Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel The Secret Garden was described by the writer Marghanita Laski as ‘the most satisfying children’s book I know.’ I first read it when I was about 8 and I continued to read it throughout my childhood – and I still read it from time to time – always with pleasure. Interestingly, back in 1911, the book did not make much impression on the public (it wasn’t even mentioned in the author’s obituary in The Times in 1924) but gradually, over the years, it has acquired a host of devoted readers – including myself. It is now viewed as her masterpiece.
Frontispiece: Mary discovers the doorknob to the Secret Garden
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Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess (1905) was one of my favourite books as a child. The heroine, Sara Crewe, says early on: ‘Whenever I play I make up stories and tell them to myself.’ I, too, told myself stories, and I knew at once that this would be my sort of book.
Sara was born in India and, as was usual then for health reasons, was sent to England for her education when she was seven. We first meet her with her much loved father in London, being taken to Miss Mitchin’s Select Academy for Young Ladies. She will be a parlour border, that is, she will stay there during the holidays. I, too, was at a Primary boarding school – so that was another thing we shared.
‘Oh, Papa!’ she cried, ‘There is Emily.’
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