Everyone that I’ve mentioned The Secret Garden to this week has clutched at her chest and sighed, because how is this not everything that is awesome about childhood? Secrets! And dirt! And tantrums! And throwing tantrums in the face of tantrums because you can tantrum louder!
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Actually, I think that aside from the whole secret-enclosed-massive-hide-out, one of my favorite things about The Secret Garden is how Mary Lennox is such a snot-nosed little bitch. I mean, the literary children’s world abounds with Sarah Crewes and Lucy Pevensies – little lambs so sweet and kind and good that you kind of want to smack them. And then there are, of course, the well-meaning but overly-spunky Anne Shirleys and Pippi Longstockingses. But it’s rare and kind of awesome to have Mary be so horrible and overtly spoiled and pathetic, and then to have her shriek at that imperious little shit Colin that he’d better stop his screaming fit or she’ll throw one too. Hair of the dog, and all that.
Anyways, obligatory summary for those of you who spent your childhood reading The Boxcar Children and missed this little gem: Mary Lennox is a rich brat who is ignored by her parents and spoiled by her servants until all of them die of cholera and she is sent to live with her sad old uncle. Colin likewise is a rich brat who is ignored by his father and spoiled by his servants, but he has a splash of tragically dead mother and a few handfuls of invalid for added zing. Somewhere on the grounds, there is a secret garden (durr) that is all shut up BECAUSE IT’S HAUNTED! (Or not haunted. But the story would have been heart-poundier if it had been haunted, even just a little. But then I never would have read it as a pansy-assed child. So not haunted.)
Needless to say, Mary finds the garden and finds Colin (did I mention that he was a secret? This was back when we hid our cripples in attics and such) and the air from the moors and all the exercise and the influence of Dickon, the ruddy wee Dolittle, are like penicillin for brattyness, and everyone is cured. Except that Mary’s parents and Colin’s mum are still dead, but there’s only so much a happy ending can do.
I will not lie, a lot of the characters speak with a broad Yorkshire accent, and Burnett insists on writing out their dialogue in dialect. There comes a point when Mary and Colin decide that they, too, would like to speak with broad Yorkshire accents, and I almost pitched the book just then. I know how it ends. I stuck with it, though, and am so glad I did, because I was able to learn from Burnett that ‘marred is a Yorkshire word and means…pettish.’ So to all the eight-year-olds out there who didn’t know, ‘marred’ = ‘pettish.