This was a very memorable book, full of wonder and beauty that was not just shallowly optimistic, but informed by the real sense and character of crea...moreThis was a very memorable book, full of wonder and beauty that was not just shallowly optimistic, but informed by the real sense and character of creation, of nature. True, Burnett doesn't often consider the darker and more violent aspects of nature, but this is appropriate, as the setting is a garden; in other words, nature brought into order by the care and labor of human hands. The story follows Marry Lennox, a severe and "old-womanish" young girl who has never given or been given any affection or any element of friendliness, as she comes to live with her uncle in England after the death of her parents. Arriving there from her home in India, where she was cared for and spoiled by inscrutable native servants, Mary's first reaction to the vast, open moorland of Yorkshire is horror and aversion, both attitudes her experience up to this point have prepared her to express quite vividly. However, as she gets to know not only the inhabitants and servants of the manor house, but also the surrounding countryside and the history of its family, her new surroundings begin to have an exceptional effect on her for the good. Together with Dickon, a local peasant boy, and Colin, the sickly young heir to the manor, she begins an effort to recover the beauty of a garden that has been shut away and neglected for 10 years. This begins a long chain of recovery which spreads from person to person throughout the story.
One interesting aspect of the book is Burnett's idea of Magic. Magic is, according to the characters, what makes the plants in the garden able to grow again after their long dormancy, and also what makes Mary and Colin able to recover from the unhealthy traces of their previous growth, as well as the psychologically negative tendencies of thought which they had both suffered from. Strangely, Magic is also supposed to be the same thing as God. The Doxology is sung to it, and it is refered to by Dickon's mother as "the Joy-Maker", and discussed as if it were in some way conscious.
Now one could very easily conclude from all this that Burnett is advancing some sort of proto-New Age philosophy here. And perhaps she is; though I have my doubts. Even if she is, I still think it can be interpreted in a different, and better, way. I think what Burnett is doing is possibly reviving an old concept: Natural Law. The idea dates from ancient Rome, though it was popular in the Middle Ages as well, when it was taken up into Christian philosophy. It basically states that, just as there are natural, physical laws which govern the way events unfold in the physical world, so also are there laws which govern the way spiritual, psychological and moral choices affect our lives and the world around us. Further, the idea states that this moral Law is as natural to the world as what we now call "the laws of nature". This may seem complicated or arcane, but it's really just a philosophical way to say that what we do in the moral realm effects moral events just as certainly and specifically as anything else we do.
Another great aspect of The Secret Garden was its setting. Not just some generic manor house in Victorian England, it is set in Yorkshire, with all the stark and wild beauty of the northern moors and its wildlife. Moreover, it does something few other books of its time have done, and to a magnificent extent: it practically revels in the dialect of its setting, to the extent that even the dignified and sophisticated characters are shown speaking it, and not as a sign of temporary slackness or weakness, but of strength and vitality. The dialect itself is a pleasure to read, filled with an earthy vigor and a broad companionableness that, together with the keen beauty of the natural world it is set within, give this book its unique flavor and identity. (less)