The Secret Garden: Let’s Read Sixty-Six Classical Books in Sixty-Six Days

Hello, my name is Nichole. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. 

In third grade, I was the fastest reader in my class. Haha.

I used to race children to see how fast I could finish the Harry Potter Books. AND I enjoyed it. There’s something exhilarating about finishing a book.

In fact, I was the type of kid that video games and audio books were way too slow for me. I was always frustrated and reading ahead.

For me, reading was a way to escape. I could visit new worlds, imagine myself as a heroine, and learn about new things.

But somewhere along the way, I started working. And when work got too busy, I stopped reading altogether except on vacation. I became… well… a luxury activity to me.

So, I recently changed jobs. And the job has very reasonable hours. So, I’m left with some time after work during which I can pick up hobby.

And that’s when I realized with all the youtube, podcasts, and tiktok I had been watching and listening too, I had forgotten how to focus.

So, I decided to set a challenge.

I, Nichole Lee Stinemetz, will finish 66 classic books in 66 days. The average amount of time it takes to form a habit. 



And I’m going to kick it off with a favorite of mine. This was a story I reread so many times the actual spine started to fall apart. But I’ve never read the version meant for adults. 

So while I’m reading, I’m going to type out a stream of thoughts, no editing and post it everyday with web book I’m reading.

Total Time for this Book: 4 Hours



****Spoiler warning: If you don’t want to know what happens in The Secret Garden read no further. 


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett

Let’s begin.

Chapter 1: There is no one left. 

When I was a child, this book didn’t seem all that dark. I had totally forgotten that cholera had taken away Mary’s parents. In fact, I’m not sure I even knew what cholera was for a long time. 

Still, this chapter does a good job setting up Mary as a flawed human. She’s incredibly selfish, and yet you still feel some sympathy for her.

I mean, the girl has no mother or father. And she grows up with a warped sense of importance characteristic of a younger child of about 3-5 but not so common in 9 or 10 year olds.

At the end of the day when her parents die, nobody loves Mary enough to remember her.

One more thing, please help me! 


There is a snake escaping out the door when Mary is found. That’s rather peculiar.

I mean it has to have some symbolism, right? I’m still thinking this part through does the snake represent the evil sickness leaving the house? What does it mean? It’s driving me crazy.

I just facebook messaged my friends to ask.

Listen, I live in Japan. Texting is not an option for me.

Chapter 2: Mistress Mary Quite Contrary

There’s a nice bit of foreshadowing in here. Because Mary discovers empathy through gardening later on.

I think it’s rather clever that he shows the opposite scenario early on in this chapter. Mary by refusing people to access to garden she is building becomes a subject of ridicule. The children sing.

                                         “Mistress Mary, quite contrary,

    How does your garden grow?

With silver bells, and cockle shells,

    And marigolds all in a row.”

(Burnett, 2008)

And yet later on, her secret garden and the act of sharing it is what is going to allow her to build empathy in her relationships.

I definitely did not catch this as a child, but the whole thing is rather clever now that I understand it.

In addition while I still feel rather sorry for Mary, you begin to see other character’s thoughts about her. Many don’t view Mary’s mom as in the wrong.

And Mary is treated as though she is ugly since her mother is considered such a beauty. It’s interesting to me because in many ways I view Mary as an inner representation of her mom and dad at this time.

Her mom was rather ugly at heart, she makes a series of bad decisions: abandoning her daughter, staying for a dinner party when there is cholera, and other implied things. Her father is always sickly and never around.

Mary represents this in the way only a child could. She looks plain, code for rather ugly at the time, and she has a selfish manner about her. She isn’t interested in others much like her mother. But she doesn’t have the adult charm or good looks to pull off such an attitude currently.

So, I think it’s rather funny

Also, I really like the officer’s wife she seems to see a bit of potential in Mary. And Mrs. Medlock though a bit rude shows Mary more attention that her parents.

The whole chapter despite her going off to her uncle Craven’s estate seems oddly hopeful in tone. Likely because Mary’s life until this point has been total isolation. 

Chapter 3: Across the Moor


Despite the fact that this could be more horror in feeling, the tone of this chapter is rather adventures. Words and phrases like “twinkling, water rushed, wind blowing, and more point to an adventure.

And it’s rather funny that Mary who desperately wanted to learn some new stories in the first chapter, seems to reject this new possibility of adventure simply due to her contrary nature.

In addition, I rather like the last line of the book, “It was in this way Mistress Mary arrived at Misselthwaite Manor and she had perhaps never felt quite so contrary in all her life.” (Burnett, 2008)

I truly relate to this line. She’s just been told all the things she shouldn’t do, and now she of course will do these said things. I like the anticipation being built by the adventurous tone of this passage. 

Chapter 4: Martha


So, I met Martha in this chapter.  She’s just as charming and lovable as I remember her. It’s also a bit difficult to understand what she is saying. However, I can’t help but smile as she talks.

When I read the dialogue she says, I hear a bright, chirpy, fast talking voice in my head. It’s rather refreshing.

In addition, two more characters were introduced. Dickson is introduced as a figure to look up to. Both Martha and Ben Weatherstaff speak fondly of him, despite having opposite personalities.

Ben Weatherstaff also meets Mary at this time with the red robin. The red robin is like a symbol of spring, he’s already looking for a way to create new life with his song. And he does so by capturing seemingly apathetic Mary’s interest.

I really like the way the author wrote Mary in this passage. The lonely heart of both Ben and her makes my heart ache because I understand that loneliness. Mary also comes to realize by looking at Ben just how utterly bad tempered she appears.

This is the first time we really understand that Mary is rather insecure without the customs and traditions of India around her. And frankly, she’s rather scared.

It’s refreshing and all too relevant to our current adult lives particularly in this age of technology and rapid development.

I’m also interested in the Secret Garden! It’s finally been full introduced as a real place. I forgot what chapter we finally get to see it. But I can’t wait. 🙂 

Chapter 5: The Cry in the Corridor

Despite the chapter title being rather ominous, the chapter is full of joy. Mary plays with the robin hopping and twirling around.

The sneaky, Robbin is actually her mystical guide in realization- almost like a child’s guardian angel. It’s a piece of fantasy in this piece that while make-believe feels believable in this world.

I also think it’s interesting that once Mary begins to feel happy and grateful she begins to hear wailing in the corridor. Now that she is a whole person, maybe she is not able to hear others pain and understand them a bit better.

I guess I’ll see. 

Chapter 6: There Was Someone Crying- There Was


So, now I understand there is a conspiracy going on. Everyone is hiding something from Mary- not just Martha. Mrs. Medlock is in on it too. And what for?

All I know is, two mysteries are way better than just one!

Side note… the mice in the cushion would have freaked me out- talk about a time period difference. Ugh. 

Chapter 7: The Key to the Garden

Yes, she found it! She found the key! I’m so happy! 

Garden! 

Garden! 

Garden! 


This story also doubles as a coming of age story. Martha appears to be playing the role of a proper mother- being strict with Mary when Mary is being petulant but often kind and warm to Mary as well.

It’s very clear that Martha doesn’t view Mary as being awful. And so, Mary finally has someone who treats her like a person. Martha asking Mary “if she likes herself” is a really nice way to let Mary develop in a soft way. And Martha even follows up with her own personal anecdotes which makes the whole situation very mother/daughter feeling. 

 In fact, I would argue Mary is so enthralled by Martha’s family stories because she herself has never had the chance to experience it. I really want Mary to meet Martha’s mother! 

Chapter 8: The Robin Who Showed The Way

YES! 

I’m so happy Mary has found the door. I just want to read the next chapter. But I need to finish writing this first.

Martha buying the skipping rope- awesome! What a kind family dude.

Ben Weatherstaff being rather chipper- for himself that is. Very cool. 

And a secret door was finally found! 

The chapter beams with joy as Mary herself also begins to feel alive again.

The writing is very good in this chapter. And I couldn’t help but grin as I read it. 

The writer also slides a little moral into this chapter as well. What seems ordinary to us can seem rather exciting to others. Mary tends to view Martha’s life and experiences as extraordinary and Martha views Mary’s that way as well. It’s a good reminder that we all bring difference experiences and viewpoints to the table.

Okay, next chapter! 

Chapter 9: The Strangest House Anyone Had Ever Lived In

Honestly, I just want to keep reading. But I’ve committed to this format.

Mary is asking for a spade in this chapter. The garden has really reinvigorated her energy, and she seems to have developed a passion that will allow others to connect with her.

I suppose this is a good lesson for workaholics like me. We meet people through our passions usually because we are out best selves during those times.

But the chapter ends on a cliffhanger because Mary hasn’t forgotten about the crying voice. 

Chapter 10: Dickon

It’s kind of refreshing that Mary doesn’t care about her looks. I supposed that because she’s never been good looking in the eyes of others her worth doesn’t spring from it.

It’s also interesting because getting fatter in this story is clearly a positive thing. This is another piece that really shows the differences in beauty standards as the ages have progressed.

Mary seems to be trying to build herself a family with the knowledgable Ben Weatherstaff becoming almost like a father figure. Mary is full of questions and asks him.

When Mary meets Dickon, she seems excited, but she is also coming off a moment of realization. Though she is happy for the first time in her life, she realizes she has nothing of value in her life. 

And it’s this sentiment that makes her love the garden so much. I thought it was nice seeing Mary open up both to Weatherstaff and Dickon a bit about her pain. It shows major character growth from a previously fairly arrogant youth. 

Chapter 11: The Nest of the Missel and Thrush

Oooh!

Mary is too young for a love interest right now. But Dickon seems like a wonderful soul. He’s so kind to her.

I had forgotten all the wonderful parts Dickon and in the story. Most of it was cut out of the child’s version, I read.

So, Mary finally has confirmation that some likes her. And he’s willing to help her even though theoretically he has nothing to gain from it.

It’s enough to make my heart swell.

Okay, I’ve got to keep reading. 

Chapter 12: Might I have a bit of Earth

So, Mary definitely has a crush on Dickon. 

And it’s adorable.

Mary and I also finally met Mr. Craven! I had forgotten that Mary considered him handsome except for the sadness on his face.

I can totally tell that Mr. Craven is reminded of his now deceased wife when he looks at Mary- although Mary missed it of course.

Mary has secured her garden.

But wait! We still don’t know where that wailing voice is coming from. But I bet the next chapter title is the person doing the wailing. 

Chapter 13: I Am Colin

So, Mary meets a sickly version of herself.

It’s rather striking that upon first glance at Colin. Mary sees many of the things people saw in her first. He looks sick, weak, and ill tempered.

They also both had beautiful mothers who were absentee. One because she died, and the other because she didn’t care.

We also get a peek into why Colin is the way he is. It seems that Colin looks rather like his mother- particularly his eyes which Mary comments on. 

As a result, his father avoids him in much the same way Mary’s mom avoided her. In this way, Mary is perhaps one of the few people that can understand him.

And, she feels rather sympathetic towards him. It’s nice to see her character exploring sympathy and trying to comfort him. 

Chapter 14: A Young Rajah


So in the non-child version of this class book, you can tell the doctor related to Colin wants him dead. 

I’m completely shocked. 

The doctor even tries to get Mary out of the room saying she’ll make Colin sicker. What a cruel man! 

It’s very clear that the other doctor that came was right. Colin believes he will die because others have said it- not because it’s true. 

Still, I rather like the hopeful tone of the book. 

Chapter 15: Nest Building

I just realized. The robin and Colin in this chapter are being compared against each other. They are easily spooked and need to be spoken to gently and with love. Because they are at their most vulnerable as new life emerges.

It’s a really beautiful comparison done in a way that I cannot fully articulate. Please read this chapter. 

The trust in the Robin at the end to keep the garden a secret also parallels the trust the two children will place in Colin.

It is a bit like Alice in Wonderland though just how clearly the children can see the issue with boy in comparison to the maids and others afraid of his power.

I think it really exemplifies how fear of something can make people less clearheaded. 

Chapter 16: “I Won’t” Said Mary

So, Mary in this picture begins to show us how she is becoming a better person. Once again, Colin is a good representation of how Mary was. And so Mary alone, probably has a better understanding of Colin, and how he operates.

I think it shows true maturity on her part to want to go back. 

Colin also underlines how susceptible people are to other’s views of them. He is sickly because that is his role in the household. But is he really? 

Chapter 17: A Tantrum

Okay, I’m going to keep this part short because the story is heating up right now!

THERE. IS. NO. LUMP. 

Also, I appreciated the breaking the fourth wall moment where Mary laughs a bit at the fact that they are fighting fire with fire. That everyone views her as a selfish child, so of course they come get her. Because they are all afraid.

Now, I know as a reader that it’s a power dynamic thing. Mary has to be the one to stand up to him because she’s the only one with a close enough social standing.

It’s funny what social standing can turn a situation into. 

It’s also interesting that nobody has thought to ask him why he is so scared. But, I’m still happy to learn that he doesn’t have a lump on his back. 

Chapter 18: Tha’ Munnot Waste No Time

It’s nice to see Mary think a bit about Colin this morning. She goes to let him know where she is going as a courtesy, and they both seem to have come to an understanding.

He can’t just command that she do whatever he wants, but she will still try to respect his feelings.

It’s all oddly adult.

But still cute because they’re children. 

I really like that the author points out Colin and Mary had similar views on people, and how they, themselves, were viewed by people. It’s super sweet! 

Colin seems to have really come alive. And the passage once again hints at the idea that Colin is only sick because of his hysterics. 

Chapter 19: It Has Come

In this scene, I know that I am supposed to see the elite children becoming more normal with their Yorkshire speech as endearing. But I guess because of the current political and social climate, it feels a bit… like… appropriation 

Just hear me out, the doctor and the Mrs. Madlex are talking about how Susan, Martha’s mom, is such a great doctor, but because she has an accent- she can’t be clever.

In the next scene, the two children are using it to amuse themselves- learning it like it’s a special language. I think there are two ways to view this scene.

I think the intention of this scene is to show how regardless of accent- children model things they like. And they just want to be normal children. In fact, Colin being willing to learn the special words is a big step in the right direction.

On the other hand, the scene could be read as Susan being penalized for speaking with the accent. But the children receiving praise for doing so.

It’s a scene that still feels heartwarming but with the current climate feels a tab bit weird to me.

It’s just a passing thought though. 

Chapter 20: I Shall Live Forever- And Ever – And Ever

I like the addition of the caw crowing when Mr. Roach is dismissed. It adds whimsy to the ridiculous scene describe, and it brings some much needed humor to the book. 

I like that this garden is the symbol of hope for so many characters- particularly Colin. It seems fitting that even though the garden accidentally took life away- it also gives life. 

Chapter 21: Ben Weatherstaff

Ooh, we got a hint of the branch that broke that killed the wife in this chapter.

That’s right! I found that Easter Egg. 

The scene is Ben is really powerful. It’s Ben’s own reaction to the oddity of Colin being in the garden that leads Colin to action. And he stands up despite being terribly afraid to! 

Chapter 22: When the Sun Went Down

This is just a lovely chapter. I now know that Ben Weatherstaff who I suspected all along of pruning the rose bushes has been pruning them.

And Colin is walking and trying new things.

It’s a lovely and joyful chapter. And I just want to keep reading, so that’s all I’m going to write. 

Chapter 23: Magic

The funniest thing about Mary’s reaction to Colin is that she fails to see how she herself was that way at one time.

This chapter’s opening line made me actually laugh.

Honestly, I know this is supposed to be a bit of an emotional chapter, but I found the whole speech about magic rather funny from Colin.

Still, it shows the power of belief in things around us. And that perhaps, Colin does have the charisma to eventually become a good leader. 

I guess I just feel a bit bad for Ben because he has to just sit there and deal with it. I think his description of it as a prayer meeting was rather apt. And the whole thing seems rather silly to an adult.

Still, it is perhaps the privilege of youth that these sorts of scenes can be taken seriously and inspire. Perhaps, those types of people are luckier.  And I’m the cynical one. 

Chapter 24: Let Them Laugh

I take back everything I said about the doctor. He’s a weak man but kind as well as super patient. 

I think the whole ruse is rather funny. And like most children, they aren’t doing a good job carrying out their ruse. But all the adults are willing to go along with it.

Also, Mary and Colin making sure to send back a shilling or two to Dickon’s mother was very kind. 

Chapter 25: The Curtain

The robin interlude was a rather clever way to show us what the children were doing over the couple of months. I particularly enjoyed the talk about the morning aerobics. 

The end note with the portrait now uncovered of Colin’s mother is also a nice touch.

Chapter 26: It’s Mother

So,  I first thought Mary would see the ghost of Colin’s mother.

But instead, Mary got Susan who is even better!

The wise mother of Martha and Dickon has finally come, and she is as lovely and effervescent as I expected.  It’s a nice sort of soon to be wrapped up story. 

Chapter 27: In the Garden

The whole premise of this book seems to be that your thoughts and intentions affect the world around you.

It’s a good way to live. 

The bad thoughts like anxiety and shame poison you while the good thoughts like hope and magic inspire you.

I’m really happy I read the adult version of this book. 

One thought on “The Secret Garden: Let’s Read Sixty-Six Classical Books in Sixty-Six Days

Add yours

  1. Ooh what a great challenge, I’m definitely going to follow your journey! The Secret Garden was definitely a childhood favourite of mine. I’ve been trying to read more classics recently to help me out with my studies and I’ve actually been enjoying it!

    Like

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