The month of May was a stalled month for reading and so was ninety-nine percent of June. Such baseness has not been achieved since my last university examination period. All knowledge for the semester must be tested, all joy is scourged and every novel on the shelf is a saucy temptress in a fine boned corset.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden has something of a cult following. Those who love the novel seem to do so with a dogged intensity. Frances Hodgson Burnett has created a charming sense of place, a rich world and an incredible story.
Like some of our other most beloved children’s classics, The Secret Garden is the story of an orphan—Mary ‘Contrary’ Lennox, who is taken away from ‘home’ and dropped into another; one that is more representative of the world in its incredible number of facets and forms. Mary discovers the titular Secret Garden in the wutherin’ grounds of Misslethwaite Manor. For the remainder of the story, the walled garden resembles her emotional isolation and eventually (with the right tending) goes on to represent her subsequent psychological growth.
The Secret Garden is a better Wuthering Heights than Wuthering Heights, but a worse Secret Garden than The Bridge to Terabithia. As in Wuthering Heights, I find it chilling that the characters on the page seem to talk and know more about the characters that are not in the scene with them. The characterisation of Dickon for example, is formed entirely by Martha’s description of him. This happens again when Mary seemingly recounts this description of Dickon to Colin. When we consider how Lockwood recounts Nelly’s description of Cathy in Wuthering Heights, the similarity in how each author frames their characters seems striking. The novel falls short in some respects. It is warm, it is cosy but in three hundred pages(!) you are repeatedly donged over the head with the same message— perhaps it is a limitation in the writing for younger readers, but there are many examples of children’s literature that are completely unlike this. In fact, I can think of seven right off the top of my head!
The Secret Garden was a joy to read and I wish that I had discovered it in my school library when I was younger. It is not without fault but it is full of heart and has all the requisites to stand the test of time. I think I speak for the majority of readers when I say that you can sign me up for any story that involves a secret garden!
Jane Austen: Emma by Frank Bradbrook
I found this short sixty page criticism on one of the greatest works of literature as I was waiting to go into one of my university exams. The book sale was right outside my examination room—it is like they knew I was coming! I had no coins on me at the time and my heart began to grow heavy. It is George Eliot that said, ‘what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope’ and I had never felt these words with quite so much weight as I did then. I knew I would have to put the book back until I could run to my car after the exam and pray that past me had left some change in there from when I had bought a packet of red rooster chips in a study induced food depravity. But what to do about the book? If I left it, would someone buy it in the two hours we were parted? With very little regard for maintaining dignity, I looked left, I looked right, and then hid the book between Infinite Jest and Finnegan’s Wake. No one was going to disturb it there. Time and season changed, the stars aligned and the hope that was unfed became fed.
If you have read any of these books I’d love to know what you thought of them! Comment down below or you can reach me here on my twitter.