Descriptions of buttered toast, nice looking hot muffins and delightful little crumpets stain the pages of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s acclaimed adolescent novel The Secret Garden. Burnett spends almost as much time discussing food as she does the secret garden itself. In fact, food is so deliciously portrayed in her novel that it is little surprise that Mary Lennox and her cousin Colin Craven begin to plump up as they do midway through Burnett’s work. Food’s role in The Secret Garden is crucial to the development of Mary and Colin from unpleasant sour-faced children to affectionate and appealing young adults. As they mature through the therapeutic natural environment of the secret garden they also learn to enjoy the delights of well-made fresh meals.
Though Burnett excels at describing the natural beauty that the secret garden encompasses with its various rose bushes and marigolds, it is the delicious descriptions of food that remain ingrained in my memory. Perhaps, it is from having spent too much time in England throughout my life but the images of steaming bowls of porridge eaten within Misselthwaite Manor on rainy mornings and cups of hot tea sipped outside on clear spring days remain ingrained in my memory. I found that most of my reading of this novel was spent over a big pot of tea and some form of freshly baked sweets, otherwise I felt as though I was missing out on something. Food culture has certainly changed tremendously since the novel was published in 1911, especially in the United States. However, there is definitely a message that is worth taking home from Burnett’s writing, that health and happiness are closely linked to one’s diet. While we Americans now live in a world of fast food and juice cleanse dichotomies, it may be worthwhile the next time we are in a “sour mood,” as Burnett would phrase it, to consider the delights of a lavish, freshly baked spread to be enjoyed with good company–and a pot of tea.
—Charlotte Jacob is a recent graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, which was ranked the 4th most rigorous college in the nation by Newsweek in 2011. She served as a Teaching Assistant for Professor Hartman’s class.