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The Secret Garden is a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was initially published in serial format starting in autumn 1910; the book was first published in its entirety in 1911.

Its working title was Mistress Mary, in reference to the English nursery rhyme Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. It is now one of Burnett's most popular novels, and is considered to be a classic of children's literature.

Plot summary

Mary Lennox is a sickly, sour-faced little girl born in India to wealthy British parents who have very little interest in her, leaving her in the care of an ayah from birth. Orphaned by an outbreak of cholera, she is sent back to England to the legal guardianship of her only remaining relative: her uncle, Archibald Craven, a reclusive widower.

Craven is still mourning his wife, Lilias, who died ten years ago. To escape his sad memories, he constantly travels abroad, leaving Mary and the manor under the supervision of his housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock. The only person who has any time for the little girl is the chambermaid Martha Sowerby, who tells Mary about a walled garden that was the late Mrs. Craven's favorite place. No one has entered the garden since she died because Archibald locked its entrance and buried the key in an unknown location.

Mary finds the key to the secret garden and a robin shows her where the door is hidden beneath overgrown ivy. Once inside, she discovers that although the roses seem lifeless, some of the other flowers have survived. She resolves to tend the garden herself. Although she wants to keep it a secret, she recruits Martha's brother Dickon, who has a way with plants and wild animals. Mary gives him money to buy gardening implements and he shows her that the roses, though neglected, are not dead. When Mary's uncle briefly meets with her for the first time since her arrival, Mary asks him for permission to claim her own garden from any abandoned part of the grounds, and he acquiesces. Thanks to her new-found interests and activities, Mary herself begins to blossom, losing her sickly look and unpleasant manner.

On several occasions, Mary hears someone weeping in another part of the house. When she asks questions, the servants become evasive. They tell her that she is hearing things, or they blame the sound on ordinary sources such as the wind, or a servant with a toothache. Shortly after her uncle's visit, she goes exploring and discovers her uncle's son, Colin, a lonely, bedridden boy as petulant and disagreeable as Mary used to be. His father shuns him because the child closely resembles his mother. Mr. Craven is a mild hunchback, and both he and Colin are morbidly convinced that the boy will develop the same condition. The servants have been keeping Mary and Colin a secret from one another because Colin doesn't like strangers staring at him and is prone to terrible tantrums.

Colin accepts Mary and insists on her visiting him often, but as spring approaches, Colin becomes jealous that Mary is spending more time out in the garden with Dickon. One day, Colin threatens to ban Dickon from the grounds, but Mary matches his bad temper and storms out without an apology. That evening, Colin escalates into a hysterical tantrum, convinced that he is becoming hunchbacked and is going to die; Mary shocks him out of his hysteria by screaming back at him. She also demands to see his back, and points out that the lumps behind his neck are simply the outlines of normal vertebrae like her own. Reassured, Colin agrees to let her bring Dickon to visit him inside his room, and they become friends.

They bring Colin outside in a wheelchair so he can see his mother's garden. Delighted, he visits it with Mary and Dickon whenever the weather allows, ordering everyone else to stay away on those occasions. Despite these orders, the children are discovered by the old gardener Ben Weatherstaff, who tried to maintain the roses after Lilias' death by surreptitiously scaling the wall once or twice a year. Ben is angry with them at first, but agrees to share and keep their secret.

As the garden revives and flourishes, so does Colin. He resolves to walk and run like a normal boy by the next time his father returns home; to accomplish these aims, he carries out a program of simple physical exercises and positive thinking. He makes great progress, but they conceal it from the rest of the household with the pretense that he is still an invalid.

Mr. Craven is traveling through Europe, but is inspired to rush home after hearing the voice of his dead wife in a dream and receiving a letter from Mrs. Sowerby (Martha's and Dickon's mother, who also knows the secret) telling him, "I think your lady would ask you to come if she was here." He arrives while the children are outdoors and finds himself drawn toward the secret garden. As he approaches nearer, he is astonished to hear their voices inside the walls; Colin bursts out of the garden door toward him, actually winning a footrace against Mary and Dickon. They take Mr. Craven into the secret garden to tell him everything. When they return to the house, the servants are astonished to see two miracles: Colin walking and his father looking happy again.

Major themes

The author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, was a practitioner of Christian Science due to the premature death of her son as well as personal illness. As a result, The Secret Garden espouses the concepts of New Thought and theosophy as well as ideas about the healing powers of the mind.

The garden is the book's central symbol. The secret garden at Misselthwaite Manor is the site of both the near-destruction and the subsequent regeneration of a family. Using the garden motif, Burnett explores the healing power inherent in living things.

Maytham Hall in Kent, England, where Burnett lived for a number of years during her marriage to Stephen Townesend, is often cited as the inspiration for the book's setting. Burnett kept an extensive garden, including an impressive rose garden. However, it has been noted that besides the garden, Maytham Hall and Misselthwaite Manor are physically very different.

Publication history

The Secret Garden was first serialized, starting in autumn 1910, in The American Magazine, a publication aimed at adults. The entire book was first published in summer 1911 by Frederick A. Stokes in New York and by Heinemann in London. Its copyright expired in the US in 1987 and in most other parts of the world in 1995, placing the book in the public domain.

Public reception

Marketing to both adult and juvenile audiences may have had an effect on its early reception; the book was not as celebrated as Burnett's previous works during her lifetime.

The Secret Garden paled in comparison to the popularity of Burnett's other works for a long period. 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.

With the rise of scholarly work in children's literature over the past quarter-century, The Secret Garden has steadily risen to prominence, and is now arguably Burnett's best-known work. The book is often noted as one of the best children's books of the twentieth century.

Dramatic adaptations

The Secret Garden has been adapted many times for other media. The following list is non-exhaustive and omits various items in audio and print format such as audiobooks, radio plays, abridged storybook, and miscellaneous derived works such as cookbooks and paper dolls. The appendices of the book's Norton Critical Edition contain a more comprehensive analysis of the book's many transformations.



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

In 1949, MGM filmed the second adaptation with Margaret O'Brien. This version was mostly in black-and-white, but the sequences set in the restored garden were filmed in Technicolor.

The most acclaimed film adaptation is American Zoetrope's 1993 production. It was directed by Agnieszka Holland and starred Kate Maberly as Mary, Heydon Prowse as Colin, Andrew Knott as Dickon and Dame Maggie Smith as Mrs. Medlock.


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

In 1987, Hallmark Hall of Fame filmed a TV adaptation of the novel starring Gennie James as Mary, Barret Oliver as Dickon, and Jadrien Steele as Colin. Derek Jacobi plays the role of Archibald Craven, with Alison Doody appearing in flashbacks and visions as Lilias; a young Colin Firth also makes a brief appearance as the adult Colin Craven.


Stage adaptations of the book have also been created. One notable adaptation is a musical with music by Lucy Simon and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, which opened on Broadwaymarker in 1991. The production was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Daisy Eagan as Mary, at eleven years old is the youngest person ever to win a Tony).

Another musical adaptation of the story was written in 2008, with book & lyrics by Landon Parks and music by Ioannis Kourtis.

In 2007 the Orlando Shakespeare Theater commissioned April-Dawn Gladu to create an adaptation for their Theater For Young Audiences series. This version's unique qualities include an actress silently playing The Garden Tree, which was the tree that Lilias fell from years ago. As the children work secretly in the garden to bring it to life, the living tree wakes up, flourishes and blooms.

Oakland Ballet has produced The Secret Garden set to music by Sir Edward Elgar.

The Secret Garden has also been made into an opera by Clover Loehr and Conan McLemore. It was scheduled to be presented by Northwest Children's Opera in June 2009.


In 1991, a Japanese animated version of The Secret Garden was made, entitled Himitsu no Hanazono.

As part of the "ABC Weekend Special" series, another animated version was made in 1995, with Derek Jacobi as the voice of Archibald Craven.

Another anime movie, Sōkō no Strain (2006), based on another Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, A Little Princess, draws some elements from The Secret Garden, mostly the names of Colin, Mary, Martha and Dickon.


Written works

Noel Streatfeild's 1949 novel The Painted Garden (U.S. title Movie Shoes) has as its central story the filming of The Secret Garden in Hollywoodmarker. A novel about the adult lives of Mary, Colin, and Dickon was written by Susan Moody in 1995 and published under two different titles: Misselthwaite: The Sequel To The Secret Garden and Return To The Secret Garden. The New York Times also published a brief parodic sequel in 1995. A different sequel novel, Till All the Seas Run Dry, was written by Susan Webb and published in 1998.

Dramatic media

A 2000 sequel, Return To The Secret Garden, was directed by Scott Featherstone and won the Director's Gold Award at the 2001 Santa Claritamarker International Film Festival.

In 2001, the TV movie Back To The Secret Garden, directed by Michael Tuchner, shows Mary and Colin as married adults who have made Misselthwaite Manor into a shelter for orphans. It stars Joan Plowright as Martha and George Baker as Will Weatherstaff (a younger relative of Ben Weatherstaff), with Camilla Belle as an American orphan, Lizzie.


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