“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done, then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”
–Francis H. Burnett
Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett (24 November 1849 – 29 October 1924) was an English-American playwright and author. She is best known for her children’s stories, in particular Little Lord Fauntleroy (published in 1885-6), A Little Princess (1905), and The Secret Garden (1911).
Frances Eliza Hodgson was born in Cheetham, near Manchester, England. After her father died in 1852, the family eventually fell on straitened circumstances and in 1865 emigrated to the United States, settling near Knoxville, Tennessee. There, Frances began writing to help earn money for the family, publishing stories in magazines from the age of 19. In 1870 her mother died and in 1872 she married Swan Burnett, who became a medical doctor after which they lived in Paris for two years where their two sons were born before returning to the US to live in Washington D.C. There she began to write novels, the first of which (That Lass o’ Lowries), was published to good reviews. Little Lord Fauntleroy was published in 1886 and made her a popular writer of children’s fiction, although her romantic adult novels written in the 1890s were also popular. She wrote and helped to produce stage versions of Little Lord Fauntleroy and A Little Princess.
Burnett enjoyed socializing and lived a lavish lifestyle. Beginning in the 1880s, she began to travel to England frequently and bought a home there in the 1890s where she wrote The Secret Garden. Her oldest son, Lionel, died of tuberculosis in 1892, which caused a relapse of the depression she struggled with for much of her life. She divorced Swan Burnett in 1898 and married Stephen Townsend in 1900, and divorced him in 1902. Towards the end of her life she settled in Long Island, where she died in 1924 and is buried in Roslyn Cemetery, on Long Island.
In 1936 a memorial sculpture by Bessie Potter Vonnoh was erected in her honour in Central Park’s Conservatory Garden. The statue depicts her two famous Secret Garden characters, Mary and Dickon.