#51. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden is a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The book’s working title was Mistress Mary, in reference to the English nursery rhyme Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. It was initially published in serial format starting in the autumn of 1910, in The American Magazine, a publication aimed at adults. The entire book was first published in the summer 1911 by Frederick A. Stokes in New York, and by Heinemann in London. Its copyright expired in the United States in 1987, and in most other parts of the world in 1995, placing the book in the public domain. As a result several abridged and unabridged editions were published during the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is now one of Burnett’s most popular novels, and is considered to be a classic of English children’s literature.
In The Secret Garden, the events of Mary Lennox’s early childhood mirror those of Burnett’s own. Both Mary and Burnett experienced the death of their parents followed by a reversal of fortune, as well as a great sense of dislocation upon being taken from the country of their birth to one utterly foreign to them. The novel is not merely autobiographical. It was written while Burnett was very much under the influence of the ideas of the New Thought, theosophy, and Christian Science movements, which were enjoying their greatest popularity at the turn of the twentieth century. Burnett’s idiosyncratic fusion of these philosophies held that the Christian god was a kind of unified mind or spirit, with whom any person might commune; this spirit was held to be present everywhere, and especially in nature. Proponents of the New Thought also extolled the power of positive thinking (the fervent contemplation of what one hopes will happen), and held it to be a form of communion with the divine spirit. One could ostensibly cure oneself of illness through this kind of magical thinking, or change the character of one’s fortunes.
Such ideas had a profound influence upon the writing of The Secret Garden—particularly as the inspiration for what Colin and Mary call “Magic.” It is, of course, also visible in Burnett’s depiction of the landscape (as represented by the garden and the moor) as having healing or restorative properties. Burnett wrote the novel shortly after returning to England in 1898, where she had rented a country house and absorbed herself in her passion for gardening. At that time, a walled-in rose garden served as her outdoor workroom, and was the place where she wrote the better part of The Secret Garden. At the time of her death, on October 29, 1924, in Long Island, New York, she had published more than forty books.