Secret Garden (Burnett) - Author Bio

Author Bio
Birth—November 24, 1849
Where—Manchester, England, UK
Death—October 29, 1924
Where—Plandome, New York, USA


Frances Hodgson Burnett was an Anglo-American playwright and author. She is best known for her children's stories, in particular The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and Little Lord Fauntleroy.

She was born in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, England. Her father died in 1854, leaving her mother to support five children. They had to endure poverty and squalor in the Victorian slums of Manchester.

In 1865, at age 16, Frances emigrated to Knoxville, Tennessee in the United States. The move, which the family made at the request of an uncle, did not alleviate their poverty, but they were now living in a better environment. She lived in a house in New Market, northeast of Knoxville (off of 11E; in front of the house there is a sign which contains details).

Following the death of her mother in 1867, the 18-year-old Frances became the head of a family of two younger siblings. She turned to writing to support them all, with a first story published in Godey's Lady's Book in 1868. Soon after she was being published regularly in Godey's, Scribner's Monthly, Peterson's Ladies' Magazine and Harper's Bazaar. Her main writing talent was combining realistic detail of working-class life with a romantic plot.

She married Dr. Swan Burnett of Washington, D.C. in 1873. Her first novel, That Lass o' Lowrie's, was published in 1877 and was a story of Lancashire life.

After moving with her husband to Washington, D.C., Burnett wrote the novels Haworth's (1879), Louisiana (1880), A Fair Barbarian (1881), and Through One Administration (1883), as well as a play, Esmeralda (1881), written with William Gillette.

In 1886 she published Little Lord Fauntleroy. Altough originally intended as a children's book, it had a great appeal to mothers. It created a fashion of long curls (based on her son Vivian's) and velvet suits with lace collars (based on Oscar Wilde's attire), which became a stereotypical image for children of the wealthy. The book sold more than half a million copies. In 1888 she won a lawsuit in England over the dramatic rights to Little Lord Fauntleroy, establishing a precedent that was incorporated into British copyright law in 1911.

In 1898 she divorced Dr. Burnett. Two years later married Stephen Townsend, her business manager. This second marriage would last less than two years, ending in 1902.

Her later works include Sara Crewe (1888), later rewritten as A Little Princess (1905); The Lady of Quality (1896), considered one of the best of her plays; and The Secret Garden (1911), the children's novel for which she is probably best known today. The Lost Prince was published in 1915, and The Head of the House of Coombe in 1922. The Making of a Marchioness was published in 1911 and was one of Nancy Mitford's favorite books, mentioned in Love in a Cold Climate.

In 1893 Hodgson published a memoir of her youth, The One I Knew Best of All. From the mid-1890s she lived mainly in England, and in particular at Great Maytham Hall (from 1897 to 1907) where she really did discover a secret garden, but in 1909 she moved back to the United States, after having become a U.S. citizen in 1905.

After her first son Lionel's death of consumption in 1890, Burnett delved into Spiritualism and apparently found this a great comfort in dealing with her grief (she had previously dabbled in Theosophy, and some of its concepts are worked into The Secret Garden, in which a boy who has been an invalid for a long time helps to heal himself through positive thinking and affirmations). During World War I, Burnett put her beliefs about what happens after death into writing with her novella The White People.

Frances Hodgson Burnett lived for the last 17 years of her life in Plandome, New York. She is buried in Roslyn Cemetery nearby, next to her son Vivian. (From Wikipedia.)

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