A remarkable woman: Frances Hodgson Burnett

15/07/2020

Frances Hodgson Burnett was a remarkable woman.

Born in Cheetham Hill, Manchester in 1849, over 170 years ago, she transgressed all the rules for a woman of her time. She was twice married and twice divorced.

At 14 Frances found herself in Tennessee, just after the end of the Civil War, needing to help support her family. At 22, already getting her stories accepted, she refused to marry and travelled alone to England, the second of the 33 times she crossed the Atlantic.

In 1875, finally married and with a small child, with her writing she supported her husband’s studies in Paris. Here, Frances’ second son was born.

Her first novel (for adults) set in Lancashire, was widely praised. One American critic wrote:

‘We know of no more powerful work from a woman’s hand, not even excepting the best of George Eliot.’

Much later, after the publication of Little Lord Fauntleroy, Frances lunched with William Gladstone, the British Prime Minister in Italy. He suggested that her bestseller would help Britain and America ‘to understand each other’

Frances was a celebrity, recognised wherever she went. She was the highest paid writer (of either sex) in all America.

In 1888, to thank her for her efforts to protect copyright, she was presented with a magnificent diamond bracelet inscribed

‘To Frances Hodgson Burnett, with the gratitude of British Authors.’

Her life was as extraordinary as any of her thirty novels. It seems strange that most people know nothing about her beyond the fact that she wrote three famous books for children: Little 
Lord Fauntleroy, A Little Princess and, most loved of all, The Secret Garden.

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Anne Thwaite’s biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett, Beyond the Secret Garden, will be published 6 August 2020. Available to pre-order now.

You can test your knowledge of Frances, and be in with the chance of winning some great prizes, by entering our ‘Beyond the Secret Garden Quiz’.