai Library.

Layla: It has been years and years since I read this. While I admittedly loved A Little Princess more than The Secret Garden as a kid, I suspect this one holds up better (I bet I’d find Sara annoying, while Mary Lennox seems to me to be far more sympathetic as an adult reader). An enjoyable re-read, though I cringed quite a few times. 

Wendy: You know, I reread A Little Princess a few years back and was surprised to find that it actually holds up very well, too. I quite liked Sara, she wasn’t nearly as stuck up or priggish as I mis-remembered; perhaps I thought that due to various film adaptations or the current overly pink-princess-preciousness that’s trendy for young girls that I despise. I’d love to reread that for TMG sometime! But in any case, this one is still my favorite of the two.

Kim: I had never read it before! I have adored the 1993 film version since I first saw it in theaters, though. Needless to say, I love this story and the book did not disappoint! I confess to having been a little nervous but I was utterly enchanted.

Wendy: As an adult, I love the themes in this book, particularly that of rebirth. Spring comes to the garden, and it comes to Mary, too.

Layla: I feel awful for Mary, especially at the beginning of this book. This is not to make apologies for her – I know that she is a real brat and has screwy ideas about how to interact with people, particularly people who work for her family. But that everyone is immediately reallll judge-y about how plain she is, and like, the assumptions that being plain corresponds with moral failings like a short temper and a sour disposition? And it’s not just characters in the book? I feel like the narrator is just … harsh about her. For example, when she’s in the railway carriage with Mrs. Medlock and Mrs. Medlock judges her “queer, unresponsive face,” and the narrator states that Mary’s attempts to hide her interest in things is one of her “unhappy, disagreeable ways.” And, hello. She has been neglected by her parents and no one has paid attention to her, like, her whole life. She has been taught that “it doesn’t matter … whether [she] cares or not” about where she goes or where she lives. I don’t know, man, Mary’s unresponsiveness seems really self-protective (and like it’s coming from a place of vulnerability) rather than proof that she’s just a peevish weasel of a child. (When Martha is telling Mary about Dickon and Mary is like, “He wouldn’t like me … No one does.” MY HEART IS BREAKING.)

Kim: Oh totally. Poor Mary! I never got the sense, though, that the narrator faults or blames Mary for being sour and disagreeable. I actually got the distinct impression that the narrator was very judgmental of her parents (and surprise surprise–particularly her mother. You know, being all pretty and vain as she was…Unforgivable!) for their neglect.

Wendy: I think the narration did what it set out to do–show us how Mary appears on the surface to a regular onlooker, and then gradually we understand why she is the way she is, and there’s implied criticism there on neglect, and advocating for how strongly children respond to nurturing, both physically and emotionally. I mean, the whole book is about transformation, so obviously the author has sympathy for her.


Layla: I wanted to talk a little bit about how the book seems to define “health.” This conversation could go in a number of directions, but the first thing I wanted to ask you all about was if anyone else was bothered by the assumptions that seem to undergird what “good health” looks like in this book. (Both Mary and Colin are unwell by the novel’s standards at the start of the story, and achieve some sort of cure by the end.) So. Maybe this is just me, but I was really bothered by the way Mary’s change in wellness seems to correspond with her move from India, where she is always “ill and tired and it was too hot,” to the English moors, which, by way of contrast, feature “rough fresh air blown over the heather [that] filled her lungs with something which was good for her whole thin body and whipped some red color into her cheeks and brightened her dull eyes.” ::skeptical face:: O RLY? I mean, I like being outside, it’s awesome, but this seems like it’s related to some pretty suspect attitudes towards India.

Wendy: My interpretation: the intent was to provide marked contrast between the environment she was raised in. While I agree there is something niggling in the author’s views on the British colonization of India that I would love to know more about, I think the overemphasis on health is partly due to her parent’s deaths from cholera, which to be scrupulously fair was but one of many epidemic diseases quite common in the region at that time–leprosy and malaria being others. I was reading in my wonderful The Secret Garden cookbook that Mary’s yellow skin might’ve been a reference to jaundice, and I’ll connect the dots myself to cholera and malaria, since apparently patients with either disease might exhibit symptoms of yellow skin. I would think that someone reading about all these outbreaks at home in England would feel a great deal of concern for what was happening overseas, and protectiveness of the “English” way of life.

Kim: I see what you’re saying. My original takeaway was that Mary’s flourishing in the story comes from the love and companionship that is infused into her her life in England. In India she was unloved and emotionally atrophied. Her physical health improvement directly corresponds with her emotional health and they feed into the other. It’s unfortunate and I think there is a certain level of (unintentional? I hope) ignorance in creating the parallel. But yeah, the novel does seem to think that it’s India’s fault that Mary was ill. It seems like only when surrounded by all things English could Mary be cured. Also, Master Craven is always traveling and it isn’t until he comes home for good that he too can be well. So yes, there is definitely a rather unpleasant English superiority vibe.

IMG_0061Layla: Haha, yes. This is what I meant. There’s this idealization of the British moors with their healthful air which blows the cobwebs out of her brain and wakes her up and so on and so forth, but like, there seems to be a pretty clear contrast with India, where, let us remember, she could never grow flowers. (She just stuck them in the sand and they died.)

Wendy: Yeah, there’s a preference for the homeland there. Though there is certainly public documentation of both shutting children away for fear of contagious disease as well as public health attitudes towards hygiene and fresh air in the late 19th and early 20th century, so I think it’s safe to say that has to inform the author’s thinking on some level. I can think of anecdotes in several children’s books that speak to this, too–the Moffats are all quarantined because Rufus has scarlet fever, and so are the All-of-a-Kind girls, who later on also take a friend to the seashore following a bad accident so that she might regain her physical and mental health. Oh, and Jo takes Beth away in Little Women for this reason as well! It seems to me that I’ve also read/seen so many stories set during this time (and before and after) in which children were shut away and “sea air” or whatever being prescribed that this point does not seem that unusual to me, I guess.

Kim: Okay, so here’s a thing that was really weird for me: I always majorly shipped Mary and Dickon in the movie. But in the book for some reason I was all about Colin. What is wrong with me? Perhaps because Dickon is already so whole and so loved and magical in the book. Mary and Colin grow on their journey together. I loved their dynamic. I loved that by working with Colin to overcome his own loneliness and tyrannical tendencies, Mary was able to find purpose and a place to direct her energies. I liked that she was a good foil for him. Oh, Colin, you met your match! *insert Deal With it gif*

Wendy: I cannot get over the cousins thing, sorry. Actually, there is an old TV film starring Colin Firth that made me positively livid, because it includes an epilogue in which Dickon dies–DIES–and Colin proposes to Mary. I enjoyed the Colin-Mary scenes, but shipping? No no no, not for me.

Layla: I did also really enjoy Mary and Colin together, if only because no one else loves them and they are both so lonely and then they find out they have each other. I also love how both of them have huge crushes on Dickon, which, you know, makes sense. He has squirrels in his pockets.


Kim: I will add that I did not super love the whole “If only you think positively then everything will be great and wonderful for you! Banishing ‘dark thoughts’ (i.e. depression, grief) is as easy as thinking it away!” there at the end. I love that this is a positive book with an uplifting message, but that perspective is just too naive and ill informed, and also, to me, heavy handed. I didn’t get an overt sense of preachiness from the rest of the novel but that bit tacked on at the end didn’t sit super well.

Layla: Yes! I am all about Mary, Colin, and Uncle Archibald finding love in a hopeless place, but like, the idea that illness can be cured by positive thinking (and lots of healthy fresh air from the moors) seems to me to be really troubling. I am also bothered by Archibald’s neglect of his child as long as he believes him to  be a “deformed and crippled creature,” and ugh, it was so sad when Colin is like, “If I can walk, do you think my dad will love me?” Also also also, in terms of skepticism about the magic, I disliked that horrible part when they’re talking about how the Magic works (if you say something enough times, it becomes true), and Ben Weatherstaff brings up a woman who calls her husband a drunk, and Colin is like, “Well, you see something did come of it. She used the wrong Magic and made him beat her. If she’d used the right Magic and had said something nice …”. <– face of horror

Wendy: The Disability in Kid Lit peeps did a great write-up talking about the troubling trope of Colin’s “magical cure.” Since I’m long familiar with this story from childhood, I never thought of it as being in the same category as other books that have bothered me View Spoiler », but it is a very problematic message. I think we have to make some allowances for the time period in which this was set, and I don’t believe Archibald’s distancing himself from his child was that uncommon for someone of his rank and privilege. (It’s still not that surprising now among the wealthy set these days, though it’s certainly more frowned upon.) That’s without the stigma of Colin’s supposed lump on his back, too.

Kim: Yes, that part was particularly bad. So I did some looking around on the internet and apparently the author was a Christian Scientist and this idea that physical health can be restored by merely banishing negative thoughts is specifically Christian Scientist. I’m pretty surprised because I thought the book was only preachy at the very end. I thought this was just a straightforward story about the power of love and friendship being transformative! I certainly see the story in a whole new light now. 

P1020872Wendy: For my personal taste, the book does not feel all that preachy to me re: pushing overt Christian Scientist values–no more so than Philip Pullman’s atheism affected His Dark Materials, which is a view I know you do agree with, Kim. Discovering the author’s background after the fact provides context for sure, but for me this didn’t overshadow the story or characterization while reading. Obviously you can’t just cure everything with positive thinking, but it’s certainly something that does help during times of illness–and in this particular case, it seemed the author’s intent was to say Colin wasn’t actually crippled? And his father just didn’t want to or was afraid to deal with him? Archibald was a hunchback, but it seemed to me it was fear of disease and illness (and emotional attachment) that was keeping Colin shut away.

Kim: Oh also! Apparently the sisters/twins things was an invention of the movie? But I found that part so lovely! I guess this is the part where I profess my never ending love for the 1993 movie. I’m strongly biased because I have just the loveliest memory of going to see it in theaters with my mom, aunt, my sister and my three cousins. Movie night (on a school night!) just for the girls. We all loved it and found the movie to be such a magical experience. I can also distinctly remember the day my mom surprised me after school by pulling the VHS out of nowhere. “Surprise, Kim! I  got you this movie we both adore!” I still have that VHS too! Was this the movie that made me love moors? MAYBE. View Spoiler » I have an absurd love for them. I don’t know about you, but I see a huge, drafty palace on the English moors and I think,”Hello, heaven!” Misselthwaite seemed such a perfect place for imagination to run wild, even as isolated and unfriendly as it was. The movie is haunting, atmospheric, yearning, and magical. ALL OF MY FAVORITE THINGS. Also, why is Kate Maberly’s diction so perfect? It’s absurd.

Wendy: I’ve been saying Kate Maberly has perfect diction for years. Actually, I remember saying it on our favorite books-to-film adaptations post. I love that film, and we should totally all watch that together. 

Layla: I don’t remember the movie! I know that we had it, but I don’t remember actually seeing it. (I do remember shipping Dickon/Mary, though, and being disappointed that there is like apparently a sequel where Dickon dies in the wars and then Mary and Colin get together? Nooooo.)

Wendy:  Not the official sequel, it was the epilogue tacked onto a different production.

the secret garden

Layla: I only remember the musical. Where, spoiler alert, Dr. Craven is also in love with Lily, leading to a totally great duet.

Wendy: I ADORE THE MUSICAL. It takes liberties with the story but I don’t even care, I love it. (Listen to samples if you haven’t experienced this, particularly tracks #6, 8, 15, 25, 28, 30, 35 .)  I listen to it and the movie soundtrack all the time! I actually give both albums and various Secret Garden packages often during the spring, some of the photographs are on this post.

Layla: It is my favorite musical in the world (it is not perfect, but I love the music so much) and Mandy Patinkin makes me much more sympathetic to Archibald than I would otherwise be. I cry tears every time I hear “How Could I Know,” and that entire album is on permanent rotation in my car. For anyone who has not seen it, both Wendy and I love it dearly, so you should go listen to it on Spotify or something. It is truly lovely.

Kim: I’m not as familiar with the musical! I only listened to it once through before at the urging of Wendy but I really enjoyed it.

Layla: What’s the significance of them learning to speak Yorkshire? I was curious about this because it seems like the folks who speak Yorkshire in the book are working class, and like, what does it mean for Colin and Mary to both try to adopt this dialect? (I’m asking this also because it seems like the people who are good people and know how to raise children aren’t, like, members of the upper class like either Mary or Colin’s parents. Mrs. Dickon’s Mom comes off far better and is much more of a model in the book.)

Kim: I think it has to do with them becoming more English where English is the most ideal and healthy thing you can be. Like, in the novel Dickon is clearly wonderful and magical and perfect. We all want to be more like Dickon. 

Wendy: I just took that as natural curiosity, children trying on different guises. And it’s a contrast between Mary’s initial attitude towards the servants/her upbringing and her friendship with Dickon, there’s some implied egalitarianism in this portrayal as well. I really wish there was more known about the author, I’m fascinated by the themes running through both of her books that I’ve read.

Layla: Another thing: food porn? My choice is “two tin pails … full of rich new milk with cream on top of it and … the other held cottage-made currant buns.” I have never had currant buns but I would like to eat A PAIL OF THEM.

Wendy: You know, I remembered the food from A Little Princess better, but when I got the cookbook I realized there was food porn in this book, too! Which obviously makes me very happy.


Final Ratings:

Kim: 4.5 stars. Though there are definitely problematic elements, I tend to be more forgiving of them in 100+ year old books. I will continue on in ignorance of the Christian Scientist influence of this book and continue to see it as the charming story of two children who found health, renewal, and love through the magic of a garden. I don’t think it was “banishing bad thoughts” that saved Mary and Colin so much as it was the chance to both receive affection and receive affection for the first time in their lives. It’s a very sweet story and my eternal love for the movie was always going to ensure I loved this one too.

Layla: 4 stars, and they are all for Mary and no one else! I agree that the book has its problems (it is in many ways a product of its time) but I still very much enjoyed reading it. Any story that is about children thwarting adults and flourishing in spite of neglect, I am down with.

Wendy: 5 stars for me, forever and ever.

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The Secret Garden Watchalong!

We looooove the 1993 film adaptation of this book, and we want to watch and live-tweet this specific version with you! What date and time works best for everyone who’s interested in joining in? Tell us in the comments, and we’ll announce on Twitter and fill in the info below.

Date: xx
Time: xx
Hashtag: #tmgwatchalong

It’s available to queue on Netflix DVD, $2.99 to rent on Amazon Instant Video, $4.81 on DVD, and often around $5 at Target on its own or a bit more bundled with The Little Princess.

The official movie trailer is pretty terrible, but there’s a little snippet from the soundtrack above that gives you a nice feel for the film.

Trust us–it’s a wonderful interpretation of this story, with splendid casting (The most perfect Mary Lennox imaginable, plus Professor McGonagall/Violet Crawley!), and perfect music, setting, and…everything. EVERYTHING. Come watch with us! It’s going to be a magical experience.

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April Readalong: A Ring of Endless Light

Okay, so: here are a handful of words that will tell you why I’ve been dying to read this book for these readalongs for ages:

— wonderful family dynamic
— serious discussion of handling illness
— one of my very first book boyfriends is in it (!!!)
— she rides a freaking dolphin! A spoiler, obviously, but it’s right there on the cover, so.

This is one of the first YA books I ever remember reading, and it has stayed a favorite throughout adulthood. Ignore the “Austin Chronicles #4” thing, this can be read as a standalone.

Title: A Ring of Endless Light
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Discussion Date: Friday, April 24th
Hashtag: #tmgreadalong

a ring of endless lightAfter a tumultuous year in New York City, the Austins are spending the summer on the small island where their grandfather lives. He’s very sick, and watching his condition deteriorate as the summer passes is almost more than Vicky can bear. To complicate matters, she finds herself as the center of attention for three very different boys.

Zachary Grey, the troubled and reckless boy Vicky met last summer, wants her all to himself as he grieves the loss of his mother. Leo Rodney has been just a friend for years, but the tragic loss of his father causes him to turn to Vicky for comfort—and romance. And then there’s Adam Eddington. Adam is only asking Vicky to help with his research on dolphins. But Adam—and the dolphins—may just be what Vicky needs to get through this heartbreaking summer.


It’s kind of crazy, but it looks like the only paperback edition in print is $8.89 on Amazon, although it’s only $6.41 for Kindle. This is a title that you should be able to get at the library, but you may have to place an order for it, since it’s one of L’Engle’s lesser-read works.

— If you’d like to get a head start on May’s book, we’ll be reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.


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So, did you fall in love with The Secret Garden? Planning to join us for summery magic and heartbreak in A Ring of Endless Light?

Oh, and be on the lookout in the comments! Our friend Katie from Bookish Illuminations is going to link us to her blog post on her readalong experience, which will also detail her trip to the GARDEN THAT INSPIRED FRANCES HODSON BURNETT. *pea green*

Wendy signature teal




40 Responses to “Classic Readalong Discussion: The Secret Garden”

  1. Alisa @ Papercuttts

    Ugh, I wish I could make time for some of your read-a-longs! One day I shall! I did read The Secret Garden when I was young, but I remember watching that version of the film many times. My mom and I still quote, “I’m not sour!” in a British accent to each other ;)
    Alisa @ Papercuttts recently posted…Life Update || April 2015

    • Wendy Darling

      I do hope you’ll find time to join us one of these days! We have great fun with it. And I promise, we aren’t usually this behind on answering comments, I’ve just been craaaaazed recently.

      hee, I can picture your tiny avatar saying “I’m not sour” in clipped tones and it amuses me greatly. Kim and I had fun with seeing the line “My mother didn’t have time to tell me stories” earlier this year, since it appears in Sarah J. Maas’ A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES. :D
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

  2. Rashika

    I feel all the feels from reading this, you guys! I actually read The Secret Garden for class years and years ago and I remember everyone in my group rolling their eyes but I was like “THIS IS AWESOME”. It’s been such a long long time since I’ve read the book but some of the things you guys discussed are so familiar and I am not even sure I picked up on all of those things when I first read the book.

    I remember liking the fact that Colin was magically cured at the end of the book when I first read it (because HEAs) but also I feel like if I read the book again, I would not be as cool with it because that just seems to send out certain messages that I am not okay with. Although, Wendy, I totally feel you about Eona. I was disappointed by that too and wished there had been a different way of making things work. It almost felt like cheating to me :(

    And Kim, I am with you. When I read this book, I was all about Mary and Colin. I realize they are cousins but but, if they weren’t, I’d want them to have a possibly romantic future.

    On a side note, over my spring break, we went hiking and I came across this brick structure (that had been used to service trains) but it was all empty and surrounded by all this gorgeous nature and I couldn’t help but think of the secret garden. :’)

    Fantastic discussion guys!

    I CANNOT WAIT FOR A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT (Except I am also not ready so I don’t know. I HAVE FEELINGS. AHHHHHH)
    Rashika recently posted…ARC Review: Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt

    • Wendy Darling

      WHO was rolling their eyes at this book? You tell me and I will go show them the error of their ways! *withering stare*

      I’m so happy that you love this book, too! And that you felt similarly about EON, that was my biggest criticism of the book. Well, that and the fact that it took her forever to figure out you know what, but still. As we’ve discussed, I was more disappointed in that book because it was written somewhat recently, and we’ve evolved so much in our writing and our reading and our social reform that it seemed unnecessary. With something like Colin’s “cure,” if it can be considered that, I think you have to take historical context into consideration. It wouldn’t be fair for our current beliefs and literature to be judged by the standards of what’s common knowledge in 100 year’s time, for example.

      Awww, stumbling across secret gardens are the loveliest thing! I hope you took pictures.

      And yay yay yay! I think you’re the only person I’ve talked to who is as much in love with A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT as I am. I’m curious to know what you thought upon revisiting it.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

  3. Katie @ Bookish Illuminations

    I remember growing up watching two different versions of The Secret Garden with my family, and I distinctly remember when the 1993 version came out. Needless to say, I loved it, and still do.

    I’m beyond happy that you chose The Secret Garden for our March readalong. It really is the perfect beginning of spring book. And, I hadn’t yet re-read it using my annotated edition as my copy, so that was fabulous. The Annotated Edition includes so much interesting research about different aspects of the story and Burnett’s writing of it, not to mention some beautiful, classic illustrations. There are also some strange illustrations featured too, which were interesting. :)

    I can relate to Wendy—I think this book played a role in my own love of all things English! As I look back at my diaries and journals kept as a young reader, I see that I used British spelling, obviously reflecting my voracious appetite for British children’s literature.

    I LOVE that door from the Ojai library. And I can’t believe I haven’t seen it—in fact, my grandmother lived in Ojai so I grew up going there and was just there for her 100th birthday a few years ago. I’m really pleased you included this.

    A Little Princess was another favorite of mine as a child and as an adult. And the movies of both books are memorable to me. Burnett seems to have this way of creating magical stories that continue to be treasured and loved.

    But I do agree with Layla that it’s worth it to look into some of the more troubling aspects. I’m so happy that Kim loved the book! But I do understand the sentiments about the Christian Scientist philosophy influences—though this didn’t bother me too much. That idea that getting rid of negative thoughts means your depression will be cured is naïve as you mentioned. Though I have heard of people “fasting” negativity for a period of time and I think that can help certain aspects of one’s life, though I wouldn’t say it gets rid of any and all depression instantaneously.

    I too felt sad for Mary, and would hope that adults who read this book at the time it was published perhaps were moved to be more nurturing with their own children (if they weren’t.) I always like to think that books will have a positive impact on their readers and move them to be better. Wendy’s comment about the narrator pushing for that made me think about this.

    So much to say—I could go on forever! But I’ll stop here and mention that my trip to Great Maytham Hall in England (it was part of a short trip at the beginning of my graduate course) was absolutely magical! I’ve always wanted to have a secret garden of my own, but being able to view one of the walled gardens that inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett was the next best thing.

    A fantastic discussion, ladies! And I’m so excited for the watch-along of the movie—which I own. An evening or weekend would work for me.
    Katie @ Bookish Illuminations recently posted…Bookish Journeys: Entering The Secret Garden at Great Maytham Hall

    • Wendy Darling

      Ah, of course you would be reading from your annotated edition! How lucky we are to have you to tell us about it, I have to look into this edition sometime.

      I ADORE BRITISH SPELLING. K used to review for us, and the Canadians use the “u” in their spelling, too, and she once asked me if she should change to the American spelling. I said, “Absolutely not!” Both because it wasn’t necessary for her to adapt her natural spelling and because I enjoyed it.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my old photograph of the door in Ojai! I’m sure it’s still there. How amazing that your grandmother celebrated her 100th birthday, too–my goodness. What a milestone.

      I am VERY excited to read your post about Great Maytham Hall. I have been absent even more than usual lately, but I am bookmarking everyone’s posts and promise to be by to visit soon! I am prepared to turn that unbecoming color we have previously discussed. :D

      And yesss, we still have to decide on a date and time for this watchalong! Hopefully that gets settled soon, I’m glad you’re interested in joining in.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

  4. Alexa S.

    I loved seeing your thoughts on The Secret Garden, ladies! While I wasn’t able to participate in the read-along, I definitely want to reread The Secret Garden. It was one of my favorite stories as a child, and I feel like I’d still enjoy it as an adult!
    Alexa S. recently posted…Time Travel To: Regency England

  5. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

    What an intelligent and thoughtful discussion about a well loved classic guys! I read this when I was young, so I don’t remember much about it, but I loved how you talked about the emphasis on health, the British superiority and about the main character being plain. It’s amazing how much we can diverge from classics of the past if we went back and re-read them.
    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence recently posted…Blog Tour: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach Review & Giveaway (AUS)

    • Wendy Darling

      I’ve found so many new points of interest through these readalong discussions, Jeann–it’s amazing considering I’ve read some of these books literally dozens of times. (The most astonishing one being that I never noticed the queer subtext in HARRIET THE SPY. How could I have missed it?!) We get so much out of literature upon both rereading and sharing it with others.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

  6. Andrea K

    I came to The Secret Garden via the tv series, not the movies. It was real fun to go to England last year and keep meeting robins everywhere.

    I think the “fresh air = health” thing comes from the coal fire smog issues that would be a major factor of city living at the time. Seasides and moors were considered healthier for good reason. There’s a really interesting correlation between health and beauty as well. Mary is told she has become better looking, and that’s because she’s gained weight and gained a healthier colour due to exercise and better eating.

    I wasn’t entirely keen on the last quarter of the story, where they’ve found their garden and the book starts trying to lay out the reasons for the ‘magic’ and Colin maps out his future as a scientist of magic, though hearing about the author’s background shows me more what they were trying to do.

    I shall always want a secret garden thanks to this book. :) And I love the illustrations you’ve done for this post. :D
    Andrea K recently posted…D&D vs Otome

    • Wendy Darling

      Ah, Andrea! I saw the BBC production (is that the one you mean?) when I was very young, but I don’t remember it at all. How lovely to “meet robins” during your trip in England!

      That’s such a good point about the pollution in the city–I actually knew this, but didn’t connect the dots as you did. I think there’s still an association between health and beauty today, though of course the “standards” and specifics have changed.

      Let’s all just pretend the last few chapters don’t exist then, hah. And I wonder how many people have come by their love of gardens from this very book? <3

      I still need to email you about joining us as our guest for a science fiction or fantasy read! We haven't settled on when/what the options will be yet, I've been trying to choose books that make sense for the seasons, as well as varying up the ages levels and genres. Soon, though! Thanks for stopping by. :)
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

  7. Carina Olsen

    Such a gorgeous discussion post girls :D You are all making me want to read this book, hmph. Though I must admit that I hadn’t heard about it before now, ack. But it do look pretty cute :D And I’m so so glad that you all liked it. <3 I shall have to look more into it. Loved reading your thoughts on everything :) You are all awesome. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Book Recommendation: Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman

    • Wendy Darling

      Well, that’s why we do these discussions! To make you want to read the book! As someone who enjoys middle grade books, I think you’d quite like this one, Carina. It doesn’t feel too terribly dated, even though it’s an old-fashioned kind of book. Maybe you can watch the film with us on Twitter, too!

  8. Brenda

    I’ve never read this before, but was very happy to have the chance. As a child, I probably would have felt bad for Mary in the way that the adults were treating her. As an adult, it is very easy to sympathize with Mary’s circumstance, having parents who really neglect her and then have an uncle who treats her in the very same way. So sad. Mary’s personality really seemed to stem from how she was being raised and she didn’t annoy me in the least. I love the theme of the Secret Garden and how everything was brought back to life by Mary nurturing it. I loved gardens and roses as a child, I could get lost in reading about something like that. The theme of “good health” had me thinking of my own grandmother, she believed in a lot of the same ideas. Being “plump and having rosy cheeks” were always signs of good health, and we always had windows open for the fresh air. It was a lovely reminder. I also wondered about why the children tried to speak Yorkshire, I chalked it up to something like trying out a new language. Thanks for a wonderful Spring selection, I’ll keep an eye out for the watchalong, it sounds like fun. (I had wanted to do The Princess Bride one that was happening awhile back, but totally missed it.)
    Brenda recently posted…Classic MG Read-a-long: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s always interesting to revisit these beloved childhood classics as adults–with the best books, there really is something new you can take away from it every time, for every age.

      Mary didn’t annoy me either, I’m always surprised when I see the contrary opinion pop up now and again. And I love gardens, too! I’m not very good at them myself–I don’t have the knowledge or knack or patience, but I’m hoping that changes one day.

      I think the idea of plump, rosy cheeks and fresh air and such was very much a firm belief back in the day. We still believe in the power of nature to help heal us, and during the late 1800s/early 1900s I believe that was a very widely publicized and promoted way of thinking. I’m glad the book brought up good memories for you!

      And yes, we were determined to time this one to spring somehow. So happy you enjoyed the book, Brenda, and we look forward to watching the film with you soon!

  9. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    Interesting question about the significance of speaking Yorkshire. As well as the reasons you mention, I would assume that dialect speakers were seen as closer to the earth, to agrarian work and lifestyles. Standard English speakers were the ones who oversaw the land but didn’t actually get their hands dirty. So the language is another way of conveying the healing power of nature. When I read the book to my son it was challenging to try to do the accent! He was fascinated though and sometimes still asks me to “talk Yorkshire” (which I do very poorly, alas).
    Lory @ Emerald City Book Review recently posted…Literary Blog Hop Giveaway: The Dean’s Watch

    • Layla

      Oh, that’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought of that aspect – of that dialect connecting to the healing power of nature – at all. But that connects with the question of how the novel is interested in conceptualizing Englishness as something that is tied deeply to the land (certainly not a new way to think about Englishness by any means, but it does become more interesting when it’s revised to be about people who work rather than own the land, which is also interesting in a colonial setting as well). Anyway. I couldn’t even try to do the accent. I try to sing along with the soundtrack to the musical sometimes, though, which does feature a song where Mary tries to learn to speak and sing Yorkshire!
      Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: The Secret Garden

  10. Jenna

    First of all, I want to say that I am SO HAPPY I stumbled upon this post when I did – via Wendy’s link to it on Twitter. I haven’t been as glued to social media lately as I have been in the past, and my blog reader has 200+ posts in it, so who knows when I would have seen this otherwise.

    ANYWAY. I have been SO into “The Secret Garden” lately, as I ritually listen to the Broadway soundtrack around this time every year. Ironically, I didn’t even get into the musical until just a few years ago even though the original copy of “The Secret Garden” that I read when I was a kid had the Broadway musical cover on it, and I honestly didn’t even make the connection until a few years ago when I bought the soundtrack.

    I LOVE the key photos in this post! “The Secret Garden” is guilty of creating my childhood obsession with keys. When I randomly stumbled upon an old skeleton key in my house when I was about 8 years old, I thought I was a freakin’ hero. (I think I still have it somewhere.)

    I think the thing that I love most about this book is that Mary Lennox is a sullen and bad-tempered child. She was such a change from other characters I’d encountered in books and movies, and it made me feel less alone for being sullen and bad-tempered myself. She was what I needed at the right time. Though there are aspects of the book that I now realize are problematic (the colonialism, the “wish yourself well” attitude) …. the characterization of Mary is the reason that I will always cherish this book.

    I am so down for a #tmgwatchalong — whenever it is! (With a slight preference to a Sunday or Monday evening.)

    Ok, I’m going end with leaving this right here:

    • Layla

      Ahh, I love that necklace! Though that leaf does not look wick at all ;)

      Yesssss, more people who are fans of that musical. There are dozens of us! Dozens! I’m glad that this post is giving us a chance to unite. The soundtrack is glorious and one of my favorite things ever and I can’t make enough people listen to it. (Like, the beauty of that quartet! I can’t even. And Mandy Patinkin 4eva, oh god, I love everything about this musical.) I am so happy that you love it and listen to it around this time each year. That is perfect.

      I would like to hear more about your childhood obsession with keys. That is delightful! Did you successfully get into anywhere you shouldn’t have? Did anyone know you’d found it?

      In total agreement re: Mary. I support her sullen-ness and bad-temperedness. (And like, why shouldn’t she be? People are legit terrible to her all the time!) The Toast has a series of posts that are literary lady cage fights, and a recent one featured Mary and Sara from A Little Princess. AND LET’S BE REAL, MARY WINS EVERY TIME. Ugh. Anyway. I’m so glad she was there for you when you needed her. I love her.
      Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: The Secret Garden

    • Wendy Darling

      Jenna! Thanks for the epic discussion on Twitter about the musical, it was great fun to sing along with you that day. :) I have been so busy I’ve been sporadic about posting and internet presence too, but that was a happy day indeed.

      How lucky you were to discover a key of your own! DId you ever find what it opened? I have a little bit of a thing for old keys (I’ve purchased many lots of vintage keys, some of which you see in the packages I photographed here, and I bought an giant old set of rusty keys at a garden center once that I have never done anything with), and I think I can tie that directly to this book.

      And yes, despite some of the material we see as problematic with our modern perspective, I love how Mary transforms in this book. It makes you remember that with the right kind of nurturing, of body and spirit, wonders can really happy.

      Yay! Will let you guys know about the watchalong date!

      And I’ve actually purchased necklaces from that seller before, can you believe it? There’s a big craft fair here a few times a year that they usually attend.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Crimson Bound: guest post + giveaway

  11. Tara @ The Librarian Who Doesn't Say Shhh!

    I love The Secret Garden and always have — in all forms! I have three different versions of the movie, plus many copies of the book and the musical soundtrack (which I’ve seen three times). My favorite version of the film is the Hallmark one where Dickon dies. Even though that end is strange (and Mary and Colin are not actually cousins in that version), I do like the feeling of that film more than the 1993 version. It felt a little darker and more gritty.

    Thank you all for this wonderful post about one of my favorite books! You all brought up great points that have crossed my mind over the years as I’ve gotten older (like the imperialist attitude toward India and the messages about illness) and now I want to go read the book again.
    Tara @ The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh! recently posted…Let’s Get Critical!: Characters and Characterization

    • Wendy Darling

      Wow, three different film versions! That’s dedication indeed. This discussion did make me want to rewatch the less favored ones, especially the one that made me so angry, hah. So funny that that one is your favorite! Had you read the book before watching that version, or vice versa? And yes, I do remember a darker, more adult feel to that story since it was bookended by the framing device of Colin coming back to visit Mary after the war. The 1993 version is quite serious/dramatic for the most part, but it is a quieter, more age-fixed dark.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the discussion, too! And it’s made you want to reread the book! And that it’s one of your favorites! *beams* I’ve read this book so many times, but I always find new things to ponder over through our chats as well. Thank you for stopping by.

    • Layla

      TARA. How did I not know that you’ve seen the musical three times? I cannot believe that this did not come up during our roadtrip to D.C. since that soundtrack was IN THE CAR while we were driving. A missed opportunity, alas.

      I’ll have to look up the Hallmark TSG film. I think I’ve heard of it in legend and in song but have never actually seen the film itself. Maybe after we do our watch-along for this movie I’ll get my hands on it.

      If you read this, I absolutely want to hear your thoughts on what it’s like for you to re-read TSG. Go read the book again!
      Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: The Secret Garden

  12. Pili @ In Love With Handmade

    I simply adored this one too! I blame my Anglophile-ness for not being too bothered about some of the things that both Kim and Layla have pointed out… And I’m usually very easily bothered by preachiness in books!

    Brits and India never seem to have mashed too well, and being a fussy child, cared by servants only and ignored and pampered but not loved… and then getting to a place where she’s not attended to her every whim but is allowed to play outside and is treated with less reverence and more affection… I felt like that was the main contrast there. But having been in India MANY times, every time I read a book with India settings I always wonder how did they survive the Indian summers without AC! I barely did the one time that the AC broke down… so yeah, not surprising the talk about India’s heat!

    As for the positive thinking changing everything… that’s like the precursor of The Secret, the book that talks about the Law of Attraction and stuff. I didn’t see Colin’s as a miracle cure, but as a boy that was treated as an invalid and made into a hypocondriac without nothing really being the matter physically except for spending all his life till that moment in a bed! Haven’t read other books from the sort of same period it seems like being an invalid without a real organic reason was not so rare for the wealthy and rather unheard of for the working class. Colin might have been depressed but mostly I saw him as a scared boy that only got attention when in rages or “hysterics” and that was the only way he could get something similar to affection. It’s good that both Mary and Colin are young kids because they’re really resilient and can change quite a lot with a different sort of care.

    I also loved that the author sided with the more hands-on care of the poor than the children be handed by servants and nannies and kept in the nursery and away from parents that the higher society did have back then (and still does have). I felt that was one of the main themes of the book, along with the power of good food, exercise and fresh air, that seemed to be the Victorians cure for everything, although I wouldn’t be adverse to some nice currant buns myself at any point, yay for book’s food porn!!

    Forgive my ignorance but I had NO IDEA there were various movies and a Broadway adaptation done!! I’m all for doing a watchalong (not a word, I know!) but I’d love to! I need to find a way to get my hands on it over here but I have a few days off from the 13th till the 16th so any time there would be totally perfect for me! Also, I need to try and find the soundtrack for the musical, because I love musicaaaaals!! I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for Wicked in my car since October (I miiiiight be a bit obsessed!).

    Really looking forward to April’s book because DOLPHINS!! A bit concerned about the romance and the three boys! O_o
    Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…Saturday Pages: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett!!!

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m actually glad to hear you weren’t bothered by “preachiness” either–that observation surprised me when I came into the discussion! We probably should have spent more time talking about the many other wonderful qualities this book has as well, but I didn’t finish until 6 am this morning, ugh.

      My BFF’s husband is Indian, and I’ve heard many stories over the years from him and others about how hot it is there–I cannot imagine living without air conditioning, either. I’m wondering if Frances or someone she knew went, and was so bothered by the differences in climate and culture that it shapes some of her attitude? This made me think of OUT OF AFRICA too, where you have the contrast of the cool white-linened-garbed English against the dusty hot setting, and how they insisted on formalization. Contagious disease was a huge problem in the 1800s and early 1900s, and as the Western world was beginning to learn about hygiene and how diseases were spread through contact or lack of sterilization, I think this cautiousness and yes, bias, from the author seems somewhat understandable. Those Victorians did believe in the power of fresh air–and we still do believe that today, although obviously we’ve advanced in our research and knowledge and have other means at our disposal, too. I mean seriously, our Beverly Hills doctor prescribed surfing to my husband for his sinuses! It sounds a little hippy dippy, but the salt water and exercise definitely helps. Nice to have the nurse weigh in on this too, hah.

      YES, hypochondriac is the word to use here–maybe enforced (?) hypochondriasis, since he was told that from birth. Depression certainly plays a part, and the acting out from both him and Mary are symptoms of their emotional starvation. Such on-point observations about this, Pili, thank you. Children are amazingly resilient, I think about kids in extreme circumstances all the time who are able to find some peace with what’s happened to them (I’m thinking Jaycee Dugard and others, specifically), so the kind of flourish we see in Mary and Colin seems entirely believable to me.

      And OMG! You have to get ahold of both film and broadway musical. I don’t strongly urge book readers to do this very often, but I’m quite sure anyone who truly loves the magic of this book will love these specific adaptations. There are a lot of TERRIBLE ones as well, so make sure you’re getting the right one.

      Thanks so much for joining in as always, Pili! I saw you posted your review as well, I’ll definitely come visit it when I get a second.

      • Pili @ In Love With Handmade

        I ordered the 1993 edition of the movie, the one with Prof McGonagall… erm Maggie Smith in it! I was happy for that clue to make sure I didn’t order the wrong movie, even if I kinda worried once I saw that in the movie the parents are killed in an earthquake and not a bout of cholera! Now I need to see if I can get ahold of the right musical soundtrack, that might be a bit harder!

        I was with my ex for 7 years and I visited India twice a year during that time, India in June is so hot, I barely wanted to do anything but stay under the AC! I can understand how culture and climate shock would have painted the perception of India for the author and so colour differently the India that Mary experiences in the book. Some justification for their superiority and colonialism is bound to peek here and there, but I don’t think the author really condoned Mary’s attitude with her Indian servants.

        So excited now for the #tmgwatchalong!!
        Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…Friday Reads: ARC Review of Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill!!!

        • Wendy Darling

          That is exactly the right version of the film, Pili! Let us know when you get it in, we still haven’t decided on a date for this watchalong yet. I wonder if you can get the soundtrack from or TBD?

          The film does make some changes, but they don’t really detract from the story at all. I’m sure the earthquake was because for a visual medium, it’s a little more dramatic than s creeping sickness, if you see what i mean!

          And jeeez, that sounds like my worst nightmare, hah. I do not deal well in heat. I want very much to visit India someday, but I’m hoping we’ll stay somewhere with some creature comforts. I’m such a spoiled brat of an American.

          “Culture shock” is a good way to put it. Even if the author had never traveled to India herself, I can imagine how hearing about the many plagues there might’ve colored her thinking. And no, the author very clearly indirectly frowns upon Mary’s treatment of servants and does quite a lot to show Dickon and Martha’s good qualities, among others.

          Excited for the watchalong, too! I made sure I put the DVD aside in the chaos so that I have it handy for whenever we decide to do this.
          Wendy Darling recently posted…Crimson Bound: guest post + giveaway

  1. Great Maytham Hall

    […] a glimpse of this bookish journey I can never forget. Of course, thank you to ladies over at The Midnight Garden Classic Middle Grade Read-along for reminding me how much I love this […]