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Frances Hodgson Burnett: Books & Quotes

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote dozens of books, short stories, and plays. In this lesson, we will explore some of these books, some common themes, and styles that Burnett uses.

Frances Hodgson Burnett Overview

Stories about young girls dealing with hardships in life, little boys finding out they are Lords, rags-to-riches, coal miners, and many others - these are the stories written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Throughout her lifetime she wrote dozens of novels, plays, and short-stories. She often writes in a 3rd-person omniscient point of view.

Frances Hodgson Burnett
Burnett picture

Burnett started writing stories as a teenager to help earn money for the family, but it wasn't until she was 28 that her first book became somewhat widely known, That Lass o' Lowrie's (published 1877). Nine years later, she wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), which established Burnett as a household name.

Today Burnett's most popular books are:

  • Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886)
  • A Little Princess (1905)
  • The Secret Garden (1909)

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Little Lord Fauntlery was published in 1886 and was Burnett's most popular book during her lifetime. This story is about a young American boy, Cedric, who learns that he is the heir to a title, as Earl, in England.

'He (Cedric) knew nothing of earls and castles; he was quite ignorant of all grand and splendid things; but he was always lovable because he was simple and loving. To be so is like being born a king.'

The Earl (Cedric's grandfather) invited Cedric to live with him, because both of his sons have passed away, and as Cedric is now the only living heir, he needs to go live in England. But, the Earl still hates Cedric's mother (because she is American), and won't allow her to live at the castle, instead he gives her a home nearby so that Cedric can still see her.

Little Lord Fauntleroy was a good and sweet little boy
Little Lord Fauntleroy

The Earl grows to love Cedric, who is a kind and generous boy. But then news comes that there may be another heir to the title! The older son (Cedric's uncle) had briefly married a woman, and she claims that her son is a result of that marriage. The boy is a spoiled brat and the woman is un-ladylike and crass. The Earl is saddened to learn that his now beloved Cedric (possibly the first person he ever truly loved) won't inherit his title. But, then it is discovered that the woman is a fraud, and the Earl realizes that Cedric's mother is a true lady and invites her to also live at the castle, and they all live happily ever after.

This story taught young boys everywhere that they should be good and kind, that their role, living here on Earth, should be to leave it a little bit better than they found it:

'It is better than everything else, that the world should be a little better because a man has lived.'

A Little Princess

A Little Princess was the rewritten story of Burnett's popular story 'Sara Crewe' (a rags to riches story), this rewritten version was published in 1905. Sara is the beloved daughter of a wealthy English man, he lives in India and thus must send her to a boarding school in London for her education. While she is there, news comes that her father has died, penniless. The head mistress of the school had grown to dislike Sara but allows her to stay at the school if she becomes a servant. Despite Sara's awful circumstances, she continues to be kind and loving (a true princess).

'Whatever comes. . . cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.'

We then learn that her father didn't actually die penniless, he had invested all of his money in a diamond mining scheme. His partner (who did find a great wealth in diamonds) is now in England searching for his partner's daughter, Sara. He eventually finds her, and she receives the wealth she deserves and the love of a new father figure (her father's partner).

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