THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett

THE SECRET GARDEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As copyright expires, here are three ambitious new editions of the old favorite, first published in 1909, about a sour but spunky orphan from India who comes to a huge, servant-run house on the Yorkshire moors and, in finding the key to a long-locked walled garden, also finds the key to healthy growth for both herself and Colin, the manor's invalid heir. Burnett was a romantic, sometimes too sentimental for modern tastes, but this is her masterpiece; sharply characterized, with the appeal of the gloomy, treasure-filled mansion, the mystery of the plaintive child crying out in the night, and, best of all, the marvelous garden coming back to life in the spring as the children learn how to nurture it. The story is still deservedly popular, though it might take an adult willing to share it aloud to make it accessible to slower readers, who may find the bit of Yorkshire dialect and the leisurely length difficult. Best for the purpose is Godine's edition--though the margins are a little skimpy, the overall design is pleasing. Rust's watercolor illustrations, in both color and black-and-white, are plentiful without being intrusive, delicately capturing the emerging growth, Dickon's wild creatures, the children made more attractive (but not too pretty) by health; half-pages and decorative drawings supplement the full-pages and double-spreads, which sometimes surround text and bleed off the page, with the harmonious variety of the garden's luxuriant flowers. Hague's more formal full-page paintings are each confined within the same rectangle, balancing a more generously margined text (in smaller type). Typical Hague, the yellow tone suggests the age of the story; the children are solid and realistically unpretty; but despite the work lavished on detail, the colors are inappropriately muddy and the mannered forms fail to define a coherent space. Hague fanciers will probably be undeterred. As for Random's severely truncated rendition--the garden's magic has been pruned to the extent that there's little life left: not only the descriptions that have painted pictures in the imaginations of generations, but the music and humor of the original's conversations and some pungent characters, notably the old gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, have been purged. Allen's bold, nontraditional paintings are refreshing, but insufficient reason for purchase.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1987
ISBN: 1420922297
Page count: 69232224pp
Publisher: Random House; Henry Holt; Godine