Childhood & Early Life
Frances Hodgson Burnett was born on 24 November 1849 in Manchester, UK. Her father, Edwin Hodgson, was an ironmonger from Yorkshire, who sold ironmongery and brass wares from his establishment in the city center. Her mother, Eliza nee Boond, was from a well-to-do family.
Born third of her parents’ five children, she had two elder brothers and two younger sisters. Initially they led a very comfortable life. But things became increasingly difficult when his father died of stroke sometime in early 1850s.
After her father’s death, her mother began to run the family business, while Frances was looked after by her grandmother. Eventually, they had to give up their large home on the York Street, moving from place to place in and around Manchester.
From her grandmother, Frances learned to love reading. She bought her many books, the first among them being ‘The Flower Book’, which contained poems as well as colored pictures. Frances was especially fond of it.
Beginning her education at a dame school, she later attended The Select Seminary for Young Ladies and Gentleman, studying there till 1864, quitting school after their pecuniary condition became unviable. During this period, she developed the knack of telling stories and started jotting them down in her notebook.
In 1865, they migrated to the USA at the invitation of Eliza’s brother, William Boond, initially settling down with him in Knoxville, Tennessee. But very soon, Mr. Boond’s business was on decline, as a result of which, they had to move out of his home and continue with their struggle.
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Determined to earn money and help her family, Frances Hodgson first opened a private school and when it failed, started writing anew, submitting stories to various magazines. But it was not easy. Once, she had to pick up grapes on the hillside in order to earn the stamp money.
In 1868, she had her first story published in Godey's Lady's Book. Very soon, her writings were being featured in magazines like Godey's Lady's Book, Scribner's Monthly, Peterson's Magazine and Harper's Bazaar. By 1869, she had earned enough to relocate her family into a better home.
In 1872, she traveled to England for the first time and from there to Paris, where her fiancé, Swan Burnett, was studying medicine. Thereafter, she returned to the USA, where she got married in 1873, eventually being known as Frances Hodgson Burnett.
In 1877, she had her first novel, ‘That Lass O' Lowrie's’ published. Earlier serialized in Scribner’s, the novel did quite well on publication, enabling her to join her husband at Washington DC, where she continued to write. Very soon, she established herself as an upcoming writer.
In 1879, she published her second novel, ‘Haworth’s’. Also, from the same year, she began to write for children, publishing several children’s short stories in St Nicholas Magazine.
Concurrently with writing for children, she also continued to write adult fictions, including novels like ‘Louisiana’ (1880), ‘A Fair Barbarian’ (1881), and ‘Through One Administration’ (1883). Meanwhile in 1881, she also wrote a play, entitled ‘Esmeralda’.
In 1886, Burnett published one of her most famous novels, ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’. First serialized in St. Nicholas magazine, the book was later successfully dramatized, adding to her income.
Her next important work, 'Sara Crewe or What Happened at Miss Minchin's’ was published in 1887. Later, she would also dramatize the work and in 1905, rewrite it as ‘A Little Princes’.
In December 1890, while Burnett was in Paris, her oldest son, Lionel, died of tuberculosis, throwing her into depression. She spent the next few years doing charitable work and writing her memoire, 'The One I Knew Best of All', publishing the work in 1893. By then, she had separated from her husband.
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In order to make ends meet, she returned to fictions, writing ‘A Lady of Quality’, which was published in 1896. Thereafter, she continued to write, divorcing her first husband in 1898, tying the knot for the second time in 1900. However, her second marriage was also a failure.
As the new century set in, she continued to write, publishing 'The Making of a Marchioness' in 1901. Concurrently, she began working on a longer and more complicated book, ‘The Shuttle’, which was published in 1907.
In 1911, she published one of her most popular works, ‘The Secret Garden’. It was followed by ‘T. Tembarom' (1913, a sequel to ‘The Shuttle’), ‘The Lost Prince’ (1915), ‘The Little Hunchback Zia’ (1916), and ‘The White People’ (1917).
Her last major work was ‘The Head of the House of Coombe’ and its sequel, ‘Robin’, both of which were published in 1922. Thereafter, she lived only for two years.
Family & Personal Life
On 19 September 1873, Frances Hodgson married Swan Burnett, whom she met while living in Knoxville, Tennessee. They had two sons; Lionel, who died of consumption in 1890 and Vivian, who studied at Harvard University and was the model for Cedric Errol, Lord Fauntleroy, the protagonist of ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’.
Possibly by the middle of 1880s, she was estranged from her husband, who had moved out of their home. In 1898, once Vivian had graduated from Harvard, she divorced Swan Burnett and moved to England, where she set up her home at Great Maytham Hall, Kent.
In February 1900, she married Stephen Townsend, an aspiring actor, ten years her junior. The marriage did not work and was over within two years.
Beginning 1880s, she traveled frequently to England, dividing her time between the two countries, receiving US citizenship in 1905.
In 1907, she returned permanently to the USA, eventually settling down in Plandome Manor, a village in the Nassau County, New York, where she died on 29 October 1924.