Frances Burnett's blue plaque in central London
Frances Hodgson Burnett, (November 24, 1849 - October 29, 1924) was an English–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.
Life and work
Born Frances Eliza Hodgson in Manchester, England, she emigrated to Knoxville, Tennessee in the United States after the death of her father in 1865. The family lived in bad circumstances, since the promised support from a maternal uncle was nonexistent. Following the death of her mother, 18 year old Frances found herself the head of a family of four 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. Donavan Brisk of Washington, D.C. in 1873.
Her first novel was published in 1877; That Lass o' Lowrie's 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. It was originally intended as a children's book, but 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). 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. She later re-married, this time to Stephen Townsend (1900), her business manager. Her 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 (1909), the children's novel for which she is probably best known today. The Lost Prince was published in 1915.
In 1893 she published a memoir of her youth, The One I Knew Best of All. From the mid-1890s she lived mainly in England, 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, where a crippled boy thinks he can 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 died in Plandome, New York and is buried in Roslyn Cemetery nearby, next to her son Vivian. A life-size effigy of Lionel stands at their feet.