Five Fascinating Facts about… Frances Hodgson Burnett

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Compiled by Harriet Devine

1. Frances was born near Manchester, in England. Her father was a successful ironmonger, but her family fell on hard times after his death when she was only three. They had to adopt a much simpler way of life, and eventually emigrated to Knoxville, Tennessee, when Frances was fifteen, and started life there living in a log cabin.

2. Frances started scribbling stories in a notebook when she was small, but her mother made her burn them when they left England. Her first published story, in Godey’s Lady’s Book, appeared when she was just nineteen, and she continued to write stories to help support the family, turning to full-length novels only after her first child was born.

3. Frances adored her two sons, Lionel and Vivien, and dressed them in very fancy clothes. Her famous character Little Lord Fauntleroy, who had long golden curls and wore velvet suits, was based on Vivien.

4. After the death from consumption of her older son Lionel, Frances turned to Spiritualism and Christian Science. The ideas she learned from these belief systems found their way into her books, especially The Secret Garden, in which Mary Lennox persuades her sick young cousin that he can heal himself though the power of positive thinking.

5. Frances bought a manor house in England, Great Maytham Hall, which had a beautiful garden on which she based her most famous novel. She lived there for ten years, initially scandalising the local vicar by living there with her much younger lover. The couple eventually married, but separated again shortly afterwards.

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Harriet is one of the Shiny New Books Editors.

Read Elaine’s review of A Lady of Quality here: ‘desperate measures are called for and murder and mayhem ensue’