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ClassicsOnline Home » BURNETT, F.H.: Secret Garden (The) (Abridged)
When orphaned Mary Lennox arrives at Misselthwaite Manor, her uncle’s estate, everybody said she was the most disagreeable looking child ever seen. Depressed and withdrawn, Mary stumbles upon an arched doorway into an overgrown garden. She later discovers her pampered invalid cousin, tucked away in a dark room. Soon a charming journey into the magical secret garden begins…
Frances Hodgson Burnett
The secret garden
Although the story of The Secret Garden takes place in the
English county of Yorkshire, Frances Hodgson Burnett lived most of her life in
America. She was just 16 when her father died and the family sailed to Tennessee—just
as the American Civil War was ending.
She started writing when she was young—she had a natural
talent for telling stories and a very strong imagination. Though she lived in
Tennessee, her imagination carried her back to those days of her childhood in
Lancashire, and her first novel was The Lass O'Lowries, about a working class
girl. It immediately brought her success.
But it wasn't until 10 years later that she had an even
This was Little Lord Fauntleroy, a story about an American
child who turns out to be an English lord. It was first published in 1886 and
massive hit, selling 43,000 copies in its first year. Having
already written a number of plays, she turned it into a drama with productions
on both sides of the Atlantic.
These plays, and the original book (which went on to sell
one million copies in England alone) started a craze for everything to do with
the title character—including ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ suits (black velvet with
white lce collars), which boys of the period were made to wear!
Twenty years later, in 1909, The Secret Garden appeared.
Mrs. Hodgson Burnett was prompted to write the story because she heard that a
rose-garden in a country house she used to rent when she visited England was
being pulled down. When she stayed there, she had loved the flowers and other
plants, and had made friends with a robin who lived in the garden.
The seeds of the story, taken from her own life, were there,
but around it she wove an unforgettable tale, with very real people. In The
Secret Garden, Mary's early life was in India. And it was true that sometimes,
when there was an outbreak of cholera—a dangerous disease then—whole families
Mrs. Hodgson Burnett knew what it was like to be a child and
leave the country and home she loved (though she didn't go to America as an
orphan). She could imagine the loneliness of Mary, and how cold and bleak the
Yorkshire moors must have seemed to her after the burning sun and bright colors
And although Mrs. Hodgson Burnett lived in Lancashire, the
neighboring county to Yorkshire, and she decided to set The Secret Garden in
Yorkshire, she remembered the local accent and the local sayings very well – as
can be heard in the words and language of Ben Weatherstaff, the gardener.
So, The Secret Garden is a mixture of the author's personal
experience and her imagination.
It wasn't such a popular success as Little Lord Fauntleroy,
but in the years following its publication in 1911 it proved itself a
classic—like The Little Princess, which she wrote a couple of years earlier.
And it is now one of a number of great junior classics,
which date from the late 19th century and early 20th century—among them Little
Women, What Katy Did and The Railway Children—which are enjoyed by each new
Notes by Nicolas Soames
Jenny Agutter began her performing life as a ballet dancer
in the Walt Disney film Ballerina. But she rose to fame in the television
production and subsequently the film of The Railway Children. Since then her
film credits have included The Eagle Has Landed, Equus and An American Werewolf
In London. She has been equally active in the theater in varied roles for the
Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal National Theatre and on Broadway. Her recent
television credits include The Buccaneers, Heartbeat and the Channel 4 series,
And The Beat Goes On.
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BURNETT, F.H.: Secret Garden (The) (Abridged)