Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Secret Garden and The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published: 1911
Rating: 5

I have been meaning to read this book for quite a while and for some reason, on a night when I felt particularly ornery and crochety, I began and LOVED IT.

Swept away from the first sentence - "When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen" - I did not close my iPad until finished.

I found Burnett's writing extremely economical.  The chapters are not very long and yet after finishing chapter one, we learn that Mary, who lives in India, is a most disagreeable, ugly, spoiled child: unloved and unwanted by her parents who leave her care to servants whom she orders around and bullies at will.  Then a cholera epidemic leaves her orphaned and abandoned.

The child is sent to her uncle's home in the wild moors of Yorkshire and we see her slowly transform into a curious, open and caring child.   Other flawed characters enter the story and when Burnett adds in a "talking" robin, an abandoned secret garden and a mysterious cry in the middle of the night, a.k.a Jane Eyre, I was hooked.

The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published: 1888
Rating: 4

A sweet Cinderella story, the protagonist Sara Crewe is as different to Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden as can be.  Rather than bullying her French maid the way Mary surely would have done, Sara is sweet, polite, gentle and charming.  She reminds me of Anne in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series with her sunny disposition; optimistic outlook; thoughtful, intelligent, and honest conversation; and most of all, her big imagination.

Like Anne, Sara sees the best in people.  She is warm and caring to those less fortunate and even when orphaned, penniless and starving, she gives food away to a beggar-girl who is more hungry than herself.  The antagonist, Miss Minchin, is an evil villain - a thoroughly cruel and heartless woman who has no business running a boarding school for girls.

While I enjoyed the story, the characters are flat, meaning they do not change or surprise.  Despite the loss of family and fortune, Sara remains a sweet girl and Miss Minchin is unrepentant to the end.  In contrast, the characters in The Secret Garden are round and therefore more interesting, so TSG is the preferred book between the two.

My favorite quote:

Despite her calm, gentle manner, even bookish Sara could get annoyed when her reading was interrupted.
Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book.  People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment.  The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to manage.

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