The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden - Tasha Tudor, Frances Hodgson Burnett

It's amazing how seriously flawed so-called children's classics can be.


The Secret Garden, which seems fairly universally beloved in Britain, sees the spoiled and listless Mary Lennox orphaned in India by cholera, and brought to her uncle's rambling Victorian manor on the Yorkshire moors. She hears Jane Eyre-like crying in the endless corridors at night, and is intrigued by the mystery of the secret garden, a walled garden shut up by her uncle Mr Craven when his wife died (from falling off the branch she was sitting on? seriously? how high was this branch?).


I mean, the book is basically about how much better Yorkshire is than India for the emotional and physical growth of children, which is pretty fucking rich when English children wouldn't even be in India if the British hadn't gone and invaded it. The amazing, hearty, British Yorkshire air essentially transforms the petty and constantly ill Mary (the heat in India, apparently, was really bad for her) into a considerate and healthy person through the Power of Nature (which, they don't have Nature in India? really?).


Oh, and the crying Mary hears turns out to be Mr Craven's son, who has been hidden away in the depths of the house because Mr Craven can't bear to be reminded of his dead wife. He's pale and unhealthy because he refuses to go outside or even to get up, his weakness pathologised by the family doctor who wants him to die so he can inherit the family estate. But from the point Mary finds him onwards, the book slowly begins edging her out of the picture to concentrate on him; she's important only as a way of saving the male line from degeneracy, because Colin Craven isn't worth anything as an invalid. And the book has a horrible, horrible attitude towards mental illness: Mr Craven has been in the grip of something that looks very much like depression ever since his wife died, but Hodgson Burnett puts this down to his not trying hard enough to have happy thoughts.


Gods I hate turn-of-the-century children's authors.