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The Secret Garden: Animal Charmer vs. Mansplainer

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettGuest Post by Dawn Corrigan

I’ve been rereading some of my favorite books from childhood, a form of comfort food. I recently reread The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Here are my observations.

I was both annoyed by and somewhat seduced by the Christian Scientist / Science of Mind content in the final chapters, which I don’t remember from my many childhood readings of the book, probably because I didn’t understand the context back then.

I liked Dickon much better this time around—he was a little pious for my taste when I was 10. In fact this time he was my favorite character, though Mary was a close second.

When the focus shifted to Dickon in the middle of the book, I was convinced Mary had a crush on him, and was annoyed when I went to Goodreads and learned that in the 1987 made-for-TV movie, Dickon is killed in WWI and Mary marries Colin. But then I got to the Colin part and realized those movie makers were on to something. Mary’s crush shifts to Colin pretty quickly, signaled by her description of each boy in turn as “beautiful.” After she calls Colin beautiful, Dickon starts to fade into the background. I approve of Mary’s boy craziness but disapprove of her choice, which shows she’s still locked into the caste system. Colin is okay, and I’m glad he gets better, but the better he gets the more of a pompous mansplainer he turns out to be. Dickon only provides information when it is asked for. And it’s always on target, and never overly verbose. Plus: Animal Charmer!

At the end of the book, Dickon disappears altogether, and even Mary fades into the background. As Colin gets well, he looms over everything. The ending is not as good as the beginning because we get more Science of Mind and mansplaining and less plot and garden and fewer delicious secrets.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. 1911.

Reviewer bio: Dawn Corrigan‘s poetry and prose have appeared widely in print and online. She works in the affordable housing industry and lives in Myrtle Grove, FL.

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