The Secret Garden – Wikipedia

The Secret Garden – Wikipedia

The Secret Garden is a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett first published in book form in 1911, after serialisation in The American Magazine (November 1910 – August 1911). Set in England, it is one of Burnett’s most popular novels and seen as a classic of English children’s literature. Several stage and film adaptations have been made. The American edition was published by the Frederick A. Stokes Company with illustrations by Maria Louise Kirk (signed as M. L. Kirk) and the British edition by Heinemann with illustrations by Charles Heath Robinson.[1][4]

Plot summary[edit]


At the turn of the 20th century, Mary Lennox is a neglected and unloved 10-year-old girl, born in British India to wealthy British parents who never wanted her and made an effort to ignore the girl. She is cared for primarily by native servants, who allow her to become spoilt, demanding and self-centred. After a cholera epidemic kills Mary’s parents, the few surviving servants flee the house without Mary.

She is discovered by British soldiers who place her in the temporary care of an English clergyman, whose children taunt her by calling her “Mistress Mary, quite contrary”. She is soon sent to England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven, whom her father’s sister Lilias married. He lives on the Yorkshire Moors in a large English country house, Misselthwaite Manor. When escorted to Misselthwaite by the housekeeper Mrs Medlock, she discovers Lilias Craven is dead and that Mr Craven is a hunchback.

At first, Mary is as sour and rude as ever. She dislikes her new home, the people living in it and, most of all, the bleak moor on which it sits. Over time, she befriends her maid Martha Sowerby, who tells Mary about Lilias, who would spend hours in a private walled garden growing roses. Lilias Craven died after an accident in the garden ten years prior and the devastated Archibald locked the garden and buried the key.

Mary becomes interested in finding the secret garden herself and her ill manners begin to soften as a result. Soon she comes to enjoy the company of Martha, the gardener Ben Weatherstaff and a friendly robin redbreast. Her health and attitude improve with the bracing Yorkshire air and she grows stronger as she explores the estate gardens. Mary wonders about the secret garden and about mysterious cries that echo through the house at night.

As Mary explores the gardens, the robin draws her attention to an area of disturbed soil. Here Mary finds the key to the locked garden and eventually she discovers the door to the garden. She asks Martha for garden tools, which Martha sends with Dickon, her 12-year-old brother, who spends most of his time out on the moors. Mary and Dickon take a liking to each other, as Dickon has a kind way with animals and a good nature. Eager to absorb his gardening knowledge, Mary tells him about the secret garden.

One night, Mary hears the cries once more and decides to follow them through the house. She is startled to find a boy of her age named Colin, who lives in a hidden bedroom. She soon discovers that they are cousins, Colin being the son of Archibald and that he suffers from an unspecified spinal problem which precludes him from walking and causes him to spend all of his time in bed. He, like Mary, has grown spoilt, demanding and self-centered, with servants obeying his every whim in order to prevent the frightening hysterical tantrums Colin occasionally flies into. Mary visits him every day that week, distracting him from his troubles with stories of the moor, Dickon and his animals and the secret garden. Mary finally confides that she has access to the secret garden and Colin asks to see it. Colin is put into his wheelchair and brought outside into the secret garden. It is the first time he has been outdoors for several years.

While in the garden, the children look up to see Ben Weatherstaff looking over the wall on a ladder. Startled to find the children in the secret garden, he admits that he believed Colin to be “a cripple”. Angry at being called “crippled”, Colin stands up from his chair and finds that his legs are fine, though weak from long disuse. Colin and Mary soon spend almost every day in the garden, sometimes with Dickon as company. The children and Ben conspire to keep Colin’s recovering health a secret from the other staff so as to surprise his father, who is travelling abroad.

As Colin’s health improves, his father experiences a coinciding increase in spirits, culminating in a dream where his late wife calls to him from inside the garden. When he receives a letter from Mrs Sowerby, he takes the opportunity finally to return home. He walks the outer garden wall in his wife’s memory, but hears voices inside, finds the door unlocked and is shocked to see the garden in full bloom, and his son healthy, having just won a race against Mary Lennox. The children tell him the story and the servants watch, stunned, as Archibald and Colin walk back to the manor together.

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Theme of rejuvenation[edit]

The secret garden at Misselthwaite Manor is the site of both the near-destruction and the subsequent regeneration of a family.[5] Another theme is the way a thing that is neglected withers and dies but when it is worked on and cared for, it thrives, as Mary and Colin do.


Little is known about the literary development and conception of The Secret Garden. Biographers and other scholars have been able to glean the details of Burnett’s process and thoughts on her other books through her letters to family members; during the time she was working on The Secret Garden; however, she was living in close proximity to them and thus did not need to send them letters. In an October 1910 letter to William Heinemann, her publisher in England, she described the story, whose working title was Mistress Mary, as “an innocent thriller of a story” that she considered “one of [her] best finds.” Biographer Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina offers several explanations as to why there is so little surviving information on the book’s development. Firstly, Burnett’s health faltered after moving to her home in Plandome on Long Island, and her social excursions became limited as a result. Secondly, her existing notes about The Secret Garden, along with a portrait of her and some photographs, were donated by her son Vivian after her death to a lower Manhattan public school serving the deaf in remembrance of her visit there years previously, but all the items soon vanished from the archive of the school. Lastly, soon after the novel’s publication, her brother-in-law died in a collision with a trolley.

Burnett’s story My Robin, however, offers a glimpse of the creation of The Secret Garden. In it, she addresses a reader’s question on the literary origins of the robin that appears in The Secret Garden, whom the reader felt “could not have been a mere creature of fantasy.” Burnett reminisces on her friendship with the real-life English robin, whom she described as “a person—not a mere bird” and who often kept her company in the rose garden where she would often write, when she lived at Maytham Hall. Recounting the first time she tried to communicate with the bird via “low, soft, little sounds,” she writes that she “knew—years later—that this is what Mistress Mary thought when she bent down in the Long Walk and ‘tried to make robin sounds.'”

Scholar Gretchen V. Rector has examined the author’s manuscript of The Secret Garden, which she describes as “the only record of the novel’s development.” Eighty of the first hundred pages of the manuscript are written in black ink, while the rest and subsequent revisions were made in pencil; the spelling and punctuation tend to follow the American standard. Chapter headings were included prior to the novel’s serialization and are not present in the manuscript, with chapters in it delineated by numbers only. The pagination of the manuscript was likely done by a second person: it goes from 1 to 234, only to restart at the nineteenth chapter. From the title page, Rector surmises that the novel’s first title was Mary, Mary quite Contrary, later changed to its working title of Mistress Mary. Mary herself is originally nine in the manuscript, only to be aged up a year in a revision, perhaps to highlight the “convergent paths” of Mary, Colin, and the garden itself; however, this revision was not reflected in neither the British nor the American first editions of the novel, nor later editions. Susan Sowerby is initially introduced to the readers as a deceased character, with her daughter Martha perhaps intended to fill her role in the story; Burnett, however, changed her mind about Susan Sowerby, writing her as a living character a few pages later and crossing out the announcement of her death. Additionally, Dickon in the manuscript was physically disabled and used crutches to move around, perhaps drawing on Burnett’s recollections of her first husband, Dr. Swan Burnett, and his physical disability. Burnett later removed references to Dickon’s disability.

The book’s working title was Mistress Mary, a reference to the English nursery rhyme Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. Maytham Hall in Kent, England, where Burnett lived for a number of years during her marriage, is often cited as the inspiration for the book’s setting.[17] Burnett kept an extensive garden, including an impressive rose garden. However, it has been noted that apart from the garden, Maytham Hall and Misselthwaite Manor are physically very different.[17]

Publication history[edit]

The Secret Garden may be one of the first instances of a story for children first appearing in a magazine with an adult readership, an occasion of which Burnett herself was aware at the time. The Secret Garden was first published in ten issues (November 1910 – August 1911) of The American Magazine, with illustrations by J. Scott Williams.[19] It was first published in book form in August 1911 by the Frederick A. Stokes Company in New York;[20] it was also published that year by William Heinemann in London. Its copyright expired in the USA 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 in the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as a full-colour illustrated edition from David R. Godine, Publisher in 1989.

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Inga Moore’s abridged edition of 2008, illustrated by her, is arranged so that a line of the text also serves as a caption to a picture.

Public reception[edit]

Marketing to both adult and juvenile audiences may have had an effect on its early reception; the book was less celebrated than Burnett’s previous works during her lifetime.[21] Tracing the book’s revival from almost complete eclipse at the time of Burnett’s death in 1924, Anne H. Lundin noted that the author’s obituary notices all remarked on Little Lord Fauntleroy and passed over The Secret Garden in silence.[22]

With the rise of scholarly work in children’s literature in the 25 years leading up to 2006, The Secret Garden has risen steadily in prominence. It is often noted as one of the best children’s books of the 20th century.[21] In 2003 it ranked No. 51 in The Big Read, a survey of the British public by the BBC to identify the “Nation’s Best-loved Novel” (not just children’s novel).[23] Based on a 2007 online poll, the U.S. National Education Association listed it as one of “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children”.[24]

In 2012 it was ranked No. 15 among all-time children’s novels in a survey published by School Library Journal, a monthly with a primarily US audience.[25] (A Little Princess was ranked number 56 and Little Lord Fauntleroy did not make the Top 100.)[25] Jeffrey Masson considers The Secret Garden “one of the greatest books ever written for children”.[26] In an oblique compliment, Barbara Sleigh has her title character reading The Secret Garden on the train at the beginning of her children’s novel Jessamy and Roald Dahl, in his children’s book Matilda, has his title character say that she liked The Secret Garden best of all the children’s books in the library.[27]



The motion picture version was made in 1919 by the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, with 17-year-old Lila Lee as Mary and Paul Willis as Dickon. The film is believed lost.

In 1949, MGM filmed the second adaptation, which starred Margaret O’Brien as Mary, Dean Stockwell as Colin and Brian Roper as Dickon. This version was mainly black-and-white, but with the sequences set in the restored garden filmed in Technicolor. Noel Streatfeild’s 1948 novel The Painted Garden was inspired by the making of this film.

American Zoetrope’s 1993 production was directed by Agnieszka Holland, with a screenplay by: Caroline Thompson and starred Kate Maberly as Mary, Heydon Prowse as Colin, Andrew Knott as Dickon, John Lynch as Lord Craven and Dame Maggie Smith as Mrs Medlock. The executive producer was Francis Ford Coppola.

The 2020 film version from Heyday Films and StudioCanal is directed by Marc Munden with a screenplay by Jack Thorne.[28]

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Dorothea Brooking adapted the book as several different television serials for the BBC: an eight-part serial in 1952, an eight-part serial in 1960 (starring Colin Spaull as Dickon), and a seven-part serial broadcast in 1975 (also on DVD).[29]

Hallmark Hall of Fame filmed a TV movie adaptation of the novel in 1987, which starred Gennie James as Mary, Barret Oliver as Dickon and Jadrien Steele as Colin. Billie Whitelaw appeared as Mrs Medlock and Derek Jacobi played the role of Archibald Craven, with Alison Doody appearing in flashbacks and visions as Lilias; Colin Firth made a brief appearance as the adult Colin Craven. The story was changed slightly. Colin’s father, instead of being Mary’s uncle, was now an old friend of Mary’s father, allowing Colin and Mary to begin a relationship as adults by the film’s end. It was filmed at Highclere Castle, which later became known as the filming location for Downton Abbey. It aired on November 30. In 2001, Hallmark produced a sequel entitled Back to the Secret Garden.

A 1994 animated adaptation as an ABC Weekend Special starred Honor Blackman as Mrs. Medlock, Derek Jacobi as Archibald Craven, Glynis Johns as Darjeeling, Victor Spinetti, Anndi McAfee as Mary Lennox, Joe Baker as Ben Weatherstaff, Felix Bell as Dickon Sowerby, Naomi Bell as Martha Sowerby, Richard Stuart as Colin Craven and Frank Welker as Robin. This version was released on video in 1995 by ABC Video.[30][31]

In Japan, NHK produced an anime adaptation of the novel in 1991–1992 entitled Anime Himitsu no Hanazono (アニメ ひみつの花園). Miina Tominaga contributed the voice of Mary, while Mayumi Tanaka voiced Colin. The 39-episode TV series was directed by Tameo Kohanawa and written by Kaoru Umeno. This anime is sometimes mistakenly assumed to be related to the popular dorama series Himitsu no Hanazono. It is unavailable in English language, but has been dubbed into several other languages including: Spanish, Italian, Polish and Tagalog.

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A video trailer from Angel Exit Theatre Company’s spring 2012 national tour of their Arts Council-funded production of The Secret Garden, timed to coincide with the centenary of Burnett’s novel

Stage adaptations of the book include a Theatre for Young Audiences version written in 1991 by Pamela Sterling of Arizona State University. This won an American Alliance for Theater and Education “Distinguished New Play” award and is listed in ASSITEH/USA’s International Bibliography of Outstanding Plays for Young Audiences.[32]

In 1991, a musical version opened on Broadway, with music by Lucy Simon and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman. The production was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Daisy Eagan as Mary, then eleven years old.

Festival Theatre Edinburgh presented a musical adaptation in +61404532026 on stages in Scotland and Canada.[33][34]

In 2013 an opera by the American composer Nolan Gasser, which had been commissioned by the San Francisco Opera, was first performed at the Zellerbach Hall at the University of California, Berkeley.

A stage play by Jessica Swale adapted from the novel was performed at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre in Chester in 2014.[35]

In 2020, the Scottish family theatre company Red Bridge Arts produced a retelling of the story set in modern-day Scotland, adapted by Rosalind Sydney.[36]


  1. ^ a b c The Secret Garden title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b c “British Library Item details”. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  3. ^ a b The Secret Garden (first edition). Library of Congress Online Catalog. LCCN Permalink ( Retrieved 24 March 2017. The catalog record reports 4 leaves of plates, 4 color illustrations (uncredited).
  4. ^ WorldCat library records:

    OCLC 1289609, OCLC +61404532026 (US); OCLC 8746090 (UK).

    Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  5. ^ M. Gohike (1980), “Re-reading The Secret Garden“. College English 41 (8), 894–902.
  6. ^ a b A. Thwaite (2006), A Biographer Looks Back, A. S. Carpenter, ed., Toronto: Scarecrow Press.
  7. ^ “The American Magazine, November 1910”. FictionMags Index. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  8. ^ “New York Literary Notes”. The New York Times. 16 July 1911. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  9. ^ a b Lundin, A. (2006). “The Critical and Commercial Reception of The Secret Garden“. In the Garden: Essays in Honour of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Angelica Shirley Carpenter (ed.) Toronto: Scarecrow Press.
  10. ^ A. Lundin, Constructing the Canon of Children’s Literature: Beyond Library Walls, 133 ff.
  11. ^ “BBC – The Big Read”. BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 18 October 2012
  12. ^ National Education Association (2007). “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children”. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  13. ^ a b Bird, Elizabeth (7 July 2012). “Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results”. A Fuse #8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal ( Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  14. ^ Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff (1980). The Oceanic Feeling: The Origins of Religious Sentiment in Ancient India. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel. ISBN +61404532026.
  15. ^ Barbara Sleigh: Jessamy (London: Collins, 1967), p. 7 and Roald Dahl: Matilda (London: Jonathan Cape, 1988) (see this extract from Matilda).
  16. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (20 January 2018). “Marc Munden To Helm The Secret Garden For David Heyman & Studiocanal”. Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  17. ^ Traxy (16 January 2011). “The Secret Garden (1975)”. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  18. ^ ABC Weekend Specials: The Secret Garden (TV episode 1994) at IMDb
  19. ^ Lynne Heffley (4 November 1994). “TV Review: Animated ‘Garden’ Wilts on ABC”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  20. ^ “The Secret Garden”. Dramatic Publishing. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  21. ^ “The Secret Garden”. Mirvish. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  22. ^ “The Secret Garden: Can’t see the tender shoots for the grown-up trees”. Toronto Star. 13 February 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  23. ^ “The Secret Garden”. Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre. Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  24. ^ Fisher, Mark (16 February 2020). “The Secret Garden review – grunts and gags in lush retelling”. The Guardian. Retrieved 5 March 2020.


  • Burnett, Frances Hodgson (2007). “My Robin”. In Gretchen Gerzina (ed.). The Annotated Secret Garden. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN +61404532026.
  • Gerzina, Gretchen Holbrook (2004). Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of The Secret Garden. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. ISBN +61404532026.
  • Gerzina, Gretchen, ed. (2007). “Introduction”. The Annotated Secret Garden. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN +61404532026.
  • Rector, Gretchen (2006). “The Manuscript of The Secret Garden“. In Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina (ed.). The Secret Garden: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Burnett in the Press, Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN +61404532026.

External links[edit]

  • The Secret Garden at Standard Ebooks
  • The Secret Garden at Project Gutenberg (plain text and HTML illustrated)
  • The Secret Garden - Wikipedia The Secret Garden public domain audiobook at LibriVox
  • The Secret Garden, available at Internet Archive. New York: F. A. Stokes, 1911 (colour scanned book)
  • The Secret Garden From the Collections at the Library of Congress