The Secret Garden Book Summary

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  • 0:04 Imperial Introduction
  • 0:59 Mary, the Manor & the Gardens
  • 2:10 Dickon and Colin
  • 3:10 In the Garden
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden is about Mary Lennox, who is sent to live with her uncle after the death of her parents. At her uncle's mysterious home, she grows and learns to care about more than just herself.

Imperial Introduction

The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was first published as a serial in a magazine, meaning readers had to wait until the next magazine before they knew the rest of the story. It was later published in book form in 1911.

The story opens with Mary Lennox, a spoiled girl living in British Colonial India with her parents. Her parents have no time or desire to see their daughter, leaving her in the care of servants. The tiny terror orders these servants around, especially her nanny.

A cholera epidemic breaks out and kills everyone in Mary's house, even the servants. In the midst of the chaos, Mary is forgotten and discovered alone among the dead a few days later. After a brief stay with a clergyman's family, she is sent to live with her uncle Archibald Craven in England, at a place called Misselthwaite Manor.

Mary, the Manor, and the Gardens

Mary's first morning at the manor comes as a bit of a shock to her. Although the maid Martha Sowerby is kind, Mary is furious that she has to dress and take care of herself. Martha is not offended when the little girl insults her and takes the time to help Mary. Afterward, Mary is left to her own devices.

With nothing else to do, Mary wanders about the manor's gardens. She meets the gardener, Ben Weatherstaff. She also encounters a robin who takes a liking to her, much to Mary's surprise. Mary learns that there is a garden that is kept locked behind a door. Mary's uncle sealed it away after the death of his wife. Mary becomes determined to find the garden and open it.

Spring slowly begins to set in at Misselthwaite, and Mary begins to thaw as well. She becomes more friendly towards Martha and Ben. The outside air is good for her, as is the exercise she gets by playing in the gardens. One day, while Mary is out playing she sees the robin fly over a wall to a garden that seems to have no door. She searches near the wall, then she finds the key and the door and is finally able to enter the garden.

Dickon and Colin

Mary meets Martha's brother Dickon a few days later when Martha has him bring her some gardening tools. Dickon and Mary quickly become friends. Together they clean up the garden. One night Mary is awakened by the sound of crying. When she goes to investigate, Mrs. Medlock, the housekeeper, tells her that it's just a maid with a toothache. When she hears someone crying again, she goes to look for the source. She discovers her cousin Colin, an invalid child who never moves from his bed. Colin, too, is quite spoiled, and throws tantrums when he does not get what he wants.

One night Colin starts throwing a massive fit. He's upset because Mary prefers to be outside with Dickon instead of with him. Fed up, Mary comes storming in and tells him his illness is all in his head. Colin decides he'd like to see the garden, as Mary has told him stories of it and of Dickon's animals. Dickon also comes into the manor and brings some of his animals, much to Colin's delight.

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